Recap: TSN-supported Twitter whistleblower talks diversity, tech at RightsCon

This month at the international RightsCon Summit in Costa Rica, Twitter whistleblower Anika Collier Navaroli sat down with journalist Melissa Chan to chat about representation in Big Tech, her whistleblowing journey and the need to further regulation of social media. Anika receives support from The Signals Network.

During the talk, Navaroli said that while technology has many benefits, there is also a need for and benefit to proper regulation. She pointed to the National Transportation and Safety Board, which provides basic standards of safety in aviation. Social media should have similar regulations, she said. These companies should have basic safety standards, such as relying on native speakers of different languages instead of Google Translate to create content moderation decisions.

“While the problem is huge, we have to start somewhere,” she said.

Navaroli and Chan discussed how certain demographics hold more power in the tech space than others, which Navaroli experienced firsthand when working at Twitter and later blowing the whistle. Navaroli was the most senior expert on Twitter’s U.S. safety policy team  at the time of the attack on the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2021.

“I think as a Black queer woman who has studied speech and also been a target of hate speech, I have this both lived experience, but I also have a deep understanding and knowledge of how these things work,” Navaroli said. “So often, it is the straight, [cisgender], white, Americen men who are the power-holders, who are the decision-makers… I’ve also seen this very much within the tech accountability space.”

twitter whistleblower

In September 2022, Navaroli went public in an exclusive interview with Washington Post reporter Drew Harwell  as one of the two Twitter whistleblowers who gave evidence to the U.S.  House Committee investigating the January 6th attack on the U.S.  Capitol. Shortly after, she was awarded the Ridenhour Prize for  Truth-Telling for her courage in coming forward to speak truth to the  committee. She has subsequently testified to Congress and penned an op-Ed for The Financial Times on Europe’s proposed Media Freedom Act.

During Thursday’s conversation, Navaroli called Europe’s Digital Services Act a “wonderful” model for future social media and tech regulation. But she said policy is not effective without proper enforcement, and pointed to the current draft of the Media Freedom Act that grants full exemption of content moderation obligations to companies that self-declare as “media.”

“The fabric of our society is at stake and we are creating laughable solutions,” she said.

When asked what groups she would recommend to people who are thinking about whistleblowing and need support, she said, “I have been working very closely with The Signals Network and I would encourage anybody to reach out to them if they are thinking about whistleblowing.”

Through our Whistleblower Protection Program, TSN provides customized support services to a selected number of whistleblowers who have contributed to published reports of significant wrongdoing.

Navaroli said, despite the friends and advisors who have helped her along the way, her whistleblowing experience has felt like a “free fall.” Whistleblowers need help, partly because it becomes harder to find a new job in their respective industry after revealing secrets in that industry, she said.

“We need more resources,” Navaroli said “We need funders. We need nontraditional sources of philanthropy. … The bills don’t stop just because you blew the whistle.”

Founded in 2017, TSN is a 501(c)3 organization with international operations dedicated to supporting whistleblowers and holding powerful interests accountable. TSN provides customized legal, psychological, physical safety, temporary safe-housing, online safety, career and communication support to a selected group of whistleblowers who have contributed to published reports of significant wrongdoing.

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