What is Chat Moderation and How to Build It

Let’s take a closer look at moderation in chat, - its types, drawbacks, how it works, and what it takes to build a well-moderated chat app that can foster healthy user engagement.

Aarathy Sundaresan • Feb 18, 2022

Chat apps enable users to message and connect with each other through their computers and mobile devices. These messages are known as user-generated content (UGC) and can come in many forms, including text, images, video, and audio. Chat moderation is the act of monitoring and regulating these user input messages for inappropriate or offensive content.

If you're a business owner or app developer who's unsure about implementing a moderation system within your chat application, you're not alone.

In this article, we delve into the importance of chat moderation, and how it plays a key role in creating a healthy, interactive space in your application and how you can efficiently build these features from the ground up.

Why is Chat Moderation Important?

The sole purpose of many chat apps is to give users a space where they can engage and interact. But people won’t engage if they don’t feel welcome in the space, and they won’t interact if they don’t feel comfortable doing so.

Whether it’s as minor as too many off-topic messages or as severe as hate speech, unmoderated messages can deliver a death blow to your community and, in turn, your chat app.

The absence of stringent chat moderation may have dire consequences. If not aptly governed, these dialogues might transform into chaotic exchanges, resulting in serious repercussions that put your brand's reputation at stake.

Here are some potential consequences of unmoderated chat:

  1. 01.

    Your platform may inadvertently foster a hostile and offensive environment, discouraging user engagement.

  2. 02.

    Your brand’s integrity could be compromised, leading to a loss of trust among your users.

  3. 03.

    There could be a significant drop in user involvement and interaction due to the proliferation of spam messages.

  4. 04.

    Without moderation, your platform could become an arena for false information and rumours, distorting truths and creating unnecessary panic or harm.

  5. 05.

    Users may face privacy breaches, leading to dissatisfaction and a rise in user attrition rate.

  6. 06.

    Your credibility in providing a safe and user-friendly environment can considerably drop, impacting your growth.

Types of content that requires moderation in your chat application

Text messages

It’s very likely that text content will account for the bulk of the user-generated content in your chat app. Therefore, text moderation will be incredibly important.

You’ll want to carefully monitor the subject, language, and sentiment of each message to prevent illicit text content from clogging up your chat app. This sounds like a lot of work, especially if you have a large, active community of users. However, pre-built moderation system can lighten the load quite a bit. (But more on that later.)

Image and video files

Images can be a great way to capture users’ attention, tell a story, share information, or even convey a joke. Much more than just decoration, images have the power to make or break your chat app’s user experience. Therefore, images need to be as closely moderated as other forms of communication within the app (if not more so).

Image moderation allows you to control the types of images being shared via your chat app. It helps ensure a clean, friendly environment is maintained at all times. Chat app image moderation determines if an image contains unpermitted content, such as explicit or suggestive nudity, violence, or visually disturbing content.

Messages that are deemed unsuitable can then be flagged and dealt with according to your image moderation policies.

Audio messages

Voice chat has always been, and probably will always be, a popular form of communication. Why? With the ability to change their tone, pitch range, volume, rhythm, and tempo—people can customize their meaning beyond the words they’re using. Voice chat allows for unparalleled levels of connection—making it both popular and effective.

Unfortunately, the same qualities that make voice chat great for connection also make voice chat moderation difficult. In recent years, many communication apps have introduced voice features as a way to keep users engaged. However, they are all saying the same thing “moderating voice chat is really hard.” Moderating voice chat comes with multiple challenges, including high cost, frequent inaccuracy, difficulty keeping up, and privacy concerns.

If you plan to incorporate voice chat into your chat app, this is a challenge you will face. A great way to mitigate the situation is to implement automated chat moderation filters and AI-driven chat moderation features where you can. This way, your team will be free to focus their manual efforts on voice moderation.

How moderation helps chat apps in different industry?

  • Dating: Moderation in dating applications helps to curb 'catfishing', a practice where users impersonate others, causing emotional harm. It also helps in blocking unauthorised sharing of private details, such as personal photos or contact information, safeguarding users from potential risks such as harassment, blackmail, or manipulative ploys.

  • Telehealth: In the field of telehealth, moderation protects sensitive patient data, avoiding inadvertent disclosure. Such a measure is crucial for maintaining privacy and adherence to regulations like the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA). Stringent moderation practices seen in this industry forces telehealth providers to use HIPAA compliant chat apps.

  • Marketplaces: In marketplaces, chat moderation helps in fighting scams and platform leakage.

  • Community: In the context of a community, moderation can protect users from harassment, and spreading misinformation.

