Dec 17, 2020 - Technology

Zoom faces its content moderation moment

Photo of a building with a sign reading "Zoom"
Photo: Smith Collection/Gado/Getty Images

When the pandemic turned Zoom into a much more prominent and frequent host of public-facing events and not just private video chats, it also confronted the company with knotty questions about moderating content similar to those faced by much larger companies, the company's policy chief told Axios.

Why it matters: The video conferencing firm doesn't expect the policy issues it's grappling with to evaporate once the pandemic ends and it's still set on long-term global expansion.

What's happening: Zoom is "investing a ton" in developing clearcut policies around content moderation and event hosting, Josh Kallmer, Zoom's head of public policy, said during an interview with Axios for C-SPAN's "The Communicators."

  • "We are committed to a free exchange of thoughts and ideas, but we do it according to a set of rules that reflect our values," Kallmer said when asked about an incident in September, when Zoom decided not to to host a San Francisco State University event featuring Palestinian activist Leila Khaled, who had taken part in two plane hijackings.
  • "Making the judgement about whether certain conduct meets or fails those standards can be a hard one."

The big picture: Zoom has seen explosive growth in usage during the pandemic, helping people work and learn online, but now it's in an unforgiving spotlight.

  • Zoom is also dealing with major competition from well-heeled competitors like Google Hangout and Microsoft Teams. Both companies behind those products have long had Washington presences. (Zoom only established its own earlier this year.)

What's next: Zoom plans to have a Brussels office up and running by early 2021, Kallmer said, and is also focused on continuing to build relationships on Capitol Hill.

  • Zoom looks to other tech companies' policy wins and losses as it navigates Washington as an upstart: "We look at what our peers are doing, and we learn lessons in both directions," said Kallmer. "We need to be honest that these are tough calls, and we're going to do our best, and always tell people how we're doing it."
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