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Pandemic Internship: Reflecting on my Experience with Kinzen

My guiding interests have always been around journalism and policy making. So when I saw that Kinzen was looking for a paid Data Analyst intern to join its Human in the Loop team, I knew I had to apply.  I first became aware of Kinzen in 2019 when co-founder Mark Little gave a talk at my school and ever since then I have followed the company’s evolution. Kinzen’s mission to protect online communities from disinformation and harmful content was always something that I was hugely passionate about having grown up on the internet and watched platforms evolve throughout my teenage years.  

When I applied for the Data Analyst internship, I had just finished the second year of my Sociology and Social Policy degree. Along with my degree, during the pandemic, I became heavily involved with the student newspaper, Trinity News. I grew up in an already-digital world. I was on social media through most of my teens and I was on the internet long before then. These platforms and the internet in general are very different places now than they were seven or eight years ago. Disinformation and hate speech on platforms have gotten visibly worse, something which was evident to me as a user. This is what drew me to Kinzen.

Transitioning to a summer of online work after a year of online college was interesting. It was immediately apparent that online work was far more manageable. With college, I felt constantly unfulfilled and disconnected. Kinzen was the polar opposite. The flexible structure of the working day allowed me to develop a routine I didn’t have previously. The non-hierarchical nature of the company’s communication style ensured that I always felt like an integrated part of the team.

Onboarding in Kinzen involved navigating and understanding all of the moving parts that make up the company. The Kinzen team is hugely diverse in skill sets and roles, so when I started in June, it took several weeks to understand all facets of the company. Over the course of the internship, I was able to avail of training in many different areas, both internal and external. I learned a huge amount about working with data and gained experience in researching complex narratives. I also got the opportunity to take part in the No Fear Data training course run by Full Fact, which taught me how to effectively interpret and understand data on a level I had not encountered before. Learning how to manage data in a way that is both effective and efficient was an invaluable experience.

The nature of the content that Kinzen deals with can often be stressful and upsetting. Kinzen has placed welfare at the forefront of my internship experience. From the moment I began working for the company it was clear that welfare is something that Kinzen takes extremely seriously. I was advised that there would always be somebody in the company to go to in times of distress. I was introduced to resources such as the Dart Center and always ensured that Kinzen would never put me in a position of handling content I was uncomfortable with. 

A huge part of my day to day tasks involved managing and handling data. Kinzen researches emerging campaigns of deception online, and collects detailed information about the nature, usage, and threat of terms, phrases or hashtags within such narratives. Manually reviewing this data on a day to day basis required a huge amount of skill development and cross team cooperation. The communication between Kinzen’s editorial and data teams is vital. These two sections of the company work extremely closely together, which was fascinating to me as someone who is interested in both of these areas. Kinzen managed to blend these two areas of interest for me in a way that I didn’t think was possible. 

Some of my favourite tasks over the course of the internship were various research projects. Kinzen gave me the freedom to explore policy areas that I was specifically interested in researching. This work included research on how platforms and academics categorise and assess the risk levels of different types of hate speech as they manifest in online communities. The constant evolution of language and the reclamation of hate speech terms by some of the affected communities makes a nuanced and diligent approach vital. It was incredibly fulfilling to see the research on hate speech that I did being put to active use by the company. 

One of my core research focuses through the internship was the topic of misogyny. I used a combination of academic and platform policy research to understand the current critical landscape with respect to the villainisation of femininity online. While hate speech policies exist within platforms, there can often be a distinct lack of implementation of these policies with regards to misogyny. Using this basis of academic research, I then looked at how misogyny manifests in online conversations. I was also able to work with several of Kinzen’s amazing female journalists to ensure that my research benefited from a diverse range of perspectives. 

It was hugely important to me that this research tackled misogyny in a way that was both intersectional and inclusive of all facets of feminine identity. The most fulfilling aspect of my time as an intern in Kinzen was presenting the culmination of this research back to the rest of the team and seeing it used across the company on a daily basis afterwards.

My time in Kinzen is luckily not over. I am back in college and moving to part time but I am hugely grateful to all of the Kinzen team for their support, teaching and empowerment over the summer. I am delighted to be staying on and hugely excited to see where my future in Kinzen takes me.