December 3, 2020
Seyi Akiwowo, Founder and Executive Director of Glitch, joins Jameela this week to discuss what it means to be a “digital citizen,” being trauma-informed not trauma-led, self-care for black women, the way’s both Seyi and Jameela have learned from their own internet mistakes, and the Glitch’s work in training women how to be safe online as well as challenging giant social media corporations to take more ownership of what happens on their sites.
35 — Seyi Akiwowo
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:00:00] Hello, and welcome to another episode of I Weigh with Jameela Jamil. Okay. I can’t believe it’s December. That’s terrifying. At least Mariah Carey is on the radio all day, every day, which is the only good thing about this month arriving so soon. I swear it feels like we went into lockdown about a month and a half ago, and yet that was March the 13th, which was all the way at the beginning of the year. So, I don’t know if this should count as three years or not a year at all. I’m not quite sure about how we should have to deal with or respond to this year. But it is extraordinary. And maybe just like you, I’ve come out of it with no skills. I’m just sort of squishier, which is great and fine. And I’m very cuddly and cozy. And I am more socially anxious, generally more anxious, afraid of going back to work, not sure if I remember how to do literally anything other than pick up a dog shit–which is kind of all I feel like I’ve been doing this year–and saying the word “sit,” and “no,” and “off.” Those are the only three words that I know I for sure can still say. So, yeah, it’s December, guys. Let’s get real. But that’s why I’ve chosen today’s guest, and I will explain why she’s on in a second. But first, I just want to tell you that we are doing an exclusive series only on Stitcher Premium, which is a bonus series where you can ask me anything. Any questions that you have about anything in life–you can ask them to me. Bring me your worst–your most personal–and I will not give away your identity or anything about your name. No one will know it’s you. I will just read out the subject matter. And I will bring someone on whose opinion I respect, who will help me try and work out how to best help you and serve you with your issue. So, you can call or text us at 1-818-660-5543. Or you can email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Anyway, back to today’s current episode. I asked this wonderful and inspiring woman to come on to the podcast in particular now because as we lead into Christmas, we are going to find that people feel the most isolated, the most vulnerable, the most traumatized. They’re looking back on what’s just been an unbelievably difficult and horrifying year that has not just been upsetting when it comes to the ideas of like illness, and isolation, and pain, and death–but also political division, and so much unkindness, and so much bigotry. We are all feeling absolutely fucked. And so, this would be a good time for all of us–myself included because I can be a sassy bitch online–to be a little bit gentler, and a bit kinder, and a bit more thoughtful about who is behind these emojis and who is behind these sort of, you know, anonymous profile pictures online. We should be more thoughtful about how we are speaking to other people, how we are reading their tone, and how we are allowing ourselves to be treated online–and whether or not it is actually safe in our current mental health states to be online. This is Seyi Akiwowo, who is the founder of Glitch UK. It’s an organization that helps educate people about online bullying, and it holds huge social media platforms to account in how they protect and preserve the safety of people online. And they do a lot of work in educating kids and people all around the world in how to be a better digital citizen. Even that expression alone is part of why I love Seyi so much. And I will let Seyi explain to you herself what that means, what it means to be a digital citizen, and what digital citizenship looks like. She came on and just blew my mind with so many facts, so many statistics, so many personal experiences of her own, and just so much wisdom and thoughtfulness about the way that we carry on with our lives and how we have to stop looking at our lives online and offline as separate things–separate entities–two separate versions of ourselves. It is all the same. And we have to be human beings on both types of platforms. And as I said before–and I talk about this with her online–she and I both have our own regrets about ways in which we’ve conducted ourselves online. And we get into that. And I think that a lot of people are guilty of just allowing your worst self out there on the internet because there’s a part of you that feels dehumanized. You know, and also when you’re looking into a screen, there is a blue light coming at you that is truly making it harder for your brain to actually produce empathy. So, we are unempathetic, and dehumanized, and talking to each other as if we’re not human beings with feelings, and backstories, and hearts, and souls. And we all need to work out together how we can navigate this tricky, and scary, and way too under-supervised world of online better together–to make us all happier and just nicer people. So, this is the absolutely excellent Seyi Akiwowo. Seyi Akiwowo, welcome to I Weigh. How are you?
SEYI AKIWOWO [00:05:21] Hi. I’m okay. I mean, we’re recording this in what could have been a better week for the state of the world. But I am okay. How are you?
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:05:29] I’m okay. I’m okay. I mean, I cannot imagine, considering your line of work, what this week–this whole year–has felt like for you as a Black woman existing within society, watching all of these things about police brutality in the UK, in the US, and now also in Nigeria. For those who don’t know, we are talking about there– If you’ve seen the hashtag #EndSARS online, it is because they are referring to police brutality over in Nigeria. And so, considering Seyi’s work before as a British Nigerian women’s rights activist and campaigner, this is, I imagine, just incredibly triggering and tough. And, you know, I think all of us feel like we’re seeing in so many different ways the world move backwards. And so, therefore, considering what a shit show it is online, the world has never needed a company like yours more. So, you run a charity called Glitch UK. And I wonder if you would tell us exactly what it is that you do.
SEYI AKIWOWO [00:06:33] Thank you. So, we’re called Glitch. And we are based in the UK. And we’re a small charity determined to make the space online a lot safer for all. We are aware that women and girls are disproportionately impacted by online abuse and harm and those with intersecting identities also are at risk. And so, we do a lot around raising awareness of how online abuse impacts different communities and doing that through an intersectional lens. We raise awareness with both governments and tech companies through our advocacy works to try and get systematic and long-term change. But we also want to address the kind of exodus of women leaving the online space or having to deal with the repercussions of being online–whether it’s career, financially, socially, mentally, health-wise–and by delivering training and resources. Now we’ve been going for three years, and it was birthed out of my experience of being a then-politician–and a video of a speech that I’ve made at the European Parliament went viral. And it was about racial injustice actually, and it went viral. And it was fine at first. I thought, “Yeah. This is it. Going to get a blue tick on Twitter. I’m going to get onto the Ellen Show. Idris Elba style is going to respond to my tweets and declarations of love.” Nope. None of that happened. Somebody posted it on a neo-Nazi website, and then I was on the receiving end of trolling and online abuse. And it’s just really clear, being a Black woman, that the law was lacking. The response from society as well was lacking. The victim blaming around saying, “Well, it’s just part of the job. Stick with it.” And yeah, I guess my kind of stubbornness, and annoyance, and anger just birthed this oops baby called Glitch. We’ve been going for three years.
