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Building resilience on social media with “Rated R”

As recent university graduates, we had exciting plans for the new year, the new decade. We hoped to secure jobs, to travel and more in 2020. These plans came to halt with the COVID-19 pandemic. Like others, we found ourselves in lockdown: alone at home with social media, and confronted by the longstanding tragedies of racial injustice and sexual violence worldwide. Unlike some, we had experience managing the stress that can come with viewing large volumes of violent content online. As open source researchers at The Human Rights Center at UC Berkeley, we’d received training on exactly this – and yet we were struggling. How were others coping?

Overnight our Instagram, Facebook, and WhatsApp feeds, typically filled with pictures of smiling friends, showed sobering videos of police violence, including the killings of African Americans Breonna Taylor and George Floyd. Many miles away came the killing of 17-year-old Nigerian girl Tina Ezekwe by the police, also highlighted on social media, and the rape and killing of two more young Nigerian women, Vera Uwaila Omozuma and Barakat Bello. Both Americans and Nigerians took to social media demanding justice. Petitions and other calls to action proliferated as social media became a space for transformative activism. Yet this potential for positive change on social media can come with drawbacks. The onslaught of information can be overwhelming, at worst leading to burnout and compassion fatigue

Enter Rated R. We are a trio of female human rights researchers and cybersecurity enthusiasts trained by Berkeley Law’s Human Rights Investigations Lab and Amnesty International’s Digital Verification Corps. Our training included how to prioritize resilience and psychosocial wellbeing while searching through social media videos of war crimes and other atrocities in pursuit of justice. We believe these techniques can be useful more broadly for viewing social media during times of crisis. We created Rated R to share our knowledge via free toolkits, mental health resources, and events. The project draws on our education, lived experience and academic research on how to minimize risks when viewing graphic online content in order to maintain psychosocial security.

Rated R is an online resource for social media users created by digital activists Pearlé Nwaezeigwe, Rachael Cornejo, and Lili Siri Spira.

What is resilience?

Rated R centres resilience in order to ensure that those participating in activism can engage long-term in a sustainable way, without burnout. We believe resilience should be a key consideration for online activism. Psychosocial security works hand-in-hand with digital security to ensure that activists can stay safe on social media over long periods of time.

We define “resilience” as the process of adapting well in the face of trauma. Viewing potentially distressing online information can lead to vicarious trauma, a response to repeated viewing of the pain of others. Vicarious trauma includes emotional responses such as grief and anxiety, or behavioural responses like difficulty sleeping and eating or substance abuse.

Our website contains a multitude of resources, including:

  • A series of toolkits for building self-care and resilience. Our first toolkit contains tips for viewing news and graphic content.

Another toolkit offers a series of prompts to check in with yourself and prevent social media from taking over your mind.

Many of the toolkits include Google Forms where you can submit your feedback and ideas, such as your favourite feel-good social media accounts or therapist recommendations. We envision a global network of resources and encourage people worldwide to participate since some resources on our site are specific to the US. We’re even making a feel-good playlist, which you can listen to and add to here!

  • A calendar of events related to self-care and resilience, hosted by Rated R and by other organizations around the world. We host Self-Care Sundays where women across the globe can come together to unwind and relax. We also plan to hold resilience events geared towards specific identity groups, including Black women and allies.
  • Two playlists of YouTube videos which explain concepts related to resilience. The first explains different types of trauma which can occur, such as vicarious trauma, intergenerational trauma, the trauma of racism, and physical effects of trauma. The second playlist acts as a guide to building resilience in the face of these traumas. It explains the resilience framework, resilience and racism, trauma-informed resilience, and more.
Rated R playlist: Types of trauma
Rated R playlist: Guide to resilience
  • Resources explaining key concepts related to resilience, including trauma, vicarious trauma, anxiety, anxiety disorders, and depression.
  • A list of organizations to support for those wanting to donate to or get involved with efforts surrounding Black Lives Matter, COVID-19, sexual violence in the United States, and women’s rights in Nigeria.

Who are we?

This multidisciplinary project reflects its co-founders’ breadth of expertise. Pearlé Nwaezeigwe is a lawyer with a Master’s degree from UC Berkeley Law. She currently works as a tech policy specialist at Berkeley’s Human Rights Center and as the host of the tech policy podcast Beyond Le Code. Pearlé conceptualized the project and created the designs. As a Nigerian woman working in the USA, she has endeavored to ensure that the resources featured on Rated R are as relevant as possible to people in Nigeria, the USA, and around the world.

Lili Siri Spira brought her extensive knowledge of mental health resources, as well as her experience in web design and her background in journalism, including starting UC Berkeley’s first human rights publication, The Rights Stuff. Rachael Cornejo, a public-interest cybersecurity researcher at the Center for Long-Term Cybersecurity’s Citizen Clinic, contributed her psychosocial security research and experience providing training in community security, adapting her workshop materials for Rated R’s toolkits.

Stay resilient with us. Resist with us. Join the digital revolution.
We believe in you!


All illustrations in this article are © 2020 Pearlé Nwaezeigwe/Pearlé Wae

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