Women Who Are Changing the World: Brittan Heller

Reading hundreds of picture book biographies of remarkable women for The Picture Book Club's "12 Women Who Changed the World" subscription has made me want to shine a spotlight on other remarkable women who, though they don't (yet!) have biographies written about them, inspire me every day.

-YiLing Chen-Josephson, Founder, The Picture Book Club

Brittan Heller

Q: What do you do?

I am an advocate who works at the intersection of law, human rights, and technology. I'm the founding director of the Center for Technology and Society (CTS). This is a project of the Anti-Defamation League and the only civil rights organization with a flagship in Silicon Valley. Previously I prosecuted genocide and war crimes for the U.S. government and handled the technological concerns related to these investigations. I also worked on the first cases at the International Criminal Court; assisted North Korean and Syrian refugees; and worked on the ground in Kabul, Afghanistan to found a law school.

Q: What’s your favorite thing about doing what you do?

At CTS, we use research, innovation, and education to bring civil rights into the digital age -- and work to ensure justice and fair treatment for all. I get to bring together partners from the tech industry, advocates from all across the world, and top thinkers to forge practical solutions to problems like cyberhate, online harassment, and algorithmic bias/discrimination.

Q: What's something challenging about it?

Since CTS works on really cutting-edge issues, there are always new questions to ponder, new technology to consider, and new social implications to address. It's fast-paced and different every day, and gets at fundamental questions facing our society.

Q: What is something you’re proud of?

By the end of the year, I will have visited all seven continents. I've dreamed about this since I was a very young girl, and am so excited to see Antarctica!

Q: Who is someone who inspires you that you know personally?

Eileen Donahoe is one of my personal heroes. She is a former U.S. ambassador to the U.N. Human Rights Council and now her work focuses on global digital policies that address human rights, security and governance challenges. Besides being an amazing scholar and diplomat, she is also kind, generous, and sincere -- the type of woman that I want to be.

Q: Who is someone who inspires you that you've never met?

I am inspired by Malala Yousafzai, for her courage in standing up for her right to an education. When I have read her works and seen her speak, she seems simultaneously like an ordinary and an extraordinary individual.

Q: What is something you would like to change about the world? 

I would love to see social media platforms develop different ways for online interaction that help us support each other. Currently, I've seen such a surge in cyberbullying, online hate, and disinformation designed to be divisive. What if these platforms showed us what was happening in real time, instead of showing us information as ranked by algorithm, and then gave us the means to provide support, respect, or trust for one another? I think this would be a better way to meet the missions of the platforms, while creating the type of world we want to live in, and applying technology as a tool for good.

Q: What’s a picture book you remember as a favorite from your childhood?

"Oh Say Can You Say" by Doctor Seuss. I would make my parents read me the tongue twisters for hours and laugh at the funny pictures.

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The Picture Book Club will make a donation to the ADL's Center for Technology and Society for every purchaser who mentions this Q+A.  

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