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:08:17] That’s amazing. And what was the toll on your mental health when that video first went viral and you started being hounded by actual Nazis?
SEYI AKIWOWO [00:08:26] I think the toll on my mental health was in two ways because I think the positive of going viral and everyone, like, you know, sharing–that obviously kicks off some crazy endorphins and it’s great. But that also did take a toll on my mental health in having to respond and feel like I was on, and having to engage, and constant notifications. And then, yeah, the tide turning as well because I went into kind of flight mode. I think everyone has a different response mechanism when it comes to trauma. I went into flight mode. I didn’t realize how exhausted I was until somebody told me to stop. And I was away working in Dubai, facilitating for the British Council. And I had three days before having to go to the next workshop. And I just stopped, and my body seized up like I’d been at the gym working out, like, trying to do auditions for Iron Man or something. I don’t know. My body was just hurting. And that’s when I said, “When I come back, I’m not going to do the campaign for two months.” So, I took a break, and I came back in over the summer. And I realized that I was coming up at a place of definitely informed trauma, but I was being led by my trauma. I was fearful, I was paranoid, I wasn’t sleeping, I wasn’t eating. And it was all being masked in this kind of flight mode. But it was definitely a psychological and physiological response to the abuse. Any time my notifications went off–good, or bad, or just, like, a council email–I was getting this kind of relived moment. And thank God to the NHS, I was able to get therapy. And it was in my first couple of weeks of diagnosis that–an assessment–they said to me that I was suffering from post-stress disorder and PTSD. And I thought, “Well, those were only things that happened with, like, really horrific, violent situations.” And I was totally downplaying how traumatic the whole experience was. And having to go through CBT for six months, and really having a new relationship with the Internet, and a new relationship with my phone, a new relationship of how I set boundaries. And that was really tough because of what I do. I’m constantly having to talk about my story–constantly having to be around other women and non-binary people who experienced online abuse. And having to set boundary in a way that I could tell my story without retriggering myself and also be in the room–in a whole space for other people–where I wasn’t then letting them down. And that took a lot, a lot, a lot of work.
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:10:53] Yeah, well, I mean, I love what you said about the fact that–you’ve told me this before as well–work and advocacy work online should be trauma-informed but not trauma-led. I wonder if you would expand on that a little bit.
SEYI AKIWOWO [00:11:09] Yeah, it was a revelation, I think, late last year around how a lot of all kind of movements–whether it’s anti-racists, any form of anti-oppression–is birthed out of a lived experience, and that is trauma. And it’s great because it means that we are all able to stop that trauma affecting so many other people. You see it with FGM campaigners–genital mutilation campaigners–you see it with, you know, people who are really putting themselves on their line and using their stories. But at the same time, how do we make sure that our trauma doesn’t continue to lead us? So, we’re not led by our trauma, but we’re informed by it. And so, we make sure that we’re not too singular issue focused and therefore potentially doing other harms to other groups of people who are marginalized–and how we make sure that we’re taking care of ourselves, we’re not burning out, so our movements and our work and our campaigns are sustainable. And it really came to a massive revelation from me when I was just seeing so many more campaigns having to be birthed because of the way our structure and society is all around the world. And there had just been a lack of care, and support, and philanthropy for campaigners to be able to heal. And they were to continuously heal and do that inward work. And that’s why I’m really just passionate about yes, let’s be trauma-informed, but let’s not be trauma-led. And let that not be really the thing that becomes a new sexy thing to do is, like, bare all online, which we think is great transparency but actually can be doing so much harm because not everybody is nice online. There are lots of dickheads that can use your vulnerability and your transparency to hurt you. And I think it’s really about spending more time giving that care to our leaders and to our campaigners who are at the forefront.
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:12:59] 100%. I mean, Christ have I learned what it’s like to be vulnerable and then have people turn that around onto me and then use that to either, like, gaslight me, or discredit me, or mock me and my family. So, I definitely agree with that. And I think I’ve definitely pulled back a tiny bit–not in that I will, you know, not continue to be open and very transparent. But I think there are certain parts of me that now I’m just like, “Not everyone in the world is decent or is even trying to receive this with any kind of integrity.” So, I think that’s so important that you point that out.
SEYI AKIWOWO [00:13:32] And also, I think it’s important that we don’t trigger ourselves, right? So, there’s a point in the setup of Glitch–in being online, and doing the work, and speaking, and all of this stuff–that I could see that I was a little bit addicted. I was searching the comments. I was checking my messages as I wanted to continue to inflict pain on myself. And it was really weird how easy it is to be addicted to the children, to the violence. There’s so much study, there’s so much study out there around as a little study out there around, around trauma. And I think if we’re going to have more movement, sadly, because of the way the world is birthed out of it, we have to have a better relationship with how organizations and campaigns–in order to be sustainable and also to be inclusive–isn’t so trauma led.
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:14:19] I didn’t know that–the fact that we are, as human beings, kind of prone to being a bit addicted to singing doom, and gloom, and trauma. In my head, that doesn’t even seem practical. I completely believe it. And also, like, I’ve seen myself do it, and I’ve seen countless other people do it. Can you expand on that at all? Just that’s fascinating to me.
SEYI AKIWOWO [00:14:40] I mean, I think we see every day with how bad news sells in the media–bad storylines as well. I mean, I’m a lover of EastEnders. I’m a lover of Scandal and Grey’s Anatomy. Yeah, just the horror genre.
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:14:54] I wonder if it’s a safety thing of, like, I need to know what’s out there. I need to know what’s coming.
