In a recent Time100 Talks, Meghan Markle, Duchess of Sussex, and Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian spoke about the entrepreneurial and humanitarian need to root hate out of online communities.
The virtual Q+A is part of a live event series that brings various leaders together to spotlight solutions for global problems. In light of how online our lives are, Markle and Ohanian’s conversation discussed building a better tech industry.
As co-founder of Reddit, Ohanian is no stranger to the toxic conversations that take place online (even the site’s often sexist “Am I the Asshole” thread is pretty light compared to the darkness you can find on the web). And neither is Markle, who has been crucified by gossip rags as a member of the British royal family. She also pointed out a statistic reported by the Wall Street Journal: “64% of people who are joining extremist groups are joining it because it’s recommended to them [online].” Explicit online racism, xenophobia, transphobia, homophobia and more is rampant. But is all of mankind really that terrible?
“Part of this is about building the technology and building the tools to make sure that that small vitriolic, awful group… does not have a platform to spread their beliefs and spread that kind of hate,” Ohanian said.
In an effort to diversify company leadership, Ohanian stepped down from the board at Reddit and asked to bring on a Black board member. He dove into the bigger issue:
If we look at the platforms and specifically in technology and in social media that have shaped so much of how we live, how we work, how we play, how we get informed, everything, you know you look at all of us who created those platforms and there is a common thread among all of us. We all look the same. We all had very similar education experiences and backgrounds. And the way that has now played out and manifested fifteen years later is the culmination of frankly a lot of blind spots.
A needed solution
Despite the pervasive nature of hate online, Markle and Ohanian are optimistic about the ability to remove these noxious overtones. But the time to do so is right now. In breaking down how this problem affects us day-to-day, Ohanian explained:, “There is an impact that it has when you’re used to… scrolling through a news feed of, oh a cute photo of your nephew, oh, you know my uncle just got a promotion and then oh, some weird, some racist conspiracy theory.”
“It conflates it,” Markle affirmed.
For one, Ohanian stressed a generation will need to be de-radicalized, particularly the frustrated young white men in the U.S. who have “found kinship in dark corners” of the internet. Despite the possibility of hate groups organizing offline, platforms “basically cosign these communities” by allowing their existence.
Markle and Ohanian were very clear that the mission to evolve digital platforms is out of concern for the greater good of humanity. However, given Ohanian’s entrepreneurial background, he justified this goal as one that is actually good for business. Despite the loudness of online hate, Markle and Ohanian agree that a majority of people online are good, giving reason to why there won’t be a loss in any way to expel such communities.
Ohanian also noted that diversifying leadership in tech is a necessary financial investment.
“Companies are going to be more successful the more diversity they have because that means a broader range of ideas,” he said. “We’re seeing more and more studies that show just how healthy that is for boardroom conversations all the way down to the most junior employees to have those diversities of thought and experience.”
Watch the full Q+A here.