Why platforms need a ‘value compass’
It seems online platforms are having more trouble than ever in figuring out what it is they believe in.
Late last week, Spotify walked back its controversial policy
of banning (some) controversial artists from its own playlists and promotional activities. Twitter regularly changes its mind about what it will let people do on its platform – so often that it amuses pundits as much as it frustrates them.
You don’t have to be a soothsayer to foresee how this could go wrong. While Valve appears to have absolved all responsibility for the content of the games it sells, the word 'trolling’ is doing a lot of work. Valve are the arbiters of what or what isn’t 'trolling’ here, which sounds a whole lot like editorial control over what appears on Steam.
Tech companies tend to want as little editorial control as possible over what’s posted to their platforms. Too much tweaking to a broad set of rules and they risk being regulated like media companies. Take too much of a stance on what they deem acceptable, and in today’s hyper-polarised world they risk excluding a big chunk of their potential market.
It’s understandable that they want to be neutral, but if you deal in third-party content, that’s not really possible. You’re going to have to make some kind of stand at some point about some kind of content. And if you don’t know what you believe in as a company, you’re going to come unstuck, with a hamfisted attempt at doing the right thing that comes back to bite you.
Just as important is having an editor’s conviction. Apple makes seemingly arbitrary decisions about what is and isn’t allowed on its App Store, but they’re broadly consistent with an 'Apple view of the world.’ Even if not everyone likes every decision the company makes, they generally accept them.
If you’re starting a new platform business, you should have as strong an internal set of values as possible, and stick to them rigorously. You don’t need to be like Lush
and loudly protest against police malpractice, but having a strong 'value compass’ will help navigate stormy waters in the future.
Start off neutral, and you risk others projecting their own values onto you, and turning nasty when you don’t match up to their expectations.