SEYI AKIWOWO [00:14:59] Yeah, definitely. Because no one had my back before, so I’ve got to have my own back. No one really has Black women’s back, so I’ve got to have my own. But yeah, 100%. It could be a bit around survival for sure. There is something around have we internalized maybe we deserve it? We deserve the infliction of this pain. There is so much to unpack, and this is why I definitely just think there needs to be globally a better relationship around mental health and how we talk about mental health care, and mental illness, and everything. But how we say it’s okay for our leaders and our campaigners to take risks and do things from a place of rest, and from a place of joy because that’s where you see creativity, and inclusivity, and love–rather than trauma and violence, where there’s now a scarcity of resource. I’m going to do my bit, go away. I’m going to apply for that fun application, and not with you, and there’s no collaboration, and there’s no innovative thinking. They talk about it as well in our body–that fight, flight, and freeze and all of that–and that the cortisone that builds in your body through adrenaline is only meant to be for a short space of time. We’re constantly being addicted to that adrenaline in our body–it is eating away our muscles. It’s eating at all the good things in our body.
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:16:15] That’s why I don’t have any muscles. I wondered why I didn’t have any muscles. That’s why I can’t do a pullup–because I’m always on Twitter. It’s not because I’m lazy.
SEYI AKIWOWO [00:16:27] No, no. Yeah. I can’t do a pushup either, so we’re there. But I only know this through lived experience, through lots of trial and error, through lots of–as you said–my pain being seen out there, and, you know, lots of breakdowns, and having to really dig deep around what self-care and self-love is. Not everybody gets this. It comes across selfish to some people. It comes across, you know, having to push against the tide of burnout being this kind of martyrdom, and badge, and activist culture. And in campaigns, it is hard.
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:16:58] So true! But it’s so funny because it is so important to understand that working yourself into the ground is not appropriate. It’s not helpful. It doesn’t achieve anything. If anything, you create a much shorter life span for your work and, as you said, your moment of innovation. And yet, you know, I think especially with brown women and more so with Black women, there is just this idea that you don’t feel pain. You don’t feel exhaustion. You are just a mule to be piled onto, who’s kind of carrying the world on your shoulders. And so, when it comes to all of my Black friends, especially those who are activists, I noticed that self-care isn’t something that is ever targeted at them. Self-care is white. And that is just the way it’s been marketed. If you look at every spa, I’ve never seen a spa that has a Black woman–or even a brown woman–in a dressing gown with, you know, the slippers and the head in a wrap. And they’re with cucumbers on her eyes.
SEYI AKIWOWO [00:18:05] Exactly. And something that is going to actually fit my Afro hair. I mean, those shower caps they give you in the hotel ain’t going to do anything for me.
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:18:13] It’s a condom. I’m convinced it’s a condom.
SEYI AKIWOWO [00:18:19] But you’re absolutely right in that if we want our campaigns–our movements–to be sustainable and to be truly revolutionary, we have to take heed to the words of Audre Lorde that “self-care is a revolutionary act.” For a Black woman to say “no,” and to say “yes” to herself, and not to continuously serve and be a conduit for other people is so revolutionary in itself. If we can get young girls and women to be saying they’re setting boundaries based on their needs–that, I believe, also can be a game changer in the mental health movement, in the kind of self-care movement. But also, yeah, I would love to see a Black-owned spa that would be truly inclusive for treatments that would be working for my skin and my skin tone.
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:19:05] Yeah, 100%. I want you to see people who look like you in there and on the pictures. Yeah, I 100% hear that. And I think that conversation is definitely starting, especially, you know, over the course of the summer where people were just realizing they were so traumatized. And really, you know, post-George Floyd, I think people are starting to use that terminology more. It’s just about the access to it.
SEYI AKIWOWO [00:19:28] Yeah. Well, for us we saw in the UK a guy called Desmond up in Manchester being violently tasered by the police in front of his daughter while at a petrol station. And the Glitch team said, “There’s something for us to be doing here when talking to tech companies about platforms, and greater autonomy of the platforms, and what it means to be a digital citizen with rights and responsibility.” And then two months later, George Floyd happened, and we saw him call out for his late mother and the pain. And that was constantly shared and retweeted with no trigger warning labels–with no with no opportunity to opt in. And it was, like, you saw the hashtag Black Lives Matter–you followed certain accounts–and it was on your timeline. The algorithms were basically profiting from it and censoring all, which was great for awareness but not great for mental health. And there’s got to be a way, as we’ve seen it now this week–and in the coming weeks as well–because it’s only going to get worse before it gets better. And the revolution comes in Nigeria. Amen. We’re going to see more graphic content, and we’re going to see more documentation and livestream of what’s happening on the ground because we need to know. This is where tech companies can invest some of their billions–in making that process of trigger warnings, sensitive labels, responsible uploading–
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:20:48] Blurring. Blur so that somebody can opt in to make that a clear image.
SEYI AKIWOWO [00:20:53] Muting, filtering, all sorts. There’s so much that can be done so that we can still stay aware but not at the expense of Black people’s mental health and wellbeing–and their dignity and humanity. And there’s one point I want to make as well. I’m not sure this is going to land with people, but we’ll find out, I guess, on Twitter and Instagram because they’ll probably tell me. But we’ve had examples of documentation before and we’re in history repeating itself. We have documentations of genocide, we have documentations of Holocaust, we have documentations of slavery. That has not changed America. That has not changed civil wars that are going on in former colonized countries. That has not made former empires, and still empires today, and neo colonialism any better. So, I’m also taking my Glitch hat off a little bit. I’m also a little bit up to here about documentation needed to justify humanity and experience, when actually what we want is just to listen to our words. We don’t need to keep seeing murders be livestreamed on Facebook and Twitter.
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:21:55] 100%. I agree with you so much. You and I have kind of become mates over the last year. Would you say it’s a year? Year And a half? We. I think mostly times in which we would reach out to each other was when we saw the other one was on fire online. And I’ve really appreciated that friendship and those moments to have those really massive conversations. And when the other one is being trolled or taken out of context, the way that we have been able to support and uplift each other. And sometimes we don’t always agree. And those conversations are always had with so much love, and so much care, and a knowledge that the other one has good intentions.
SEYI AKIWOWO [00:22:40] Is trying their best.
