A Conversation with...Seyi Akiwowo
The Conversations Series, creates a positive image for young girls to refer to, by having conversations with different business owners, entrepreneurs and creators. Seyi Akiwowo is the Founder of Glitch, a UK charity campaigning to make digital spaces safe for all to end online abuse. In 2014, Seyi was elected the youngest Black female Councillor in East London at age 23. In 2017, a video of Seyi addressing MEPs went viral. Overnight, she became a victim of horrific online abuse. She has since dedicated her time to campaigning for increased awareness of the problem of online abuse, influencing policies and championing digital citizenship. Seyi is a graduate from the London School of Economics and Jo Cox Women in Leadership Programme.
Seyi interview is featured in our Fashion Issue. Buy issue 9 here
How To Stay Safe Online is your first published book. A digital self-care toolkit. Can you tell us the journey of writing this book?
I was currently doing live training on online safety all round the world. Including countries like Ghana, Canada, Jordan and Uganda. Which gave me a better understanding that there is a real global issue with online abuse, especially towards women. There was no real platform for people to connect about their experiences and to get support and to challenge the status quo. Friends will also ask me quite a few times about my opinion or advice on the best way to face issues online. It felt like there was naturally a service provision forming. Over the last five years, I’ve delivered training to over 100,000 women and non binary people around the world, and been so fortunate to talk to large tech companies, including TikTok and Twitter. Having discussions on how to make their platforms better, including working with the UN and other government leaders around legislation.
From personal experiences navigating online and setting Glitch, there was plenty of advice, however it was just me providing all this advice and tips. In autumn 2019, an editorial director of Penguin contacted me, and heard me speak so passionately about this subject. She reached out and said, “Would I be keen to write a book?” Since then, it has been a real natural journey over the last 3 years of lived experiences, personal stories, public speaking, workshops and training. This book was the right way to share with people.
Can you tell us about Glitch!? What inspired you to launch this non-profit award-winning UK charity?
Glitch is a UK charity determined to make the online space safe for everyone and at Glitch we do this by encouraging people to be digital citizens, and for tech companies to do a lot more around online safety and prioritise expression of minoritized communities. The reason I initially established Glitch was because it felt the response to online abuse was to belittle it as a thing, or to victim blame. There wasn't a place, a platform of service, an organisation that anyone can go to be reminded of the abuse that their face isn't their fault and here are the steps to take to make them feel safer.
Glitch gradually grew into a campaign movement around tech companies having more responsibilities on what was happening on their platforms, while making a profit. Our advocacy work really expanded, including the research which we do. We are unique as we centre Black women in all of our work. If we centre Black women, then we are more likely to protect and support everybody else because Black women are the most disrespected group in the online space. Since our research was unique, we were ahead of the online trends and what system changes needed to be made. I’m really proud that 5 years in with a growing team, working on training and supporting our community on being safe online. We have and counting to work with great partners, including BT Sport and EE this year campaigning people to take online safety seriously.
Do you have 3 main tips on how young people can stay safe online
The first thing I would say is really think about your intentions and values, once those have been set from the beginning, who can hold yourself accountable to how you want to be on social media and how you want to navigate different conversation groups. You have a compass, which is your consciousness, but think about developing your own Jiminy Cricket! Jiminy Cricket was one of my favourite characters growing up. He is a character of Pinocchio and was Pinocchio’s guide. It’s so easy to lose your consciousness when you are online because we get so desensitised and bombarded by information and, and then outrage and anger and sadness. And so we kind of forget to be present.
First tip: Asking yourself some questions: Who's this account for? Why are you online? What are your guiding values and principles? How do you want to be? How can you make sure you are going to be proud of what you say and how you behave and conduct yourself in five years' time when you are about to start university or starting a new job. It is good to start future proofing yourself and holding yourself in a more value aligned container because it is so easy to get dragged into other people's bad behaviours.
Second tip: Have regular check ins and reflections. It's easy to get caught on what’s trending on social media, for example Black Lives Matter, COVID, etc. Everyone gets caught up in whatever the trending topic is for that moment, including the behaviours and not allowing ourselves to reflect and say “Do I really want to comment or take part in this trend?” Having that check in with yourself just helps you keep re-centering your body and mind's needs. Another great way to track your time online is having screen timers. You have control over how long you want to be on the platform at one time, monitoring your screen time and alerting you when it is time to take a break.
Third tip: Feeling confident that you can create your own timeline. I think we all give into peer pressure; it will be even harder for young people. There have been a few violent videos posted on social media over the last few months, which is not healthy for anyone to be viewing. Following these pages can be a really dangerous cycle to start. To create your own timeline, think of when your parents allow you to decorate however you want. You get full control of what posters you would like on your wall. It is the same for your social timeline. Then means you have full control over who you would like to see, unfollow, mute or make your account private. You are in control.
What would you like to see innovate in the next 5 years within
the digital world?
I would like to see us have a standard of which we hold tech companies to. They should not be the exception to the rule with other companies that have to be regulated. Discussing joy, love, fun and play on these platforms would be great. Currently, we discuss a fair amount of misinformation, heavy subjects which are important and often human rights are being violated and there is a lot of fear out there. I don’t want us to live in a fearful world of tech. I want us to have a healthy relationship with tech. Tech can connect people and communities, it can be a good income stream from minority communities that rarely get their career breaks offline, like there is so much potential with more young Black girls going studying STEM subjects and working within tech, including having an interest in gaming. I’d love to have a conversation around Black joy, creating safe spaces online for all of us to enjoy.
Quick Fire Round
Who inspires you?
The British singer Adele inspires me. I love her boundaries, her ethical discussions, and how she represents London.
Minions: The Rise of Gru
I love them. I love the whole Despicable Me franchise.
What are you currently reading?
Honey and Spice by Bolu Babalola
Laziness Does Not Exist: A Defence of the Exhausted, Exploited, and
Overworked by Devon Price