Harry and Meghan host online conference on creating ‘safe’ digital world

Prince Harry and Duchess Meghan are not letting up on their mission to reform social media and the online environment. Their ongoing effort took another step Tuesday when they convened a virtual confab to discuss how to engineer what they think can be a more compassionate and trustworthy digital world. In […]

Prince Harry and Duchess Meghan are not letting up on their mission to reform social media and the online environment.

Their ongoing effort took another step Tuesday when they convened a virtual confab to discuss how to engineer what they think can be a more compassionate and trustworthy digital world.

In their latest appearance via video conference from their Santa Barbara villa, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex hosted an episode of Time magazine’s weekly TIME100 Talks, called “Engineering a Better World,” with digital experts, advocates, online creators and journalists.

Dressed casually and sitting on the same couch where they have appeared before, Harry and Meghan said they’re coping well with the coronavirus pandemic and relishing the opportunity to spend quality time with son Archie, 1. 

“It’s an opportunity to spend more time as a family than we probably would have otherwise,” Harry said in answering a question from Edward Felsenthal, editor in chief of Time. 

Prince Harry and Duchess Meghan of Sussex hosted a TIME100 Talks online conference on Oct. 2020, to discuss reforming the digital world, featuring participants Tristan Harris of the Center for Humane Technology, and Safiya Umoja Noble of the UCLA Center for Critical Internet Inquiry.

The magazine said the event was “curated” by Harry and Meghan, who have become leading critical voices on what they consider the deplorable state of the digital environment.  

Among the participants: Alexis Ohanian, co-founder of Reddit and husband of Meghan’s close friend, tennis champion Serena Williams. Meghan interviewed Ohanian on the “future of the tech industry” for the conference, which was focused on strategies to address such issues as racial justice, gender equity, climate change, and strength of democracies via digital tools. 

The couple believes the current state of the digital world has taken a toll on everybody’s emotional and mental well-being, on people’s trust in the information coursing through the digital landscape, and on the way people treat one another as a consequence. They think they can help change it.  

“What is happening in the online world is affecting the world,” Harry said. “It is not restricted to certain platforms or certain social media conversations or groups. This is a global crisis — a global crisis of hate, a global crisis of misinformation, and a global health crisis.”

Meghan said it’s imperative to make online communities healthier. “This is a human problem,” she said. “And what’s happening to all of us online is affecting us deeply offline.”

The Sussexes, whose new nonprofit organization, Archewell, is aimed at advancing their causes, have chosen online reform as a priority after experiencing what they considered toxic online harassment and hostility in the United Kingdom after they married in 2018.

In an appearance last week at the Fortune Most Powerful Women Next Gen Summit, Meghan said she ditched all her social media accounts a while ago “for my own self-preservation” in the face of hostility.

“I made a personal choice to not have any account, so I don’t know what’s out there, and in many ways that’s helpful for me,” she said at that summit. 

Partly as a consequence of their experience with the online world, Harry and Meghan stepped away from their roles as working royals in January, shocking much of the world but especially the U.K. In March they moved to California with Archie to pursue a new lifestyle with more financial independence and more freedom to speak out about their beliefs, including urging people to vote in the Nov. 3 election. 

At the Tuesday Time conference, Meghan, 39, talked about how she and Harry, 36, went about trying to better understand the online world, beginning with consultations with professors and experts in the field, with former leaders of some of the largest social-media platforms, and even neurologists.

Prince Harry and Duchess Meghan of Sussex, in photo released in connection with TIME100 Talk appearance, Oct. 20, 2020.

“And in that there have been relationships, and now friendships, that we have formed with a lot of these people who have a shared goal of wanting to make this space healthier and better for all of us,” she said at the outset of the conference.

Other conference participants included Maria Ressa, the Filipina American journalist who is editor in chief of the Philippines website Rappler and who recently was found guilty of “cyber libel” charges in her home country; Tristan Harris, co-founder of the Center for Humane Technology; Rachel Cargle, founder of the Loveland Foundation, Safiya U. Noble, co-founder of the UCLA Center for Critical Internet Inquiry; and disinformation researcher Renée DiResta.

During one discussion on how misinformation spreads online, Noble referred to Meghan’s experience as a “target of online hate.” 

“The technologies are able to … amplify those kinds of messages and those kinds of harms,” Noble said. “The harms don’t just live in the platform. They often extend to shaping behaviors that people also act upon.”

Serena Williams and husband Alexis Ohanian at the wedding of Prince Harry and the former Meghan Markle at Windsor Castle, May 19, 2018.

Ohanian discussed increasing diversity in the tech world, and “building the tools to make sure that small vitriolic, awful group (of haters online) does not have a platform to spread their beliefs and spread that kind of hate.”

Meghan said the “good outweighs the bad” online, “but my goodness, the loud can be so loud.” 

“I think you’ve talked about that and you tweeted recently that we haven’t yet begun to realize the legacy and the effects that all of these platforms and what social media and what the online space is doing to all of us on a deeper level,” Meghan told Ohanian. 

Harry’s discussion with Ressa about the sacrifices journalists such as she have made was especially poignant. 

“(Some social media) platforms spread lies laced with anger and hate faster and further than really boring facts,” Ressa said. “Journalists spend lifetimes learning how to tell stories so you care. But we don’t stand a chance on these delivery platforms.

“Journalism is a thinking-slow process that is trying to be distributed on a thinking-fast platform. We are going to lose. That is why we have to demand enlightened self-interest from Silicon Valley.”

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Harry Meghan host online conference on creating ‘safe’ digital world

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