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:22:42] Exactly. And so, you know, I think that you and I will sometimes kind of so lightly debate. I was going back to our WhatsApps over the last year, just before this chat, just to kind of reminisce. And just seeing the way in which we engage with each other–Christ–I wish more people had that. And I’ve never even met you. This is the first time we’ve actually been face-to-face. But I feel like I know you because of how intimately we have spoken in such vulnerable moments. And I cannot express to people how much more that inspires someone to be their best self when they don’t feel as though they’re being written off and undermined. I’m not saying you can’t criticize because Seyi and I are open with each other about, you know, the harms of, quote, “tweeting.” And we are also very open with each other about our mistakes in the past, which we’ll get into in a minute. But we speak to each other with the knowledge and with the hope that the other person has a heart, and has some integrity and a brain, and that actually you more want to call them in than just like… Not even call them out. Calling people out is fine, but just cast them aside. It feels like there’s so much of that now. Just dismissing someone, diminishing them. I’m not talking about cancel culture. I think that’s a different thing. I’ve talked about it a billion times on this fucking podcast, but I’m just saying the way that we–even with people that we love–say, “Oh, you have a different political belief to me? Well, then fuck you. Fuck you forever. I’m not talking to you and blocking your number.” Rather than just trying to engage. And I feel like we’re not even allowed to engage with those in the opposition otherwise we’re considered allies to the opposition. You know, so for example, for a minute I was trying to see if I could follow people who opposed the rights of those that I fight for because I wondered if maybe if I could understand them–and maybe they could understand me–we could start to come to some sort of compromise or humanity. I don’t know. I don’t know if it’s, like, a stalemate–but a way to just humanize one another. And maybe I could educate them. But just by following them, I was considered an evil villain. Or just for even asking the question–I was like, “Is it helpful if we never talk to each other?” Just by asking that question, I was accused of denying the rights of those that I was fighting for. And I’m just like, “I’m not the expert here. I’m not saying you necessarily are, but what the fuck do we do with that? Like, how are we ever going to get to a better place if we can’t just have the conversation?”
SEYI AKIWOWO [00:25:21] There’s so much there. I think, number one, you’re right that digital citizenship, you know, online advocacy, all the things we’ve been discussing up until now isn’t about saying that we’re all going, “It’s all about us creating an online space. We’re always going to agree.” That’s not it; we’re not going to get that utopia. It’s saying that we can disagree without descending into online abuse and we can post without automatically assuming everybody is going to agree. It works on both sides with people shutting down debate because somebody is disagreeing with them–and it’s not venturing into abuse. And then they’re co-opting the term “online abuse,” which I find really annoying obviously because of what I do, and using it to protect their…
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:26:04] Accountability.
SEYI AKIWOWO [00:26:08] Exactly. To push accountability away, and to protect their privileged identity. And that irks me. I want to pull my eyelashes out. But on the flip side, we can criticize without having to descend into online abuse, without having to descend into name calling and vitriol. And I have to sometimes catch myself because I’ll read a tweet, I’ll agree with it, and I’ll like it. And then it will end. It will just go off in some way. And I said, “Why don’t you just stop there?” And I have to unlike it because of what you just said later on. I just know that’s what’s going to happen. And there’s another thing you said there about how do we have a dialog? It doesn’t mean that now we’re going to invite a racist for Christmas. We’re not going to get a turkey. We’re going to bring the racist round because we can do our social bubble here in the UK. But that’s not what it’s about, and that’s people on two extremes. There is–as social studies show–a conflicted middle. There is a conflicted middle of people who have grown up conditioned in patriarchy and have been victims the way some of us have been in how we have to bow down to men in terms of servitude, in terms of the hierarchy of oppression and the hierarchy of races. There are people who have been conditioned to that and are on the beginning of their journey to, I guess, being woke, and want to know, and are making a lot of mistakes. And those are people that can be engaged with. That doesn’t mean the person who is the oppressed. So Black women having to tell white women how to be better–no, that’s where allies can come in and do that. And I think that’s where we should be supportive. You know, one thing that was really good–my work wife, Gabby Edlin, she’s set up a charity called Bloody Good Period. And it’s about period equity. And when it came to the height of Black Lives Matter, she volunteered herself as a service basically to Black women who were having white women in their DMS asking them questions. She’s a Jewish woman who said, “For the next week, please don’t message these women. Message me and I’ll do the education.” That is what I mean about creatively using the online space to do the work, to bring more people in, to understand–to genuinely understand–you are not being lazy but are so confused. And I think the reason why I have this stance–which is not the same for everybody, which is fine–is because I look at how I was brought up and where I’m from, and everything was set on the cards for me to be a dickhead. The way I was brought up in the church, the way I was brought up in terms of sexual identities. All of everything I have and know now has all been self-taught. It was all through one lecture at university about critical race study and education, and it pulled a thread. I was privileged enough to have people to go to university, and get that, and then do that unraveling myself, and really challenge the church, leave church, and challenge my family, and not talk to certain family members because I did that. And that’s why I feel like I have to be gracious to people who are on their journey. Again, this is not being gracious to dickheads who are intentionally setting up political parties and, you know, are calling Black Lives Matter a threat to democracy. This is not about that. It’s about that conflicted middle, those people who want to be on our side but just don’t get it–just don’t understand. And even people who do get it on certain issues and have got completely blind spots and others. Another example–me–I used to be anti-Semitic. I didn’t realize it was a trope because it was so embedded in jokes in school–so embedded in certain music references. And it was literally until… I remember being in a council meeting about three or four years ago, and they read out the definition of what tropes were, and they gave examples. And I literally wanted to be sick because I was like, “I can’t believe I call myself an anti-racist. I’ve come on a journey to understand how to be a better ally to trans communities and LGBT communities.” And I had this blind spot. And I did the work. I said to Jewish friends, like, “I am so sorry. I’m not going to be that white woman that says, ‘How have I missed this?’” And again, having friends who were so gracious to me to get me to see my blind spots. And then I did some work experience with the Holocaust Education Trust. I then became a facilitator for Anne Frank Trust to really like give back and to learn, and to do the work. And then I did a thread and I just said, “I totally get why some people don’t see they’re anti-Semitic. Let me tell you from somebody who used to be anti-Semitic.” And I did a threat, and I didn’t retweet any of the praise or anything like that. I did it as a way of saying, “I, as a Black woman who prided themselves as being an anti-racist, still had blind spots.” And I think that’s also important to realize–that as we progress the cycle, which is what we want, we’re going to realize that we’ve been a little bit of a dickhead, particularly as we’ve grown up on social media. We’ve got a digital footprint that reminds us that we’re a dickhead as well.
