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Dear Prince Harry: There’s a simple solution to design safer, more inclusive social media

Entrepreneur Cindy Gallop argues that founders from underrepresented groups are uniquely able to design and build safe spaces on the web, but they’re often overlooked for the resources they need to scale.

Dear Prince Harry: There’s a simple solution to design safer, more inclusive social media
[Photo: DoD photo by EJ Hersom]

Last week, you wrote, “Social media is dividing us. Together, we can redesign it.”

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You’re absolutely right. But you’re wrong about who redesigns it, and how. There is one fundamental reason that, as you put it, “the digital landscape is unwell.”

The young white male founders of the giant tech platforms that dominate our lives today are not the primary targets (online or offline) of harassment, abuse, racism, sexual assault, violence, rape, revenge porn. So they didn’t, and they don’t, proactively design for the prevention of any of those things. That is why we now have, in your words, “online platforms that have contributed to, stoked, and created the conditions for a crisis of hate, a crisis of health, and a crisis of truth.”

Those of us who are at risk every single day—women, Black people, people of color, LGBTQ, the disabled—design safe spaces, and safe experiences. When we get access to the same levels of funding and support that white men do, we deliver what you’re looking for. Little nudges and prompts at just the right point can have a disproportionately beneficial approach. We design to stop harassment and abuse before it ever happens.

But we don’t often get funded to start them, build them, grow them, scale them. Only 2.8% of all venture funding goes to female-founded businesses. Only 0.2% goes to businesses founded by Black women.

This stands in sharp contrast to some of the largest and most well-funded social platforms on the internet.

I joined Linkedin in June 2006. That means I have 14 years’ worth of experience of the male harassment and abuse of women that runs rampant on the world’s biggest so-called “professional” platform. Many other women on LinkedIn have told me they’ve experienced this too.

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I’ve tried over the years to get LinkedIn to take action to change this, with no success. That’s because, like every other white-male-founded platform that was never designed for the lived experiences of those of us who are “other,” LinkedIn requires us to report it. The onus of spending time, effort, and reliving trauma to deal with abusive behavior should not be on the abused.

So last month I posted on LinkedIn to suggest a change:

I have three quick, easy, simple product design tweaks I wish LinkedIn to implement immediately.

At the top of every LinkedIn page (where ads currently run) place this copy: This is a professional networking platform. Please don’t say or message anything on LinkedIn that you would not say out loud, publicly, in an office. Please report any inappropriate messages and any harassment or abuse in comments to BehavingProfessionally@LinkedIn.com.

In every comment box place a line of grayed-out type that says, “Please, keep it professional.”

In every message box, place grayed-out type where it currently says, “Write a message,” that says instead, “Please ensure your message is professional. Please report inappropriate messages to BehavingProfessionally@LinkedIn.com.”

I tagged the entire LinkedIn executive leadership team. While Tomer Cohen, global head of product, and Madhu Gupta, director of product management, trust, and security, left comments thanking me, no one has reached out to me
directly, and my recommendations have not been implemented.

Yes, Prince Harry, in the same way you’ve found: “The very places that allow disinformation to spread seem to throw their arms up when asked to take responsibility and find solutions.”

You call on the industry I’ve worked in for 35 years, brand marketing and advertising, to step up. My industry is white-male-dominated—a huge irony for one whose target is women. We are the primary purchasers and/or influencers of the purchases of everything, yet we are played back to ourselves in advertising through the male lens.

Unsurprisingly, studies report the majority of women do not consider advertising relevant to them. Imagine the brands and advertisers you’re calling on actively supporting female-founded platforms that provide the opportunity to target and speak to their consumer in a digital environment she welcomes because it was actively designed for her, with a business model focused on keeping her and her loved ones safe. That’s what we build.

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My own startup, MakeLoveNotPorn (MLNP), addresses one of the biggest areas of fallout caused by the explosion of the male-dominated internet today. MLNP was born 11 years ago out of my experience dating younger men and experiencing what happens when internet porn easily accessed at an early age becomes sex education by default, because there is nothing else.

MLNP is a user-generated human-curated social sex video sharing platform that is making it easier for everyone to talk about sex in the real world, in order to promote consent, communication, good sexual values, and behavior. My team and I spent years conceiving and designing MLNP before we built it to ensure it would be a safe and trustworthy space. As a result, not only does MLNP operate unlike any other player in the “adult” sphere, but it also operates unlike any other site on the internet because it has human curation.

LinkedIn hasn’t implemented my design nudges, but I made sure my own startup does. Every comment box on MLNP carries the line, “Please, keep it positive.”  (We’ve not yet had to censor a single comment.) Imagine this operating on the same scale as Facebook. Imagine the world transformed by love.

We’re ready, Prince Harry. We’re ready, as you say, “to remodel the architecture of our online community in a way defined more by compassion than hate; by truth instead of misinformation; by equity and inclusiveness instead of injustice and fearmongering; by free, rather than weaponized, speech.”

We’ve been ready for years because that’s how long many of us have been building platforms that “place community and connection, tolerance and empathy, and joy and kindness above all,” and yet we can’t get funded. When the leaders and institutions you’re calling on fund, support, and champion us—founders who are female, BIPOC, LGBTQ, disabled, and those from other underrepresented groups—you’ll see how very different the world your children grow up in will be.


Cindy Gallop is the founder and CEO of MakeLoveNotPorn.

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