  • EdTech: Moderation in EdTech platforms ensures in creating a secure, learning-focused environment. It can prevent the spread of inappropriate content, and unrelated discussions.

What are the Different Types of Chat Moderation? 

1. Human moderation

This is where real people monitor and moderate the chat, reviewing messages and taking action as needed. This is the most effective way to handle complex or nuanced situations, but it can also be time-consuming and expensive.

Advantages of human moderation:

  • Understanding context: Human moderators are excellent at understanding subtle nuances and context in conversations. They can detect sarcasm, humour, and cultural references that AI might miss.

  • Emotional intelligence: They can empathize with users' sentiments and respond appropriately.

  • Experience-based judgement: Over time, human moderators can draw from their previous experiences to make judgement calls in complex or ambiguous situations.

Limitations of human moderation:

Despite human moderators' ability to grasp context, exhibit emotional intelligence, and apply experience-based judgement, they may encounter some limitations like ,

  • Scalability: While extremely effective, human moderators can only handle a limited amount of content at a time, which can be a challenge on large platforms.

  • Bias: Human moderators may have personal biases and their mood or subjective viewpoint may affect consistency.

  • Cost: Employing a team of human moderators can be more expensive than using AI, especially for 24/7 moderation needs.

2. Automated moderation

This uses software tools to scan messages for keywords, phrases, or patterns that violate community guidelines. Automated moderation can be helpful for catching common violations quickly, but it can also be prone to errors and may miss more subtle forms of abuse.

Tools used for automated moderation:

  • Artificial intelligence

    Leverage the power of artificial intelligence and machine learning algorithms to oversee and flag the messages exchanged on your chat app. Acting on predefined rules and guidelines, they are designed to recognize and react to unsuitable or offensive content.

  • Keyword filters

    They serve as simple, but effective tools that screen for offensive words or phrases from established lists, making them efficient at catching blatant spam or hate speech, but they may overlook nuanced language differences.

  • Sentiment analysis

    Dives deeper than mere words, since it analyses the overall tone and sentiment of a message, capable of detecting sarcasm, anger, or negativity, though it might falter with cultural references or complex language. 

  • Image and video recognition

    These technology enables the systems to discern specific types of content in visuals, such as nudity or violence. However, they might face difficulties interpreting artistic content or understanding context. 

Advantages of using automated moderation:

Some of the key benefits of using automated moderation includes

  • Speed and efficiency: AI moderators can process vast amounts of data quickly, making them invaluable for large platforms.

  • Scalability: Unlike human moderators, automated tools can handle massive amounts of content efficiently, making them ideal for large platforms with millions of users.

  • Consistency: They apply the same set of rules uniformly without any personal bias or emotional influence.

  • 24/7 Availability: AI moderators can work continuously around the clock.

Though automated moderation has many strengths, it also has certain limitations like 

  • Potential for misinterpretations due to the inherently literal nature of AI, which might take content at face value without considering subtleties or cultural nuances. This can result in either over-moderation, inadvertently suppressing legitimate content, or under-moderation, allowing harmful content to slip through. 

  • Automated moderators can struggle with complex situations that require assessment of context, intent or tone, unlike human moderators who can understand these nuances.

Drawbacks of Chat Moderation

Now that we’ve covered the many benefits and uses of chat moderation, let’s discuss the drawbacks of chat moderation.

Cost of Chat Moderation

Moderating all the user-generated content that comes through your chat app will not be cheap—in terms of both money and time. Chat moderation costs include money spent to pay your chat moderation team, money spent on chat moderation tools, time spent creating (and constantly updating) your chat moderation policies and guidelines, and more.

To set yourself up for success, factor the costs of chat moderation into your initial app launch plan. That way, you’ll be able to ensure a clean, friendly environment from day one.

User Restrictions

The downsides of chat moderation affect your users as well. Depending on which chat app moderation methods you implement, your users will face various restrictions.

For example, if you go with manual, human-led chat app moderation, users may experience a delay in issue resolution. They may also experience some inconsistency in how moderation policies are enforced.

If you go with AI-driven chat app moderation, users may have their messages flagged inaccurately. This happens because automated tools can't comprehend the nuances and contextual variations present in human communication. For this same reason, some inappropriate content may be missed by the moderation's flagging system.

Overall, these restrictions negatively impact the user experience. However, you'll find that the majority of your end-users will happily deal with such restrictions, believing it a small price to pay for a friendly, on-topic chat app experience.

How to Build Chat App Moderation Features from Scratch

Building chat app moderation features from scratch is no small feat. Once your team has identified the need for chat moderation, you'll probably begin researching the best ways to develop the chat moderation features. And that research will quickly return an overwhelming amount of information. There are boundless code examples, but it can be near impossible to determine whether a given approach will meet your needs without a great deal of time-consuming and costly trial and error.