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:31:28] Yeah, I’m very well aware. I have many, many footprints–several hundred down the beach. The Internet never forgets. And thank God because I’ve become a better person for the fact that the internet didn’t forget, and I wasn’t able to just sort of brush it under the carpet. Yeah, I, similarly to you was, was primed and ready to be a prick. And so, you know, it made me a bit of a prick. I’m probably still a bit of a prick, and I’m still undoing my prickishness every single day. You know, I was such a fucking misogynist until so recently–like eight years ago. I was one of those girls who was just like, “No, I don’t really have female friends. All my friends are guys.” Now, most of my best friends are all women. And I thought that rape culture was perpetuated by women. I didn’t even know the word “patriarchy” until, like, six years ago. I didn’t know anything about non-binary people. I didn’t know anything really about the history of trans women. I was calling myself a feminist–and slut-shaming female celebrities, and blaming women, and saying that women are “vacuous” and “dumb.” If I had any upper body strength, I would beat the old me up. I haven’t got any muscles because of, as we said, online stress ate all my muscles. It’s not because I’m weak. So, I was someone that I hate now when I look back on. I forgive, but I’m just embarrassed by it. I don’t even hate them. I understand that they were a product of their environment. And something that I have found problematic personally, and I’ve seen it happen to many other people, is that when they do what you did, which is incredibly brave, both here and on that Twitter thread–when you owned up to your own previous mistake–I think that’s incredibly brave. And when I heard you do it, it made me respect you even more and find you even more inspiring. But I feel like, especially in the last year now, when you own up to your previous mistakes, there’s quite a big vitriolic response. We saw it just not too long ago with Jennifer Lawrence, where she owned up to the fact that in 2008, she was 18 years old, she had been raised very religious, very Republican, been told only about the fiscal benefits of being a Republican, didn’t really know anything about democracy or Democrats, and didn’t know any Democrats because she lived in Kentucky, which is a very Republican area. So, she owned up to the fact that, you know, she until eight years ago was a Republican and over time has grown up, learned, changed her view, started to align more with the world, became a Bernie supporter, has become a full Democrat, has been mortified by Trump, and really had him expose the problems within the Republican community. And all I have seen online since is hatred towards her. And I don’t know her. I’ve got no, you know, allegiance to Jennifer Lawrence. But like, I just feel like that’s so shortsighted. But this is a woman who’s saying, “Look, this has been my journey in order to reach out to people who might be on this same journey.” She’s not bragging about the fact that she didn’t vote for the first ever Black president. She’s saying, “I was a little Republican.” I think those are her exact words. She didn’t mean a small amount Republican. She meant I was a small child Republican. And the way that people have ripped apart. I found the same thing with me whenever I’ve owned up to my old misogyny. People are like, “Nope, that’s a tattoo. You’ve done that now.” And “Oh, well done. You’ve owned up to it.” And whenever I say, like, “Oh, I’m learning,” or anyone else is learning. “Progress not perfection.” People are like, “Oh, fuck off. She always says she’s learning. ‘Progress not perfection.’” That’s human. I’m not saying, “I’m learning,” and then repeating the same mistakes. I might make new mistakes, but I’m always learning and growing. And we have a kind of shaming of saying that you’re learning or saying that you’re in progress. It’s as if you should just bugger off. No, I think you should do the work in private, that’s not what I’m trying to say. But you should just bugger off, learn everything, and come out perfectly saying the exact right amount, and coming across as if you are this omniscient, all-knowing, excellent being. Whereas I don’t find that very fucking accessible. The reason that I make a point of, if I fuck up, being vulnerable, saying sorry, and then teaching people as I go along, or bringing someone on my podcast, or making a YouTube video to explain the history of it, what we can all do, how we can all be better so that other people don’t make the same mistake as me. I don’t think we should be meeting people like that with mockery. I think that that’s the only progressive– If we don’t believe in change, what the fuck is the point of activism?
SEYI AKIWOWO [00:36:31] I completely agree with you. Again, at the risk of people telling me why I shouldn’t agree with you–
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:36:38] No, I know you get shit for being friends with me. But I’m sorry about that.
SEYI AKIWOWO [00:36:42] No, it’s okay. I think also because a lot of people want everything to be public and be publicly reprimanded. And people, I think, will forget what my job is. I’m a CEO of a charity. We’ve got to be cross-party. There’s things that I would love to say, obviously, and there’s some things that I’d say when it really is a violation–like what’s happened this week with Nigeria. There needs to be a global response that is not what global response has been in the past, which is just to invade and take oil. So, I’ve kind of got an immune system to the kind of expectations around what needs to be done in public, and what needs to be done in private, and people just needing to mind their own business. But what I agree with you particularly is around this idea of perfectionism in feminism and in activism. And I don’t know where the fuck it came from because we know the world is not perfect. That’s why it’s activism. So, I don’t know where it’s come from. And I don’t know if it’s something that’s still lingering from being conditioned around perfection and what patriarchy wants from women to be perfect and be so well groomed, and put together, and, again, perfect that we place that massive expectation on each other.
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:37:58] And on ourselves by the way. Sorry. I was going to say we cancel ourselves so easily.
SEYI AKIWOWO [00:38:03] And on ourselves. Absolutely. And the danger of that is: one, we create idols. We create people that we now worship and adore because we expect perfection from them. And we don’t allow people to make mistakes. Obviously, if you’re in forms of leadership, you shouldn’t be making so many mistakes because that’s why you’re leading. But I think the balance needs to tip back, so we’re able to see humanity in people, which is imperfection. So, we create idols if we don’t have a better grapple around perfection. And again, that’s not good accountability. All of this–the individuals and seeking perfection–is a massive distraction from long term systematic change. We have to deal with the fact that our faith in music, in politics, in entertainment, in culture, our family, our faves are going to sometimes be problematic because no one is perfect. We haven’t got to grapple with that yet. I think technology and the algorithms amplify that a lot more, actually. I think the kind of combativeness in certain platforms… I just think technology could help reduce that kind of eagerness of perfection. But all of this is a massive distraction. And social media, which should be highlighting the issues, is highlighting the individuals. I absolutely love Audre Lorde. I love Martin Luther King. I love Malcolm X. I love so many of these amazing activists before me. But imagine if there were on social media. You’d be seeing their warts and all. Perfectionism is basically creating idols, and it’s not good accountability. It means our movement is not sustainable. It’s a distraction. I’m not talking about people. And I don’t think it’s healthy. I don’t think it’s good digital self-care to be spending time caring so much about individuals. But again, I think the platforms do that. I think the platforms make us want to have an opinion about Kim Kardashian. I mean, I think some people like Kim Kardashian use that to continue their platform. But why do we need to comment? Why do I get drawn into having opinion when I see her on the explore page to comment, and then I see some of the most horrific things that people said? You don’t actually have to press send. Think those things. Share the post in a in a secret WhatsApp group. Say it to your friend.
