Why Engaging with Trust and Safety Matters: CELE’s Contributions to the Digital Trust and Safety Partnership Glossary


Trust and Safety plays a vital role in the digital world, encompassing a range of practices used by private corporations that act as intermediaries in the flow of online information. While there is no established definition for Trust and Safety, it typically involves some of the following: managing risks associated with content and conduct, preventing technology-facilitated abuse, safeguarding user rights, and protecting brand reputation. Tasks within this field include policy creation, content moderation, rule enforcement, incident investigation, collaboration with law enforcement, community management, and product support.

At CELE, we believe there are freedom of expression implications in the field of trust and safety.    It is not yet clear how trust and safety engages with human rights within companies or whether they mediate or play a role in how companies and States envision the protection of human rights online. The field is growing though and different actors, including the Trust and Safety Partnership, start featuring it as an independent field. To contribute to the development of best practices and understanding in this area, we actively participated in the consultation for the Digital Trust and Safety Partnership Glossary of Terms, which has been recently published. The Partnership brings together major tech companies and platforms to establish guidelines and promote responsible practices.

In our contribution, we emphasized the importance of enhancing clarity and conducting in-depth analysis of key concepts within the glossary draft that form the foundation of operational definitions in the field of Trust and Safety. Our goal was to ensure that the practical application of these definitions not only protects but also promotes freedom of expression. Specifically, we highlighted the following points:

  • There is still a lack of consensus on what constitutes a risk for Internet users, such as exposure to hateful speech or lack of exposure to certain content.
  • There are still diverse interpretations of what the appropriate user rights should be, where some value the civility of the space while others believe in the right to offend others within legal limits.
  • Trust and safety is heavily influenced by a need to assess law enforcement responses based on different legal contexts and rule-of-law considerations.
  • In defining trust and safety, it is still unclear and ambiguous how brand safety or brand trust are defined or understood and how they influence content moderation policies.
  • Distinction between community guidelines and terms of service, and the importance of community involvement in setting guidelines.

In addition to ou insights on the definition of the concept of trust and safety, we at CELE commented on other glossary entries related to the right to be forgotten and disinformation -and the difficulties that the concept entails. We also discussed concepts like «hostilities,» particularly concerning the requirements for necessity, proportionality, and legitimate aim that must be met for restrictions on freedom of expression.

As we mentioned earlier, the trust and safety “field” is still an emerging concept. The term was first adopted by companies internally to support through policy the development and usability of their products. The way it is being used today is rather different, where the implicit suggestion is that there may be general, objective rules for the trust and safety field that may be universally desirable. This portrayal seems to be supported by the flourishing initiatives within the associations of trust and safety professionals (Trustcon for example), as well as the adoption of the concept of “trust and safety” by policy makers, civil society, practitioners, funders and developers. Further evidence of this trend may be found in the latest initiative by the DFRLab within the Atlantic Council when it commissioned and recently published a report of the Task Force for a Trustworthy Future web highlighting the developments within this field and the need to foster and promote it beyond its current home (the United States) and strengthen it through funding, capacity building and collaboration. 

As we said before, the concept requires analysis and further elaboration -especially through participatory mechanisms-, as it holds a huge potential to affect freedom of expression and other fundamental rights. 

Through our contributions to the Digital Trust and Safety Partnership Glossary, we aim to foster a more inclusive and rights-respecting digital environment for all users. We want to especially thank David Sullivan, the executive director at the Trust and Safety Partnership for the invite to provide feedback to this initiative and the opportunity to discuss this and other challenges within this space at Rightscon 2023 (with colleagues including Clint Smith at Discord and Talita Pessoa at Pen America). You can read our submitted contribution in full here.



«Yellowed pages from a dictionary» by Horia Varlan is licensed under CC BY 2.0.