How Not to Do Open Submissions – Lessons from Twitter’s Vine App

How Not to Do Open Submissions – Lessons from Twitter’s Vine App
vine porn problem

The problem with the ebook market, say many, is that it's open to anyone. There are no submission guidelines and no requirements, aside from actually having a file to submit. Services and formats like these are then swamped with the sort of stuff that used to never make it out of the publisher's slush pile. Luckily, most of this garbage is usually just poor quality, rather than offensive or potentially illegal. Vine, Twitter’s new video-sharing app, however, has had no such protection from these risks, due to poor submission design. Vine is a social platform that allows people to upload six-second video clips of anything they like. Predictably, a huge amount of pornographic content has found its way onto the platform very rapidly, and given that there's no way to verify the ages and so on of people submitting their intimate video moments, it's a complete nightmare both for Vine and for Apple, who have got to deal with the fact that the app allows users to access this content.

The Dangers of Uncurated Content

What's worse? The platform is owned and run by none other than Twitter themselves. You couldn't really make something like this up, because it's the sort of SNAFU that only affects the biggest social developers for two reasons: one, they're famous, and two, they're so big that stupid decisions seem somewhat inevitable.

From a business perspective, it's an extremely risky move to have the quality of your content output be dictated by the public. You're giving them the reins to how your platform is represented, and that's never a wise idea when most people are not trained content creators. In order to ensure that your company can provide a safe, reliable, high-quality service, its output either needs to be moderated – logistically impossible for something the size of Twitter or any of its services – or open submission must be removed entirely and submissions must be selected from batches.

Time to Bring Out the ‘Fail Whale’?

But whether it's pornography, hate speech or any other sort of content that many people would not really want to experience alongside content of a less explicit or ethically questionable nature, the problem isn't just down to the people submitting the content - blame must also be assigned to the platform and its developers. Open submission on the internet is a dangerous thing - especially if it means files being uploaded to servers aren't even quarantined, let alone checked.

This is bad business practice – when approving, for example, adverts on a web page, the content should always be checked before going live. This isn't just going to affect your image for new visitors, but also for content creators – why should they engage with a new platform with creative pieces when it's being spammed with porn, given the viral nature of that form of content? Controversial uploads garner huge traffic, and thus it's no wonder that most businesses want to steer clear of an open door policy for fear of PR and legal disasters resulting from this.

Twitter has sent a confusing message about this issue, given that one of the Editor's choices was a video involving a sex toy. This initially indicated one of two issues - either the editor in question is perpetuating the very issue that will turn the platform into a pornography hub (accidentally or otherwise), or the Editor's Choice section is a series of algorithm-chosen videos and the editors themselves are entirely fabricated. Initially the latter seemed more likely, in which case this lazy approach to building a new social platform clearly resulted in a good idea going to waste.

However, it turns out that the Editor's Choice issue was an entirely human error, but given the sensitive nature of a lot of the Vine's content so soon into its lifespan, this has immediately painted the app as one to avoid if one wishes to avoid accidentally stumbling across pornography every time someone working at Twitter mis-clicks.

Uncurated Content Can Send You to Jail

However, despite the issues of pornography, there is one thing any content publisher needs to avoid if it wants to not only stay in business, but keep its staff out of jail – content that not only questionable for its audience, but actually illegal and life-destroying due to laws that don't fit the crime.

There is an issue here, in some jurisdictions at least. If it is proven that you have been sent a clip of someone who is under 18 years of age, under UK law, you are deemed a creator of child pornography, which is arguably somewhat unfair for those innocently receiving media that could then completely ruin their lives.

This is a horrifying situation for Twitter to be in, and it means that Vine should, if they want to save the platform, be taken down and have its submissions wiped completely and a quarantining/moderation process installed. Quite how they will filter or analyse so many videos as not to punish those uploading content that doesn't break any rules, legal or ethical, is uncertain, but Twitter's odd financial model may not be able to sustain the required number of staff to process so many videos.

The open submission issue does indeed remind us of the fact that the internet itself is a platform that is an open to all sorts of media, and as such does contain immense quantities of porn. Not to mention illegal images and other content deemed unfit for society or the sane. Despite this, Vine has not removed its open-door policy.

The problem with the UK child pornography law, in this case, is that it has the potential to punish those unaware of the content they're being sent. This isn't just a case of them getting off with a “not guilty” verdict after a lengthy trial – laws that don't tally with the current state of technology run the risk of ruining lives and reputations due to an ignorance of the technology they regulate. As a service, Twitter’s Vine is a massive risk for users. As a business venture, it's no less risky for Twitter.

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About The Author

Jimmy Wentz is a budding freelance tech writer, gadget and gaming enthusiast, and social media junkie. He writes regularly about O2 and the latest news in the tech, gaming, and the social media world. 

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