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:40:32] You and I have texted some of these things to each other.
SEYI AKIWOWO [00:40:35] Exactly!
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:40:35] Just text. That’s what DMs are for. That’s what WhatsApp is for.
SEYI AKIWOWO [00:40:43] I have a running joke with everybody, including you, of tweets that I would never send. Not everything has to be posted. And it’s back to this conundrum, especially when we know that everything seems to be online and there’s this massive digital footprint that lingers around you forever and ever. This is why I think self-care–again, going back to what I talked about before about self-care, and rest, and not being trauma-led but trauma-informed–is so important in dealing and addressing these things that don’t allow our movements to be sustainable.
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:41:12] 100%. And also, just regarding Kim Kardashian–just because her name and my name are always, like, braided together–what I will say is that something that’s really frustrated me is that I’ve called her out maybe three or four times. I’ve called that family out three or four times over. I always do it in a productive– Once I was rude. The first time I was rude. But I also had, like, 10,000 followers, and I didn’t think anyone would see it. It didn’t become the most viral tweet that I’ve ever had, but I said, “Fuck off.” And that was bad. And I regret that. I shouldn’t have used those words. I should have been more thoughtful. I just didn’t know that anyone was ever going to see it. I was an idiot. But aside from that, after that, every time has always been thoughtful. It’s been empathetic. It has not been with any kind of hope to cancel them. I just want them to stop doing that one specific thing that I think is literally dangerous–that I know is dangerous–to our society. And then I move on, and I tell people, like, “You know what? Just stop trolling her. Just unfollow, or mute, or block. Just go away.”
SEYI AKIWOWO [00:42:13] I said to my boyfriend that when I– Because I’ve always said I’d like to die before him because I don’t want to be on this earth by myself.
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:42:20] I want to die before your boyfriend, too.
SEYI AKIWOWO [00:42:22] And so I said to William that one of the things you have to do is send a screenshot of mute list so people can be really shocked at the people and things I have muted. Some of the times I don’t even see the indirects. And I don’t even get it because I don’t follow the accounts that people are talking about. I’m a grandma to Black Twitter and to feminist Twitter because I don’t see it until people say, “Why haven’t you commented on this?” Because I haven’t seen it! I don’t want to follow the drama.
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:42:55] Same. I don’t follow most of the people that people ask me to call out. Why would I? I don’t want to see that shit.
SEYI AKIWOWO [00:43:00] And I think that’s where, again, the education around using the platforms to serve your digital self-care so you don’t get stuck into that cycle of going to Twitter for the drama–of going there to talk not about the people but the issues. And rather than tweeting something that somebody has said and has an opinion of and saying it’s dumb- why don’t we talk about the issues in the intellect of it? And I think we have lost the art of debate. We have lost the art of having a conversation without… As I said before today, and I’ve said it all the time on the timeline– And again, that’s not something that is even sexy– that gets that much retweet. What does get retweeted is when I do get annoyed at tech companies and I basically–I guess in a way being hypocritical–am like, “@jackdorsey. Do something about this.” And I get a lot of attention for that. But when I talk about the art of debate and doing things differently and with more grace and kindness, I genuinely mean it because we will be causing and using our words to hurt somebody–to basically encourage people to be causing themselves harm. And we can’t keep waiting for there to be another suicide or another massive incident before we say, “Oh yeah, be kind.” And then we’ll remember it for two weeks, and then we forget. “Oh yeah, George Floyd and Black Lives Matter.” And then Black lives don’t matter anymore. We can’t keep doing that. And that’s because we keep making it about the individuals rather than the issue.
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:44:21] 100%. They are a product of their environment. Let’s talk about the fucking environment because God knows they’re not the only person who thinks that thing or talks like that 100%. I mean, Christ, I almost killed myself in February because of how hard I got trolled. My boyfriend had to force me into a therapist’s office and get me put on medication for, like, three months because I wasn’t safe near any open window. I was going to just jump out the nearest window. I don’t have suicidal ideation. I’m someone who has panic attacks. And then the panic attacks make me think, like, “Oh, my God. I need to just go right now.” I do not advise that to anyone out there. That’s a bad, bad decision. But that’s what I was driven to by how many lies were being spread about me, and how my family was being harassed, and how I was being accused of, like, contributing to Caroline’s death–which I had nothing to do with. She had reached out to me. We were we were fine. It led me to a point. And I think because people think of us as in our castles, they forget. And this is not just for a privileged, famous person. This is maybe for a non-disabled person, or a white person–but someone that you look at as privileged in some way. You will look at someone as having a more privilege than you and therefore less likely to feel pain from your behavior. Be very, very careful because you have no idea what someone’s going through at home. And you have no idea that they are actually sometimes reading everything that you’re saying.
