How I won a hackathon and helped fight online hate

What happens when you put a journalist, an educator, a coder and a marketing expert together?

A winning team, with a winning idea.

That’s exactly what happened in February at the Affinis Labs “No2H8” Hackathon, sponsored by Facebook and Google. Our mission was a complex one: “Develop a social media campaign to combat online hate and extremism.” In 36 hours!

I applied to the hackathon on a whim, after receiving an email about it from JSK Impact Leader Djorde Padejski. For a brief moment I thought, “What value would I as a journalist have at a something like this?”

But just as quickly, I thought back to the promise I made to myself this year at Stanford. Say yes to everything.

Business classes? Check.

Meditation? Sure!

Saltwater swimming? You betcha!
Contemporary rhetorics, social sciences, the study of dreams? Check, check, check, check!

So the question, “How about a hackathon?

Was quickly met with, “Of course!”

Affinis Labs teamed me up with coder and engineer Sasha Aicken, global marketing expert Misha Habib, and Munir Shaikh, the executive director of the Institute on Religion and Civic Values. We were a match made in heaven, all of our skills complimented each other’s.

Hackathon Team

From left, Tonya Mosley, Misha Habib, Sasha Aicken, Munir Shaikh

The first full day, we loaded up on coffee and pastries and got right to work.

Sasha grabbed a sharpie and we quickly threw out pitches. There were no bad ideas during this rapid-fire ideation. After 45 minutes, we looked at our white board, and narrowed down our list to a few ideas we all loved. After another hour, and two more cups of coffee, we narrowed it to one.

Idea Board

Our idea Board.

“Activate Your Squad” is a social media solution that enables users to send out an alert to call for backup from supporters when trolled online. Those who sign up for Activate Your Squad will have the ability to send out messages to redirect the conversation, building social and emotional support for those receiving hateful comments.

Great idea, right? Next came making it a reality.

Sasha, who is a phenomenal coder, got right to work building a prototype. The other team members and I focused on the graphics, language and producing the video for our live pitch in front of an audience and the judges at Facebook headquarters.

Preparing for the presentation

Team members gearing up for the presentation, burning the midnight oil.

After presenting to the judges, our team won the hackathon! (Watch winning pitch.)

At one point during the process, I looked up at the other teams we were competing against, all of them as passionate and focused as we were – and I realized the importance of this mission. All of us are social media users, and all of us, have at one point or another experienced vitriol online. This hackathon, while a fun way to create and meet new people, is also an important step in creating real solutions to make the Internet a safer space for everyone.

The winning team

Our winning team!

Our team will now receive seed funding, mentoring, and production support to fully develop and launch “Activate Your Squad,” as well as tickets to SXSW.

A journalist, a coder, an educator and a marketing expert – looks like we all have a place here in Silicon Valley, after all.