How do people find their way into Trust and Safety work, and how can they find the support they need to do their jobs and advance the field together?

Here in Palo Alto, the Trust and Safety Professionals Association is organizing the very first TrustCon, a global conference dedicated to Trust and Safety Professionals. CAT Lab is here to liveblog the event.

The opening speaker at TrustCon is Charlotte Willner (@helloyouths), Executive Director at the Trust & Safety Professional Association (TSPA) and the Trust & Safety Foundation. An early pioneer in Trust & Safety, she has held positions at Facebook and Pinterest before joining TSPA in 2020.

Charlotte opens by telling us about the last 14 years of trust and safety work: holding night shifts, having social events interrupted by viral hate speech, and conversations about nudity standards. “It’s a weird job,” she says. She talks about people in this role as peers — “even if our professional practice was divided by employer, timespan, or subject specialization, our work is connected.” Charlotte argues that professionals need to see each other as peers and professionals. The work that T&S professionals do has real-world implications for safety, privacy, and freedom, in response to ever-changing laws, norms, and threats. Teams need to be on the phone with someone whose life has been turned upside down, make decisions about algorithms that could influence the life of a parent’s child, or see yet another dick pic.

When Trust and Safety professionals are surveyed, they report their team as a major reason they stay in their jobs. 

Why do people stay in this Trust and Safety? Charlotte observes that some people stay because it changes lives and matters to people. Another reason people stay in their job is their team. When T&S professionals are surveyed, they report their team as a major reason they stay in their jobs. The work is behind the scenes, the public doesn’t understand the work, and others inside of a company don’t always understand it either. She says, “Unless something goes wrong, people don’t know we’re doing it.” But teams understand, and the people who understand the work are the people who see us through. 

Next, Charlotte talks about her early days as a customer support staff member at Facebook. Soon she was asked to organize the team working on things like intimate partner violence, terrorism, mental health, and other harms. She remembers talking to an HR person asking for advice on how to support a team who needed to handle these challenges. They found someone who specializes in vicarious trauma, who then advised them: no alcohol, no caffeine. In this session, they sat in a room listening to whale songs. In that moment, says Charlotte, all she wanted to do was to talk to someone who had the same job and understood what her job involved.

Charlotte tells us that the TSPA is the community that she needed in that moment. The TSPA is a place for mutual learning and support— a community who can rely on each other as fellow journeyers in a field that changes every day. The TSPA, says Charlotte, is not to say that there’s one way to do this work. It’s also a community to ask the question, to get challenged through perspectives that aren’t in their shoes. 

How does the TSPA do this? The group does professional development by curating a Trust and Safety Library, providing quick access to relevant information on questions professionals need. If a resource doesn’t yet exist, the TSPA community will create it. For example, they’re organizing people to create a curriculum for content moderation. The curriculum working group has been producing resources on legal issues, data science, and more general content moderation issues, and a library. The TSPA is also creating a database of vendors in the space.

The TSPA also offers career support. Charlotte observes that few people imagine working in Trust and Safety as a young person, but people do need career development once they arrive in the field. Toward that goal, the TSPA offers a free job board and provides office hours to job seekers, aiming to broaden access in the profession. They also publish a series of career-focused events, including one called “That Escalated Quickly.” Finally, they organize events, including in-person meetups in San Francisco, Dublin, Singapore, New York, Seattle, and (upcoming) LA. The TSPA also builds community in online chat spaces where anyone can join.