SEYI AKIWOWO [00:45:49] You don’t know what’s going on at home and if they’ve got the support. You were blessed to be able to be at home with a boyfriend who loves you and could take you to get support and help. There are women who are on the receiving end of abuse and then are being abused by their partners, and there’s no access to mental health. We just don’t know. And the thing is as well, when I say to people to mind their business it’s because we’re not even minding other people’s business properly, because we don’t really know what’s going on. We don’t have an idea of it. And you know, it’s very brave of you to be talking about some of the consequences that you’ve shared of the online abuse you received this year because people need to know where it can go. And we talk about it in our… Well, I don’t really need to talk about–it comes up in our trainings. We’ve trained hundreds of women around the UK and around the world on how to be safe online. Digital self-care and safety. And we’ve got our toolkits on how to stay safe online. And women will tell you their experiences of how people have made false claims to child support services to try and get their children taken away. People have made false claims to the benefits office to try and get their benefits taken away. People have doxed them, hacked them. And as you said, the repercussions for their family and their friends–that’s what’s hard. When the police came and did checks around here because of the threats that will be made about me–and I was a councilor at the time and my address was public–when I saw my mum’s face, that’s what made me cry because in some way I felt like I had failed my mother. You know, she had made such sacrifices for me to be here, and work here, and be who I was. And she was just thinking the worst–that her last daughter was in some way, you know, seriously going to be harmed. And that was the thing that just pushed me to the edge. And I think when we say online abuse– And this is why a lot of our work around raising awareness is about getting people to understand the different forms it takes and the different impacts it has. When people think it’s funny to deadname, which is something that affects trans communities particularly–it’s about dragging and bringing up their previous identity to try and show and embarrass them–when that happens in particularly conservative communities, or anything around sexual diversity in certain conservative communities, the knock-on effect of what can happen and what has happened to the individual’s family is so sad. And we have to raise awareness of that, so we don’t become complicit in that–whether directly or indirectly. We have a serious crisis on our hands, which is also why I get a little bit annoyed when we talk about the individual. We need to be talking about–fucking hell–like, real systematic change, like real public dialog about education online and holding these tech companies accountable. As we’re talking about individual cases, no one’s holding the multi-billionaires–the likes of Mark Zuckerberg and Jack Dorsey–to account for what’s happening on their platforms from the same profits they are making from our pain. And I want to end my rant on this–that women have been getting death threats from the beginning of time since they’ve been online. It took the president right now of the US to get COVID for platforms to make a statement to say, “If you wish somebody dead, you have violated the platforms. It’s going to be taken down.” Are you fucking kidding me?
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:49:09] People wish me dead all the time. They wish you dead all the time. I’ve seen it.
SEYI AKIWOWO [00:49:14] And I just think this is the issue that we need to be concentrating on–holding power and systems to account. I’m sure my trust is going to be like, “I can’t believe you said ‘fucking hell’ when talking about talking about–“
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:49:27] It’s okay. It’s a safe space. You’ve mentioned the words “digital citizenship” a couple of times throughout this, and it’s one of my favorite terms of yours. Can you–just to kind of round us off–explain it to us and tell us how to be good digital citizens online?
SEYI AKIWOWO [00:49:45] I can’t tell you because every day I’m learning. But I can tell you what we can aspire to.
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:49:50] Give us some tips.
SEYI AKIWOWO [00:49:51] Yes, I can do that. But I don’t want people thinking that they can go on my platform and think I’m a citizen. Sometimes I do a fuck up. But a digital citizenship is about us having an understanding that we have rights and responsibility. We have a digital right to be online. And even some of those rights as well are currently being violated and under attack. But with every right comes responsibility. The right to education means we should be responsible. I mean, I probably could have been a lot kinder to my teachers at school, but we should be responsible. And it’s about understanding that the online space is an extension of our offline community. It’s not this virtual world. It’s not this binary thing that’s in competition with the offline world. It’s one big extension. And therefore, just like in the offline space where we have to play our part–whether it’s community activism, whether it’s litter picking, whether it’s bystander interventions on the tube because there’s an annoying man being a harasser–there is also that responsibility on us. And the same way citizens offline hold the powers that be accountable–whether it’s your member of Parliament, member of Congress, your House representatives, or whoever is–we can also do that with tech companies. And we know that people are interested in this because they’re fed up of seeing things on their platform. They’re fed up of not having reports they made of violations on the platform not being taken into account. So, we know that people care. It’s just that people need to know how to hold tech companies to account. And this is what digital citizenship is all about. If we get digital citizenship right in the next two to three years, then we can really change the current direction of where things are going. But if we don’t, more and more women are going to be abused online. Suicide rates are going to go through the roof. The NHS before COVID-19 were already overwhelmed with the increase in cases of PTSD and other mental health illnesses in young people. It was all related to social media and mental health. We are going to see more people, and particularly women and non-binary people–marginalized communities–leave careers, like politics, like the entertainment industry, like journalism, like teaching, like so many things, because they don’t want to deal with the online abuse and the vilification that’s happening in our online spaces. And it will mean a massive setback for human rights–a massive setback for democracy. And it will mean that our online spaces are being hijacked. And I hope that in the years that I have left on this earth–before, hopefully, Idris Elba is ready to have children with me…
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:52:24] Lucky Will. Lucky Will, hearing this.
SEYI AKIWOWO [00:52:28] And I hope that I can awaken some digital citizens to want to take back their online spaces and make it good.
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:52:36] So well said. And so that means question yourself before you press send. And God knows I need to continue to practice that. Try to avoid, “quote tweeting.” And sometimes I do it. But only now when I feel as though it’s someone verified who I need to just create a civil discussion with. And I never encourage anyone to go after that person. In fact, I ask them not to. Be very careful about what you like. You know, be very, very careful about what you like because it shows up on other people’s timelines. It highlights that tweet to other people’s timeline. So not only does it empower that tweet and that message that maybe is a bit mean, or a bit bitchy, or a bit unkind, or spreading a rumor about someone. That is part of your digital citizenship. That is part of your footprint. You are accountable for whatever you endorse. You know, we’ve been learning a lot about complicity this year. Just because you haven’t said something but you’ve liked someone who does–that’s just a cowardly type of bullying. It’s still bullying.
