Oops, Lamar’s Tweet Wreaks Havoc

Manolo Almagro, Weekly Columnist

If you haven’t seen this story trending on Twitter or Digg, you will soon.

Last week, 3 News Anchors from Alabama’s Local TV Channel 13 literally became the poster children for the cause ‘why moderation is extremely important – when integrating UGC into your digital out of home experiences‘. 

This picture (shown below) – which has been authenticated as real, Ed demonstrates how a seemingly benign tweet can wreak havoc on innocent bystanders.


Photo Credit: Pallmetto Scoop

There is a very important lesson to learn here. It’s not- if the UGC powered, digital billboard is running moderation filters, it’s what kind of moderation strategy should have been used to negate this type of situation in the first place!

Passive vs. Automated Moderation Strategies

The majority of digital signage networks that integrate with UGC, use filters to ‘catch’ unwanted words and stories. The software running keyword algorithms processes the incoming UGC stream and depending on the conditional rules, it will either accept or reject the feed from playing back on the sign.

This is a passive moderation strategy. It’s easy to implement, and inexpensive to operate, most likely Lamar’s advertiser applied the basic no-profanity and no competitive news channel filter on their twitter feed.

This would explain why this ‘particular’ tweet made it through the moderation protocol. It’s neither obscene or offensive – considering the fact that it is a valid news story. This UGC issue only manifests itself when read in the context of the overall template layout.

This is something that passive filtering cannot anticipate. In the case of this outdoor billboard, an active moderation strategy would have been more appropriate.

This approach would be implemented by applying a secondary moderation process as the fail-safe for filtering phonetically pronounceable versions of the obscene words, which also incorporates an algorithm for ‘sentiment’ and then context.

The downside of this approach is the on-going cost of operation, since it requires either the use of very sophisticated software (which is also very expensive) or the use of human powered moderation (also expensive).

Moderation Services for the DOOH industry

With the (pretty much) unprecedented adoption of digital out of home billboards and retail networks incorporating UGC as part of their daily playlists I’ve been asked by several companies that have specialization in social-media and chat room moderation services (both automated and human powered) to help them adapt their services for (possible) use in the DOOH realm.

What’s interesting is that these companies have already started to value engineer the ‘human-powered’ moderation services to a very affordable level by leveraging their existing off-shore labor pools and enhancing their web-based remote moderation systems to ‘fit’ typical digital out of home network workflows.

If you’re a network operator or digital billboard operation AND you’re interested in learning more about these types of services and tools, drop me a line at the DailyDOOH.

8 Responses to “Oops, Lamar’s Tweet Wreaks Havoc”

  1. Ken Goldberg Says:


    All good points as usual. However, is it really considered UGC when a TV station pumps headlines to a billboard from its own Twitter account? If they fed the billboard with the same data via an RSS feed, it would have had the same result without the trendiness of being a tweet. Either way, the lesson about context is still valid.

  2. Dave Haynes Says:

    Good points on the peril of UGC, however I agree with Ken this could just have easily been an RSS news feed or a direct Web form popping this up without any editor connecting the dots. Newspapers were inadvertently running stories about train crashes next to ads for railways decades ago.

    The problem with passive moderation is that to be really safe you need a LOT of keywords. The problem with active moderation is that it is not cheap, or foolproof.

  3. June Hagman Says:

    But this is what keeps comedian Jay Leno in business!

  4. Jeremy Gavin Says:

    I agree UGC is valuable content, but really needs control. My company (Screenfeed) is getting ready to launch a Celebrity Twitter channel within the next few weeks that will be actively moderated and available to any subscriber. Our channel editors will select only those tweets that are relevant, interesting and appropriate. We feel that is the only way to ensure quality. Of course ‘relevance’ can change between networks so we’ll start with a general feed and look to move quickly to add different ‘flavors’ of tweet mixes. Should be fun to see how its received and used.

  5. Neil Farr Says:

    THe problem lies when a feed is ‘bought in’ and portrayed against other content you cannot know about. i.e. in this case it was know, but imagine if the billboard operator ran multiple billboards and multiple ads on those billboards, even with passive AND active filters on, the likelyhood of an innapropriate match (like this one) will always be there as you can only see the match when you look at every possible combination. The only way to do that is employ lots of people to look at every screen for every combination every time it changes …. or just take a hit and do the best with passive filtering combined with as much control over the content rather than bought in feeds as possible (and take the hit for the Jay Leno jokes :) )

    On another (related) note, here in the UK I understand that all details of advertising on broadcast media legally has to be recorded and stored for a period of time (like we do with Acquire) as the Advertisign Standards Authority require this in case of complaints – the above story would have been more serious if one of the presenters took legal action :( . Although Digital Signage seems to be in a ‘grey area’ at the moment regarding this (i.e. it is self-regulating), we feel it is better to be safe than sorry. It would be interesting to see the details of how many countries actually require this of Digital Signage platforms (as it is NOT truly a broadcast medium).

  6. Ken Goldberg Says:


    The idea of the Celebrity Twitter Channel is an interesting one. The challenge your editors will have is understanding the context, as demonstrated by the Lamar billboard. Assuming that the feed will be presented in a sidebar or ticker zone (i.e. not full screen), they will have no way of knowing what else is on any given customer screen when the feed (or any single tweet) is presented. That opens up potential for issues. However, it wouldn’t be different for any well-filtered RSS news feed, either. Perhaps it is another argument for full screen presentations… then you create your own context!

  7. Ranga Raj Says:

    Good point Manolo.. It is a balance between automation (which is necessary when you have scale) as opposed to handcrafted playlists as in Times Square. Reminds me of a conversation with the CTO of a major retail signage operator who explained the phrase “foot in the pizza” – they have humans look at each clip and will not allow kids with bare feet on a beach followed by a Pizza ad – now that takes a lot of people when you have scale. The easy way to solve that is either synchronize the zones (where there is some control at campaign level) or as Ken suggested make it full screen..Tough to have both..

  8. iDOOH Says:

    purely coincidence, this digital was bought by the news station who’s twitter account was feed into the digital (no one else was able to Tweet to the board other than the station) No filter would have caught this and it was an actual story that broke in the market…get over it!

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