Defeating the Troll Culture: VProud CEO Leverages Social Media to Build A Community that Empowers
Can you imagine an information sharing platform and social media network free of trolls? What kind of fellowship and exchange of ideas might take place in a forum where members felt shielded enough from scathing comments to honestly share and collaborate? Meet Karen Cahn, a former Google, AOL, and You Tube executive, and mother of two, who set out to achieve just that. Her brainchild and hard work resulted in the establishment of VProud, a video-driven conversation platform created by women, for women, to discuss what's important to them in a troll-free environment. EverydayFamily was lucky enough to have the honor and privilege of interviewing Cahn, Founder and CEO of VProud about this exciting venture and what lies in store for the future.
Cahn’s passion for creating a positive social media platform for women is so contagious, and her business model so novel, that we decided to share her fascinating journey in a two part interview series. In Part One, we asked Cahn to share her inspiration for creating VProud, explain how it works, describe how VProud tackles the trolls, and recommend resources of interest to EverydayFamily readers.
Everyday Family (EF): What inspired you to launch VProud?
Karen Cahn: My inspiration for VProud was my desire for an online support group while going through a divorce. During challenging life experiences, like divorce, you really long for someone to talk with and relate to, especially someone who truly understands what you are going through. I didn’t have that so I went online looking for a place where I could find other like-minded women who were going through the exact same thing. I couldn’t find it so I thought, “I am going to build this myself one day!”
At the time, I was working for YouTube and was obsessed with video and the notion that people all over the world could spill their hearts out on a video screen and have someone across the world find their story, relate to them, and think “I am not alone; there is someone out there going through the same thing.” While I liked that people could blog and reach an audience of people who appreciated them and how they were feeling, I was really bothered by how many hateful, unproductive, and even violent comments followed every YouTube post. It gave me an idea; “Wouldn’t it be great to have a video based conversation platform where any woman could start a conversation with an idea and not have somebody call them a horrible name in the comment section … where they could have a productive conversation with other women who ‘get it’.”
So those were my two insights or “Aha moments”; my divorce and wish for an online support group, and my desire to create technology that mitigated hate speech and harassment from my experience at YouTube.
EF: How do you keep your forum troll free?
Karen Cahn: Our intention is to create a positive and honest environment in which women feel safe to share. We are not about censorship. We keep VProud troll free through a proprietary blend of software that we built ourselves. We designed our own custom technology platform, our own filtering system, and content analysis technology. This enables us to understand what people are saying and filter out what we think is inappropriate and unproductive to the conversation.
As such, VProud has a pretty robust filtering system in our comment sections. It is not perfect and it never will be. It is always evolving, as people get more creative with their language. To compensate for this, the next piece of our business model is what we call the “troll patrol”. We created a patented troll icon that is on every piece of content and comment section. This is our second filter; our community of VProud users who help us “self-police” the site. If something slips through the filters, users can click on the troll icon in the comment section to report trolls. Then that goes through a whole other system where a human will review it.
EF: Who are your typical users?
Karen Cahn: Our core target demographic is women, ages 24-54. The Millennials and Generation X-ers are really our “power users”. In addition, about 20% of our users are actually men. We don’t gender discriminate as we have dads who are as interested in our parenting information as our moms. Our users are predominantly from the United States, but we are starting to see some traction in the United Kingdom, Australia, and India.
EF: How does your site work?
Karen Cahn: VProud users can find a wealth of information and interesting discussions in our forum. Each topic is “introduced”, or prompted by a video. Users come up with an idea, search the issue they wish to discuss, and find a video that strikes them as a good platform for introducing the topic. Our users don’t have to create the videos themselves, although they are welcome to if they so desire. Most users start a conversation with a YouTube link (anything from movie trailers to nonprofit organization clips to motivational speaker segments) that they find meaningful or relevant to the conversation they wish to start. Then they simply post the link and start a conversation. The results are incredible.
A key feature that makes VProud unique is that we give users the ability to engage in conversation in two ways. First, users can choose to post videos and comments through “VPublic”, via a user’s Facebook, Google, or Twitter account. The second way users can comment is through “VPrivate”. VPrivate allows users to engage in conversations using an alias they create so they can freely talk about more sensitive issues without fear of having their boss, in-laws, or neighbors know their business. Our VProud team feels this is really important. We believe if you can give someone anonymity, but in an environment that is curated and controlled, people will behave well and actually appreciate it.