Another decision you'll have to make is whether to build or buy chat functionality. Even if you have the right expertise and you're confident in your approach, development costs can be very unpredictable. On top of that, it’s hard to find the right balance between unique, customized chat app moderation features and features that provide a familiar and intuitive experience while also performing reliably.

CometChat’s Chat Moderation Features

If the costs and risks of building from scratch don’t appeal to you, take a look at our chat moderations extensions:

In-Flight Message Moderation

In-flight Chat Moderation

CometChat’s In-Flight Message Moderation gives your team the tools they need to manually monitor and regulate the user-generated content in your app.

After setting your desired moderation criteria, your team will see all messages matching those criteria in an intuitive dashboard. Then, they can approve and reject messages as well as kick or ban users right from inside the dashboard.

In-flight message moderation makes it easy for your team to ensure that every message sent through your chat app meets your content standards.

Sentiment Analysis

Sentiment Analysis

As we discussed above, human communication is layered with customizations that dictate the meaning behind words. Studies have shown that the general sentiment of a comment, aka whether it’s positive or negative, is a more effective measure of toxicity than keyword analysis alone.

CometChat’s Sentiment Analysis extension helps you to understand the tone or sentiment of a message. User-generated messages can be classified into four categories: positive, neutral, negative, and mixed. Furthermore, CometChat specifies the confidence for that category on a scale of 0 to 100.

Your chat moderation team can then use this information to either show a warning with the message or drop it altogether.

Data Masking Filter

Protecting your users’ sensitive data is critical. And sometimes, that means protecting them from themselves.

Data masking is a technique used to obscure sensitive data is in some way to render it ‘safe’.

CometChat’s Data Masking Extension allows you to hide phone numbers, email addresses, and other sensitive information in messages. You can configure your app to drop any message with sensitive information automatically. Default masks for emails, social security numbers (SSN), and US phone numbers are built-in. You can also use custom masks by adding more regex that will act as masks for your selected form of sensitive information.

Profanity Filter

Protect your brand and your community with an automated profanity filter.

CometChat’s Profanity Filter Extension helps you to mask or hide profanity in a message. Your moderation team can create a custom blacklist of words you’d like to block. In addition to words, CometChat also supports emoji filtering.

Effortlessly maintain a clean, harassment-free environment.

Image Moderation

As we discussed above, images are a powerful way to convey a message. And they need to be as closely moderated as any other form of communication within your chat app.

CometChat’s Image Moderation feature enables your chat moderation team to control the types of images being shared on your platform. The Image Moderation extension analyzes every image to check if it's safe for your audience and then classifies the image into four categories: explicit nudity, suggestive nudity, violence, and visually disturbing. CometChat will also specify the confidence for that category on a scale of 0 to 100.

Your chat moderation team can then use this information to either show a warning with the image or drop it altogether.

Virus and Malware Scanner

You don’t want your chat app to become ground zero for the spread of malicious content.

CometChat’s Virus and Malware Scanner uses a third-party API service to scan media messages that have been uploaded by users. If malicious content is detected, you can add a warning to the message to alert your users.

XSS Filter

Cross-Site Scripting (XSS) is a security vulnerability in which an attacker would bypass your client-side security mechanisms by injecting a malicious script into their messages.

CometChat’s XSS Filter helps you sanitize messages, thus reducing the risks associated with XXS attacks. Once you’ve added the XSS Filter extension, you’ll be able to block messages with XSS scripts.

This filter is applicable only for the Web SDK. As XSS is only possible for the web, the mobile platforms do not require you to fetch the sanitized message.

Get Started With Chat Moderation Features

Whether you’re just getting started building your chat app or you’re simply looking to add chat moderation features to an already-existing app, CometChat is here to help.

Sign up to our developer dashboard to add our world-class moderation features to your chat app for free.

If you still have questions, feel free to talk to our experts and get answers before you get started.

About the Author

Cosette Cressler is a passionate content marketer specializing in SaaS, technology, careers, productivity, entrepreneurship and self-development. She helps grow businesses of all sizes by creating consistent, digestible content that captures attention and drives action.

Aarathy Sundaresan

Content Marketer , CometChat

Aarathy is a B2B SaaS Content Marketer at CometChat, excited about the convergence of technology and writing. Aarathy is eager to explore and harness the power of tech-driven storytelling to create compelling narratives that captivate readers. Outside of her professional pursuits, she enjoys the art of dance, finding joy and personal fulfillment.

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