SEYI AKIWOWO [00:53:36] It’s still bullying. And just because you’ve seen abuse and you scrolled away, you’re also complicit. We need to help report the abuse. So, on our website–on fixtheglitch.org.uk–we’ve got a resource, Under a Little Means a Lot, which is ways that you can be good active bystanders online. And we encourage people to report the abuse, to reply to the post as originally intended, because the DNA of a troll or DNA of organized trolling is to distract from the original message. For example, if I say #blacklivesmatter, you have some dickheads that will be like, “But what about Blue Lives? But what about all lives? But what about white lives?” And then you think you are able to have a civil conversation with them, but you see the profile of the troll. It’s somebody who’s got four accounts and to set it up in October 2020. They’re not wanting to have a dialog with you. And what they’re trying do is distract you from talking about the issue. And so, I saw replying to the post as originally intended helps derail the attempt to try and distract from the original intentional posts. We can also encourage that person to documents abuse because usually when you’re on the receiving end of abuse, it never feels like it. But usually, it’s one person with, like, ten accounts. And if you can help document or you do document it–again, we’ve got a resource on our website, which is free for people to use and has helped people be able to build a case for prosecution–it helps you to see the patterns. You start seeing how somebody is posing a certain time, or somebody is targeting certain candidates, or someone’s targeting a certain party. It helps build a case to be able to clean up our social media. Totally get that it’s not fair. It puts a lot of emotional labor on us. That’s the way society goes. And the last important thing, which is related a lot to mental health, is send them a resource, or a guide, or some advice, or a post that that will help them feel better about the situation that is going on–that will reassure them that what they’ve experienced is not okay–that will help them think about self-care–that will help them maybe take some time off. Go speak to somebody or speak to them who’s sending the resource because you literally could be saving a life. And those are really easy steps around active bystanders of what we can do online. But then act proactively as well–being careful what we upload on our own platforms and really seeing it as adding to the community. Are we adding toxicity and pollution to the online platform, or are we actually adding positivity and critical thought and role modeling the behavior we want to see? Again, I want to reiterate, I’m not saying that we’re going to all now agree with everybody online. But let’s start role modeling how we politely and… civi– civill– civ–?
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:56:19] Civilly.
SEYI AKIWOWO [00:56:20] Civilly. That’s what I’m trying to say. Disagree online without it descending into this massive fire and this massive battle. Because you know what else is going to happen? The media pick it up. Media are constantly reporting on spats that happen on social media and then making it this whole thing about X versus X. And then it becomes a massive distraction away from what the actual issue was. And I, yeah, just massively want to encourage people to just check out our website. I’m probably biased, but it is one of a kind in how it doesn’t victim blaming, how it supports people online, but also how it encourages allies to be online. We’ve just put out a talk particularly for Black women managing online abuse and how allies can also support Black women. And it’s there for you to run conversations with your own community. Run conversations with your friends, so more people can’t say, “Oh, I didn’t know that Black women are more likely to be abused.”
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:57:14] 84% is an astonishing statistic.
SEYI AKIWOWO [00:57:17] Absolutely. Absolutely. In our COVID-19 report, where I had the hunch that if we’re going to do lockdown and we’re all going to be online, online abuse is going to increase. We did a report, and it proves the hypothesis that 46% of women–and thank you for retweeting the survey–experienced some form of online abuse during lockdown. So that was one in two women. But when you looked at Black, minoritized women, and non-binary people, it went up to 50%. And it was cited around 30% of people said it had increased in the last 12 months. So, the online space is going towards a terrible data trajectory. We all have to play our part, and that includes tech companies. But it definitely starts with ourselves.
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:58:01] And remember, the kids are watching. And so, we are shaping the future generation. And if we don’t want them to participate in this gross behavior–I think about that all the time. I’m like, “Oh my God, what if I have kids one day and they look back and see that I said this.” Delete! I think we really need to be accountable for the world in which we not only live in but the world in which we are building. So, thank you so much. What is the website that people can go to follow and find all of these brilliant resources?
SEYI AKIWOWO [00:58:29] Thank you. So, our website is www.fixtheglitch.org. And you can follow us on all social media at glitchuk_. We’re On Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook. And I look forward to connecting with some of you guys in a very civil manner.
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:58:47] Imagine if my audience just trolled the shit out of you after this. Seyi, before you leave, can I just ask: What do you weigh?
SEYI AKIWOWO [00:58:58] Right now I weigh hope and resilience. Grace and… love for Idris Elba.
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:59:15] And a love of the word “dickhead.”
SEYI AKIWOWO [00:59:17] Oh, yeah. I say dickhead both in terms of, you know, cussing the hell out of people but also in terms of endearment, too.
JAMEELA JAMIL [00:59:24] Yeah. Well, I adore you. I look forward to continuing our friendship and alliance. And it’s nice to finally meet you face-to-face. And I respect the work you do so much. I back you all the way. And I cannot tell you how much I have learned from this woman and how inspired I am by her. I really, really think you should follow her and her work because I think it’s going to be one of the few areas that becomes vital to our survival–both online and kind of offline, in the fact that online, as she said, bleeds into our everyday world. So, follow her. Thank you for coming. Get back to saving the world and moving us. And loads of love. Bye! Thank you so much for listening to this week’s episode. I Weigh with Jameela. Jamil is produced and researched by myself, Jameela, Jamil, Erin Finnegan, and Kimmie Gregory. It is edited by Andrew Carson. And the beautiful music we are hearing now is made by my boyfriend, James Blake. If you haven’t already, please rate, review, and subscribe to the show. It’s a great way to show your support. I really appreciate it, and it amps me up to bring on better, better guests. Lastly, at I Weigh, we would love to hear from you and share what you weigh at the end of this podcast. You can leave us a voicemail at 1-818-660-5543 or email us what you weigh at email@example.com. It’s not in pounds and kilos, so please don’t send that; it’s all about your– Just– You know. You’ve been on the Instagram. Anyway. And now we would love to pass the mic to one of our listeners. One of you wrote in to say today, “I weigh my queer identity. And I weigh the strength of hope. I weigh navigating what it means to be an American right now and the privilege of having a savings account during this time. I weigh my medication. And lastly, I weigh my identity as an adult child of an alcoholic. I have experienced every emotion in my recovery, but I weigh the gift of resilience and emotional intelligence that has supported me in it.”
November 27, 2023
This week, Jameela is joined by writer, broadcaster and feminist organizer Clementine Ford to discuss the historical roots of marriage as a tool of patriarchal control, the illusions surrounding modern matrimony and the modern marketing machinery that sustains its myth.
November 20, 2023
Jameela is joined by beauty culture critic Jessica DeFino in a candid conversation about where her current research and journalism is taking her, after years of covering a multi-billion dollar beauty industry for major women’s magazines & beauty apps in the US.