Women in Tech: How a Summer Job Led to a Career Protecting Children Online

By March 29, 2016 April 21st, 2023 No Comments

As VP of Trust & Safety at Twitter, Del Harvey leads an international team that works to define policy and to ensure user safety and security in the challenging realm of modern social media. She is also a member of the global INHOPE Advisory Board, which deals with illegal content online. Her blog post is part of Thorn’s “Women in Tech” series in March, which highlights women who have dedicated themselves as Digital Defenders of Children.

When I tell people what I do at Twitter – namely, head up the department that works to ensure user trust, protect user rights, and keep people safe – they often ask me how I got into that line of work. I have the same answer every time: It started with a summer job back when I was 18.

Up until then, I’d spent my summers working as a lifeguard at a community pool near where I lived. I liked the job and my coworkers, but there wasn’t much in the way of variety; I sat in a chair, watched the swimmers, blew a whistle and yelled “Walk, please!” Occasionally, I jumped into the pool to help someone who might have gotten (literally) out of his or her depth.

One summer, however, I wanted to do something different, though I wasn’t quite sure what. The answer came via my mother, who sent me a job posting she’d spotted in our local newspaper: a state mental health institution nearby had a pool for their patients and was looking for lifeguards for the summer. I applied, was hired, and spent the next few months there as a lifeguard, mostly for patients between the ages of 11-17. That summer – and that job – absolutely changed my life.

Joining Twitter to protect children online

Over the course of my time there, I learned that many of the children at the institution had been abused and molested when they were younger. I saw first-hand how those experiences had affected them and heard them tell their stories in their own words. Many were so heartbreaking and awful that they were completely unimaginable to me. By the end of that summer, while I didn’t know the specifics of what I wanted to do in terms of a career, I knew I wanted to work in a field that would let me make a difference in terms of protecting children.

It’s now 16 years later – of which I’ve spent almost eight at Twitter leading the Trust & Safety department – and I’m still deeply passionate about my work and about trying to make a difference. While the world’s ongoing shift toward globalization and increasing focus on technology certainly means new challenges and complexities, it also provides new opportunities for collaboration and for having an impact at scale. Some of the work I get to do at Twitter around child safety online include supporting a safety center, which provides resources for teens, families and educators; training at national conferences like the Dallas Crimes Against Children Conference; and integrating PhotoDNA onto our platform, along with expanding our hash sets of child abuse material and imagery.

I’m truly proud of the work we do here at Twitter to combat child sexual exploitation – both directly and through partnerships with others in the industry and organizations like Thorn – and I’m so grateful to have had the opportunity to work with so many others who are also dedicated to trying to make a difference.