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Justyn Hintze 5 min read

Privacy, Anonymity, and Safety: Protecting Your Community

What role do nonprofits play in online privacy? How do orgs engage with audiences who are anxious about sharing information? Why don't more safe spaces exist?

These are a few questions that were raised for me after attending Yahoo's Change Your World conference at the Newseum in Washington, DC earlier this month. It was hosted by Yahoo! Business & Human Rights Summit on Women, Tech, and Social/Digital Media. Hashtag: #YahooCYW.

The goal of the conference was to showcase women who are using tech and social media to influence policy. To govern, to engage. And to inspire voters through tech and social media,  while addressing social issues, and changing the world. Wow - what a mission. Amazingly enough, I think the mission was accomplished pretty fully. The panelists were from a range of organizations - mainly nonprofits, and were each changing the world in their own way.

I had the opportunity to meet the event host, Ebele Okobi, while in line for my grilled zucchini and braised beef ravioli lunch.  Ebele was so excited, and exuded such a positive energy - she was visiting from San Francisco for the conference and was thrilled that there was such a diverse, numerous turnout.

One of the most compelling panels that I experienced was Social Media Advocacy and Women's Health. This panel focused on how people and orgs are using social media and tech to advocate for women's health. It was refreshing to hear the panelists be more inclusive, and reinforce that women's health is a non-partisan issue. So often in nonprofit organizations,  regardless of non-partisan regulations, it is very clear what "side" people are on. It is much too easy to get stuck on one side of the red rover line. This is a health issue, and while the personal is political, organizations need to reach as many people as possible when creating positive change, without ostracizing anyone for political reasons. When 9,000 women die every day from preventable healthcare problems, there's a problem.

The concept of all-inclusivity led to a conversation about privacy. Online privacy is a huge issue being warred over in the tech world. When is privacy a good thing? When is it detrimental to nonprofits? Moderator Jennifer Preston, NYT reporter, really pushed panelists to think about why. To tell the audience why. Anastasia Goodstein of Inspire USA Foundation and Supriya Misra of TeachAIDS had some good answers.

Inspire USA works to create innovative technology-based services that promote mental health and prevent suicide. Inspire reaches out to young people aged 14 to 24 in the US to meet their mental health needs in a way – and to an extent – that traditional mental health services can’t; notably: through privacy.

Some people rely on the anonymity that these organizations can provide. It's safety, it's a way of learning without feeling the discomfort of vulnerability. InspireUSA explained that "anonymity [particularly online] can really be a lifesaver," especially in the LGBTQ and mental health communities.

Supriya Misra couldn't agree more. TeachAIDS is a nonprofit that relies on anonymously distributing AIDS education videos worldwide. One person at the conference tweeted that "privacy + credible info makes @TeachAIDS a successful model for widespread education, esp. decoupled from sex ed."

"Technology is not enough," Kristin Peterson of Inveneo explained; you need education and access, as well. It is when nonprofits discover the need in their communities that they begin to thrive with their constituents. It is when people get engaged, when people get pissed off and determined to created change. One panelist, Shelby Knox, explained that "there are other people out there to get pissed off with, so let's do it."

What tech-needs does your community have, what pisses them off? Let's figure that out, and keep changing the world.