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New Game Tasks You With Running Twitter, Good Luck

Social media sites like Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram are massive beasts that are hard to control, moderate, and keep profitable. Balancing user safety, privacy, ad revenue, employee mental health, and more is tricky. Luckily, you can find out just how tricky it is in a new free web game that essentially tasks you with running Twitter’s Trust and Safety Team.

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Created by Techdirt, Trust & Safety Tycoon simulates all the decisions and events that can happen while trying to keep Yapper—a Twitter-like social media platform—free from spam, harassment, misinformation, and conspiracies. I became aware of the game via the excellent Garbage Day newsletter and decided to see if I could do a better job at keeping a social media platform free from Nazis and bigots than Elon Musk or Mark Zuckerberg.

My first go-around I was focused on making sure we protected our users and their privacy, while also clamping down on misinformation and dangerous accounts. However, I was quickly fired, as I was straining our moderation team’s resources and wasn’t bringing in enough ad revenue.

My second attempt went better, as I occasionally did things I didn’t agree with—like yanking TV show clips from the site—to appease some companies and get them to advertise on Yapper. I got farther going this route, but soon got caught up in a legal war against a few states and countries as they passed laws designed to “protect children” and wanted more of our data and user information. The costs of all the lawsuits and the bad PR sunk my CEO’s trust in me and I was fired.

What makes Trust & Safety Tycoon fun (and also depressing) is how often the best choice is often the hardest and most expensive. Sure, you can hire more people to spend more time scanning every bot account to stop spammers, but that will eat up resources you could have used on features like a block list or community moderation tools. Some of the best moments came when a journalist interviewed me and grilled me about actions that, as much as I hate to admit it, were contradictory.

Another key moment happened after I banned a popular comedian who “jokingly” said a certain politician should be killed. The CEO took me aside and explained that the jokester was her favorite comedian and a friend of hers, and asked that I lighten up and let the joke slide this one time. I held my ground and burned a lot of trust to keep him off the platform. Luckily, rich, power-hungry CEOs don’t control popular social media sites like this and certainly never override safety or moderation policies based on their own opinions. Wait, I’m being told by my editor to Google “Elon Musk Twitter.” Just a moment. Oh…oh no.

I did eventually reach the end of the game, and was given the option to take a large chunk of money from Yapper’s IPO and retire. I took it, as it turns out that running the moderation and safety team at a social media site is a stressful and horrible job that only gets worse as the platform grows. And because your CEO only wants growth, no matter what, things get really bad, really fast.

Trust & Safety Tycoon is a genuinely well-made game that I found myself distracted by for longer than I’d like to publicly admit. But it’s also an interactive example of how dangerous large social media platforms can be if their moderation teams aren’t large enough or skilled enough to keep toxic behavior and conspiracies off their platforms.

And even if you pull it off, even if you successfully keep the Joe Rogans and Donald Trumps of the world off your service, you might end up running out of money defending your actions. Or some rich loser will buy you and gut everything in the name of freedom. Either way, I suggest that if you get the option to retire, you take it and don’t look back.

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