How a young, queer Asian-American businesswoman is rethinking user safety at Twitter
Transformative and procedural justice are the foundation of Christine Su’s vision for a safer site
About six months ago, Twitter quietly hired someone to become the head of product for conversational safety on the platform. You’d think the person in charge of what might be the most difficult task at Twitter would have a predictable skillset: years of experience in and out of academia, politics and programming; an impenetrable wall of media savvy; close ties to the exec suite. You’d be wrong.
Instead, the woman bringing creative and somewhat radical new ideas to user safety at Twitter is a young “activist-entrepreneur” who spent the last six years running a startup to help ranchers plan climate-friendly grazing practices. Now, only half a year after PastureMap was acquired, Christine Su is the senior product manager for conversational safety at Twitter, tasked with keeping everyday users safe online and rethinking the fundamentals of the platform along the way.
A woman with an MBA and a master’s in land use and agriculture might seem like an odd choice, but she’s been interested in mission-driven tech work for years. It’s what drove her commitment to PastureMap and then her decision to join Twitter. “As a queer women of color who is an Asian American in tech in rural America, that experience is a very intersectional one.
I’ve had plenty of experiences moving through spaces where I wanted more safety,” she said. After years of worrying for her sister’s safety (she’s a journalist covering sensitive topics in the Middle East and now China) as well as her own, Su knew she wanted to focus on building safety and inclusion for people who are the most vulnerable.
Transformative and procedural justice are the foundation of Su’s vision for a safer Twitter. The once radical concepts challenge the notion that we should just punish people who cause harm, instead offering an alternative: a pathway to repair the harm that has been done and to prevent its recurrence (transformative justice), and a set of fair rules that make harm rarer in the first place (procedural justice). Transformative justice has recently gained attention for its role in addressing sexual assault on college campuses, and a version of it has been adopted into the official legal system in New Zealand. Academics and activists have argued for years that the concepts could transform conflict resolution.
For Su, implementing transformative justice means building tools that create private pathways for apologies, forgiveness and deescalation (somehow, we’ll get apologies before we get an edit button). While she didn’t describe exactly how private apology tools will work just yet, they are intended to become part of “a set of controls that people can take with them around digital spaces, and be able to use them when and if circumstances warrant,” she said.