“Evolving Trust & Safety Careers in Asia,” held on November 19th 2021, was TSPA’s first APAC-focused careers panel. We’re so grateful to Ilana Rosenzweig (Twitter) for moderating, and to our amazing panelists: Zhen Xiong Lim (Airbnb), Jiahui Ang (TikTok), Sheen Handoo (Twitter), and Kate Blashki (Meta). Here are some highlights from the conversation:
How is the trust and safety field growing in APAC?
Kate Blashki: Media reports observe that APAC has strong internet penetration growth and some countries are mobile first, so many new people are accessing platforms. The content they share and the ways they engage on these platforms reflects communities in the region. However, this also means there’s a lot of talent — local, regional, and global — attracted to APAC. It’s an opportunity to work with many energised, talented people.
Sheen Handoo: The thinking has been that APAC is where the next billion users will come from. The policies, enforcement, and tools that worked for the first billion may not work for the next billion because they come from very different cultural, social, political, and economic backgrounds. It’s important for us to have that clarity and ensure that the way people interact with the platform is equitable and accessible. Trust and safety professionals will need to bring that nuance to the table.
Zhen Xiong Lim: There will be a lot more demand for T&S professionals in APAC. So, if anyone is looking for a career change or is starting a new career, there will be many opportunities. There will be demand for people who are experienced or someone who has the skill set to deal with trust and safety issues that are unique to this region.
Jiahui Ang: Trust and safety is really a collective which enables us to work quickly and simultaneously to achieve a common goal. When I started, I was part of a 5-person team and the team has grown from strength to strength in the last few years. This gives you a sense of the growth of trust and safety in this region.
Tell us about your journey into trust and safety.
Zhen Xiong Lim: From first glance, my background appears pretty far from trust and safety, but the dots actually connected nicely. In school, I was trained as a chemical engineer, but after school, I worked at the National Environment Agency where I was doing regulatory enforcement — essentially front line work, responding to complaints, with an ops team responding to policy. In a way, it was not very different from what ops teams do in a tech company. You have a policy, you enforce upon a policy, and you respond with a view to ensure that customer satisfaction is high.
After that, my work was more focused on international relations (similar to diplomatic service) at the National Environment Agency, where I engaged in high-level meetings with senior executives and ministers. My last stint in the public sector was legislation development, where I was involved in developing the national cyber security law for Singapore. That was similar to a policy role, in that we were writing a piece of legislation, which is essentially a policy for the country. The skills that I used in the public sector are the same I use at Airbnb.
In trust and safety, many times, talent comes from the public sector because they are a pool of skilled policymakers who know how to balance trade offs. The scale and community are different, but the skill set is similar.
Kate Blashki: I started as a lawyer and worked in criminal defense and civil and human rights. I didn’t imagine I would find another career as fulfilling as that one for me – I thrived on the personal impact I could contribute to for people and communities, at times being at the forefront of positive socio-legal change. I didn’t think of tech companies as being a natural fit for me. I’m not someone for whom tech comes naturally or is a natural interest. But once you scratch the surface, these are platforms that are serving communities of people, for them to share ideas, to learn, or build a business. It’s a very dynamic space. One surprise for me was that I felt right at home.
Sheen Handoo: I was trained as a lawyer, but my first job was working with a think tank on human rights issues. The turning point was when I was in the United States, doing my LLM, and I joined a seminar on freedom of speech and expression, human rights, and corporate accountability. That was my first introduction to the world of social media and internet rights, and it changed everything for me.
I got a job at Facebook and was a public policy manager. I worked on anything and everything under the sun. I moved to content and safety issues full time because there is a massive opportunity to bring regional nuances to the table. There’s an assumption, when in public policy, that this is easy; but when I moved to content policy, the sheer volume and the multi-dimensional aspect of trust and safety and content issues blew my mind. There are so many layers of work that we do: from operations to policy writing to educating users of our policies. That has been very fulfilling for me.
Jiahui Ang: I came from a financial background and was formally trained as a financial auditor. Because of my technical background in financial risk, I was hired as an investigator for Amazon. In the financial sector, I have been taught to critically assess clients with professional skepticism. Emotions don’t usually come to play. When I joined trust and safety, rather than not factoring emotions into the equation, I learned that empathy does not always need to be at odds with facts. We approach our work with empathy and rigor to seek the simple truth. Emotions drive humans, and that’s motivating for me.
If someone wanted to get into trust and safety, what would your advice to them be?
Sheen Handoo: It’s important to be able to have open conversations and be open to different points of view. How you balance different perspectives is important to grow — not just in a company — but as a person.
Jiahui Ang: This is an up-and-coming industry, and you will be a trailblazer. It won’t be easy for someone who wants structure and a step-by-step process. It’s an industry that can be a bit chaotic. You will need to be a self-starter. One thing I told myself, switching to a new industry into trust and safety, was to stay humble and that others can teach me something I don’t know. It also helps to join a professional association, like TSPA, to learn from other industry professionals.
Zhen Xiong Lim: Many tech companies hire for T&S roles in APAC to localize their services and products, and many of these roles are new products or tools to deal with trust and safety issues in APAC. So, you need to understand APAC users, and appreciate the diversity in APAC. For someone wanting to work in APAC, my advice would be to have diversity of views and experience in APAC. Knowing multiple APAC languages will be a big benefit as well.
Kate Blashki: This is a great profession for someone who is looking to make an impact. Tech companies, entertainment platforms can be very attractive employers; and working in trust and safety can be a good way to get involved in an exciting and dynamic area without needing to be an engineer or have a technical background. A lot of these roles require cross-functional collaboration and networking. Be humble and be eager to learn new ideas. Also, remember that APAC is not homogenous, so it’s important to listen and work with partners.
Thanks again to the panelists and to all the audience members who submitted great questions. We can’t wait to do the next careers panel!