While hundreds of thousands of companies across the country have seen work grind to a halt amid COVID-19, Chris Priebe is experiencing the opposite.
The owner of Two Hat, an artificial intelligence-powered content moderation company based in Kelowna, B.C., has never been busier helping customers including gaming brands Nintendo Switch, Habbo, Rovio and Supercell sift through billions of comments and conversations and quickly identify and remove anything harmful to users.
“We processed 60 billion last month. It used to be 30 billion. That’s how bad coronavirus is. That is at least twice the normal volume,” said Priebe in April, before monthly processing volumes hit 90 billion.
“(Platforms) are faced with, in some cases, 15 times the volume. How can they possibly care for their audience? Because that doesn’t mean that the revenues are up 15 times or that they can afford to hire that many more people.”
Priebe is not alone in the scramble to keep online, social media and gaming platforms safe amid COVID-19. Companies including Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, YouTube and Google have all been warning users since at least April that they are experiencing shortages of content moderators, causing a backlog in the removal of harmful posts.
The stakes are high. Record numbers of people around the globe are spending increased amounts of time at home on their favourite platforms, challenging servers and turning messaging services, social networks and comment sections into a wild west.
The situation has heightened privacy experts’ worries about the spread of misinformation and the likelihood that users will stumble upon hate speech, pornography, violence and other harmful content.
“Quite a few people are fairly dissatisfied with the content moderation process as it is…and then you add on this pandemic…You are seeing a huge increase in harassing behaviour and problematic behaviour and then having the content stay up longer,” said Suzie Dunn, a University of Ottawa professor who specializes in the intersection of technology, equality and the law.
“It’s a real challenge because content moderators are a little bit like frontline workers. They’re an essential service that we need to have at a time like this, so we would hope to see more content moderators working.”
[ Sign up for our Health IQ newsletter for the latest coronavirus updates ]
However, unlike workers in other sectors who have been working from home since the COVID-19 pandemic arrived, such a shift is difficult for many content moderators as their jobs deal with images and language you wouldn’t want kids or other family members catching a glimpse of.
“Some of them may not be able to work on certain things that they would work on in the office,” Kevin Chan, Facebook Canada’s head of public policy, told The Canadian Press.