Kelowna’s Two Hat taps new CEO as demand surges for online anti-abuse tools

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As people burrow inside their homes and turn to screens to bide their time during the pandemic, demand for AI-powered tools that can clamp down on online abuse is also on the upswing.

“We thought it was going to take us years and it took us a matter of weeks to get to some pretty massive numbers,” said Steve Parkis, who last week assumed the role of CEO at Kelowna-based Two Hat Security Ltd.

Two Hat works primarily with gaming companies to deploy tools that weed out inappropriate language or abusive content, such as pornographic images, on their respective social networks.

Prior to the pandemic, Two Hat was processing about 1 billion interactions each day, including the exchange of chat messages and photos.

That figure has since more than tripled to about 100 billion interactions each month.

“When Megan Thee Stallion says the word ‘WAP’ for the first time, you know we're immediately on that,” Parkis said, referring to the prolific summer 2020 anthem from Cardi B and featuring Megan Thee Stallion.

“We're going to make sure that you [clients] know it's a culturally significant moment that we're going to help you be ahead of vs. trying to play catch up.”

The company offers its services in more than 20 languages, meaning it needs to rely on both human expertise and artificial intelligence to identify emerging slang and lingo from a range of demographics.

“We're not just doing dictionaries, we understand cultural nuances,” said Parkis, a former senior vice-president of Disney Online.

Companies are finding that if they don’t address spikes in abusive behaviour online, they risk losing users.

A 2016 Data & Society Research Institute study, Online Harassment, Digital Abuse and Cyberstalking in America, found 21% of respondents stopped using social media after facing online harassment.

“For all of these companies, audience is by far and away their most important asset,” Parkis said. 

“And what you often find when people have audiences as their most important asset is when it comes to their moderation solution, they're looking for the lowest-cost solution and we're really trying to pivot people off of that, and help them understand that we can help build that audience, we can help sustain that audience, we can help that audience thrive off of each other.”

Parkis, who resides in Florida and has served on the company’s board for a year and a half, was an early investor in Two Hat when it was founded eight years ago by Chris Priebe.

The latter got his start more than 15 years ago leading the safety and security elements of the online Club Penguin game for children that was eventually acquired by Disney Interactive Studios Inc.

Priebe has now assumed the role of executive chairman of Two Hat, where he will be focused on contemplating new innovations for the company to pursue.

Parkis, meanwhile, took on the role of president back in March and will continue to be focused on company operations amid surging demand for its services.

He said there have been some challenges with leading the Canada company from the U.S. but added he feels blessed to have a strong group of leaders in the Okanagan.

While Parkis expects to do some hiring in the U.S. amid surging demand for Two Hat’s services, he said most of the growth will be concentrated in Kelowna.

The company also has employees in Calgary and Toronto.