Inside Change with Kerry Kent
What part of this job do you personally find most satisfying? Most challenging?
I really enjoy the detective work element of my job. What’s happening in the world that is likely to prompt people to start a petition today? What’s the fastest moving internet rumour this week? What are reliable fact checking sources telling us is misinformation? Have we found the balance between defending our users’ right to freedom of expression and their right to feel safe on our platform?
It’s the Policy Team’s role to consider how the answers to all of the questions above are likely to affect the content we see on Change.org and whether the guidance we have in place for our users and how we interpret it is fit for purpose. It’s fascinating work – creating, interpreting and enforcing fair policies in a constantly changing environment and it’s definitely not a solo endeavour. I work with an amazing team of people who are dedicated to getting it right.
There are plenty of challenges in this job. Sheer volume of content and staying on top of it is one. In 2020, post the COVID outbreak, we saw something like a 300% increase in the volume of petitions we were dealing with practically overnight so we had to work to make sure we had the tools and people in place to handle that.
We mostly see people’s best selves when they use Change.org to campaign for something they’re passionate about but we also sometimes see people’s worst selves and battling content that uses hateful language, ideas or images or that is dangerously misleading can be stressful. Sometimes we see things no one should see and making sure that sort of content doesn’t stay up on our platform is imperative.
Users don’t always agree with our assessment when we decide to take action (or not) against a petition so we need to be sure any intervention is based on strong evidence and in line with our policies. There are days where it can all get a bit fraught. That’s when I ask one of my colleagues to share an uplifting petition campaign with me and it’s a great way of reminding myself why we do what we do.
Why is this work important?
Our mission at Change.org is to empower people to make the change they want to see. We need to be a place where as many people as possible from all walks of life feel able to come and start a petition that will help them make their lives or someone else’s life better. Having a set of clear, fair rules which we enforce consistently makes a significant contribution to keeping our platform as open as possible to as many people as possible.
What does a typical day look like for you?
- Coffee. Check news feeds, Twitter, Facebook, emails and Slack to see if there’s anything going on in the world that might find its way over to the platform or if there are any urgent platform content issues we need to deal with. I start a bit later because I work later in the evening to accommodate team members in different timezones
- Make sure my Policy team colleague Rima has sent me a cute GIF, normally of a doggy waving or a panda rolling. Nudge her if she hasn’t.
- I don’t usually have many meetings in the morning so I use that time for work that needs sustained quiet and concentration. There’s quite a lot of that in this role. This can be anything from reading a proposal for a new piece of regulation that we might want to chime in on, drafting an amendment to one of our policies, considering a complicated case, or writing guidance for our staff on new or revised policies.
- My afternoons tend to involve a lot of meetings. We do a lot of whole group planning/discussions with US team members later in the day UK time. Once a week we take an in-depth look at a particularly tricky case and think about what we’ve learned from it and any amendments we might need to make to enforcement guidelines.
- Other days (pre-COVID) I might be out liaising with regulators on internet regulation or attending seminars with academics on issues such as online safety or freedom of expression. These tend to be desk-based right now but I have high hopes for 2021.
- I stop work at about 7 or 8. It’s highly tempting to jump on Twitter at that point and see what petitions are being shared but I try to avoid that rabbit hole late in the evening.
What is an example of a petition that created a difficult policy situation?
There are a number of examples of petitions which get a strong reaction from our users – either of support or of complete rejection. We base our assessments on the policies we have in place when we’re responding to complaints but users don’t always agree with our conclusions.
A debate like 5G, for example, attracted a lot of misinformation during the global lockdown earlier this year. We spent a lot of time making sure we used reliable sources to fact-check the claims in some petitions. We based any action we took on what our Community Guidelines say about misinformation, which is that we don’t allow misinformation which could lead to harm on the platform. There was a group of users who were quite annoyed that we didn’t allow petitions making links between Covid and 5G or claiming that Governments were using lockdowns as an excuse to roll out 5G masts or inject everyone with tracker microchips. The claims were verifiably not true so we had to take action against them. Twitter storms ensued. It was an intense couple of weeks. When you’re in the midst of that sort of drama, you just have to remember that your role is to make sure the policies are fit for purpose and are being enforced correctly. Everything else is background noise which it’s best to ignore, although that’s easier said than done sometimes.
Who inspires you?
I like to find my inspiration in the everyday. I’m not that motivated by high profile influencers. I’ve had bosses whose best traits I’ve tried to model; children I’ve taught that were facing all sorts of challenges and not letting anything hold them back. You don’t need to be famous or ‘important’ to inspire people. I try to be open to all the lessons the people I meet can teach me.
If you could go back five years, what advice would you give yourself?
- Work is not everything. Create space for yourself to be something other than your job title. Life is too short to miss out on amazing experiences because you are too busy building a career.
- If you’re not happy in a role, consider how you can move on from it in a way that helps you grow. Maybe you’ll have to take a salary cut but the work will be more interesting or set you up for your next big move.
- Don’t be too disappointed when people behave like people. No one is perfect. Not even you. Have a little patience (I need to listen to this one more. I am not that patient, according to Mr. Kent)
- Celebrate your own achievements. Celebrate the achievements of others and try not to get too bogged down in whether people will measure you against them. They probably won’t. Unless you’re a competitive athlete, in which case, they probably will.
What book changed your life?
Jane Eyre, which I read when I was 13 and which set me on a path of loving classic fiction. I spent that summer reading all the classic fiction I could get from the library and now I’m never happier than when I’m deep into a story. Incidentally, they have never found a decent Mr. Rochester for any film or TV adaptation. Fact.