I know I personally do not want to comment on sensitive issues in my life via Facebook, but it is appealing to be able to toggle back and forth between my public login and my alias depending on the subject of the conversation. Our users also love this feature. If they are commenting on something benign, like yoga, they can use VPublic. Then they can switch to VPrivate to discuss sensitive details of their children’s medical issues, for example, and seek the support and advice of other parents with shared life experiences. The system is very transparent as to which mode you are in so users don’t get confused. When you log in you will notice at the top of your screen whether you are commenting in VPublic or VPrivate mode and it gives you the option to switch. If you make an error you can always delete or edit your comment.
EF: What type of content and resources are available to users and how do they engage in your platform?
Karen Cahn: Modern families face so many challenges and stresses in balancing work, school, relationships, family, and household responsibilities. VProud seeks to provide individuals with a voice and support network for life’s challenges through its video driven commenting platform. VProud is also a forum for discussing social causes users are passionate about on a local, national, and international level.
To explore a topic of interest, VProud users can browse the navigation on our site. Topics include such diverse areas as: parenting, relationships, health issues, sex life, beauty, comedy, and the news (business and career; crime, justice, and the law; the economy; education; health care; human rights; media/entertainment; military stories; modern feminism; politics; technology and science; travel, food, and culture.)
As we conduct this interview, VProud currently has 3,000 live conversations going on covering a wide range of these topics!
EF: What topics would be of special interest to EverydayFamily readers?
Karen Cahn: EverydayFamily readers might be particularly interested in our parenting, health, and relationship discussions. VProud hosts meaningful video driven conversations on such topics as pregnancy and fertility, babies and toddlers, girls and boys, tweens and teens, kids and technology, kids' mental health, kids with differences, the spectrum, motherhood, single parents, co-parents, and stepparents. We also address relationship issues to include dynamics with friends, coworkers, marriage and the family, sex, divorce, and intergenerational family issues. Of further interest, we have a vibrant health section addressing mental health issues, diet and nutrition, cancer, diseases, addiction, death and dying, self esteem/body image, and menopause. We would love to have EverydayFamily readers join in our conversations.
EF: With all these great mechanisms in place to prevent trolls and to allow users to rotate between public and private logins, how is the quality of your information sharing unique or different from other social media platforms?
Karen Cahn: The quality of our information sharing is higher because people are being totally honest when you allow them to toggle between VPublic and VPrivate and remove the fear of trolls. Some of the vibrant topics we are seeing substantive discussions on are parenting, mental health, and sex. With the ability to comment anonymously, users feel more comfortable talking openly about issues of concern and seeking support. The volume and quality of our information sharing is also high and quite fascinating because we are an open platform. Anyone can start a conversation so we are seeing women from all over the world initiating conversations and sharing ideas. Every user is created equal. Everyone gets a profile, a biography, and newsfeed on their wall, all free of charge. So they can see all the conversations going on and who is commenting on what topic. There are a lot of really cool, meaningful conversations women are participating in. It is great to have these concepts out there that anybody can start and just engage in.
It is also rewarding to see users share innovative, unconventional ideas to help each other problem solve with relationships and challenges of daily living. Right now a big conversation topic is about “sleep divorces”. A young couple recently shared that they decided to get a “sleep divorce”. They explained that they just got married, love each other, and want their marriage to last a lifetime. However, they found they couldn’t sleep well together in bed because one snored and one didn’t, and one wanted to watch reality television and the other didn’t. They decided together to get a “sleep divorce” and they told everyone about it on VProud. Their video generated such an interesting conversation that encouraged other couples to think creatively in solving their relationship issues as well.
EF: EverydayFamily extends deep appreciation to VProud Founder and CEO, Karen Cahn, for sharing her expertise and inspiration for VProud with our readers today. EverydayFamily commends VProud’s work to promote “debate without hate” and revolutionize social media, one empowering conversation at a time. Stay tuned as Karen Cahn returns next week for Part Two of our VProud Interview Series. Next week, Cahn will be discussing new developments at VProud, to include the recent launch of their Learn from her courses, as well as their short and long-term goals and vision for the future. Cahn will also be sharing VProud “success stories” about ways the information-sharing platform is making a difference in the community of users.
What do you think about VProud? What conversation topics are you most interested in? Let us know in the comment section as you start engaging in the VProud community!