Payton Iheme’s extensive career has ranged from gathering intelligence in the Army to advising the White House on science and technology. Working for a dating app wasn’t the next obvious move.
But as head of Bumble’s public policy for America, Ms. Iheme, 43, has discovered a cause that synthesizes his past experiences, which are as diverse as he is. She is leading efforts in several states to pass legislation penalizing “cyberflashing”.
The term refers to the act of sending unwanted sex images to another person digitally – on a dating application or social media platform, but also via text or other file-sharing service, such as airdrop. (Apple, the maker of AirDrop, did not respond to requests for comment.) For many people of a certain age, especially women, cyber-flashing has become another value that exists on the Internet.
This winter, while passing through a speculative Smithsonian exhibition called “Futures”, Ms. Iheme said the point of his work is to challenge the standards of online interaction.
“How do we want people to communicate on the Internet?” She said. “Should you have a section of the population that has experienced this kind of vile harassment?” Nearly a third of women under the age of 35 in the United States have experienced online sexual harassment, according to a Pew Research Center survey. This legal act, Ms. Iheme said, “Do we draw a line in the sand, and are we able to stand up against all negativity and harassment and push back?,
Victoria Wilk, director of programs for digital security and free expression at PEN America, said cyber-flashing and other online abuse tactics are part of a deliberate effort to remove women and marginalized voices from the Internet, and make people feel insecure at home, on their phones. , On their laptops. “
A YouGov poll in Britain found that 40 per cent of millennial women have obtained an unwanted photo of a man’s genitals. For girls between the ages of 12 and 18, the figure is higher, according to an academic report funded by some of Britain’s universities and institutes. Three-quarters of the girls surveyed said they had received pornographic photos from men and that most girls considered them unwelcome.
“Everyone understands how inappropriate it would be if I went out in public and someone dropped their pants in front of me,” said Kerry Koiner, a Republican in the Virginia House of Delegates. “But for some reason, we have failed to recognize that the same behavior is no different if it is sent to you on your device.” Working with Bumble, Virginia recently passed a law that entitles the recipient of an unwanted pornographic image to $ 500 in damages.
Ms. Iheme said that in terms of privacy and security, digital spaces are just like public spaces in the physical world, especially for those who have been involved with the Internet since childhood.
“The damage that is being done online is as real as offline,” she said. Iham said. “Older people go to the internet for certain things. The Internet is a ‘thing’ for the younger generation. “
In Wisconsin, state Senator Melissa Aguard, a Democrat, worked with Bumble to introduce an anti-cyber flashing bill in January. It was not voted on this session, but she said she would push the bill again in January. She said such bills are not just about punishing criminals. “They give people a chance to talk about consent,” she said.
Ms. Wilk of PEN America said the law against cyberflashing is important, but should not be used as an excuse by tech companies to take responsibility for users’ safety. She noted that Bumble has combined its policy work with other efforts, including the installation of artificial intelligence software that detects and obscures pornographic images. (People who share such photos without consent can be blocked from the app.)
Bumble, a dating app where women have to take the first step, began pushing for an anti-cyber flashing law in Texas in 2019, where the company’s efforts helped pass a bill that made it a Class-C offense to send pornographic photos without the recipient’s consent. . .
“The lesson I learned is that going through these kinds of things is not an easy task,” she said. Iheme, who joined Bumble in 2021. Since then, Bumble has teamed up with politicians from California, New York and Pennsylvania who are writing their own bills that are at various stages of the legal process.
Getting support for anti-cyber flashing legislation has been an uphill battle. With each state the bumble enters, Ms. Iheme and her team will have to reintroduce the concept of cyberflashing, explain what it means, find stakeholders to participate and figure out how to legislate for local voters.
Neema Elmi, who oversees public policy for Bumble in Europe, said the United States poses special challenges in passing laws. “The personality of the policy makers, the political connections, all this means that they can be different countries,” she said of the different states. To negotiate these differences, she said, one needs someone who is sensitive to subtleties, and who is tough and agile.
At lunch at Old Abbott Grill, one of her favorite restaurants in Washington and Watering Hall for the city’s power brokers, Ms. Iheme explained how working for the military helped her acquire those skills.
“Military personnel have specific signs and indications of one’s seniority, regardless of their place in the environment, whether they are friends or foes,” she said. “If you go into a room or drive somewhere, you can immediately assess what the situation is. Now there are people in blazers and suits, but it’s the same exercise.
Ms. Iheme – whose given name is Nkechi; Payton is his middle name – he enlisted in the Army at the age of 17 and stayed there for two years before enrolling at the University of Texas at Arlington. Shortly before her expected graduation, the United States invaded Iraq.
“They were getting the size of my shoes and the size of my uniform when I was in college,” she said. “It was something none of which could really help you. Only a few generations have gone to war. It wasn’t something we could really see answers for us from our parents and others in the community.”
Ms. as an intelligence officer. Ihem was assigned to dozens of people, and managed millions of dollars in equipment and budgets. By the time she was 29, she had completed two combat tours.
She has been with the Department of Defense for 21 years, continuing to work in humanitarian aid in Guyana and was part of relief efforts in Haiti after the 2010 earthquake. Eventually, she joined the corridors of American power as a congressional fellow.
For two years, she worked on Capitol Hill and earned her master’s degree in law from George Washington University. She later joined the Pentagon, then went to President Barack Obama’s White House, where she was a senior policy adviser on science and technology. The highlight of her time was Catherine Johnson, a NASA mathematician who inspired the movie “Hidden Figures” and took her around the White House. Ms. Iheme’s last job before Bumble was in public policy on Facebook.
Throughout her career, she has often been the only black woman in the room. “I have to live in a lot of institutions where people don’t look like me,” she said. “A lot of the time you can make it internal and guess yourself a second time.” Being in those spaces, she would sometimes “shift the shape,” she said.
“Where I am now as a leader, I don’t change form anymore,” she said.
And she’s doing everything she can to make others champions who don’t seem to be able to speak for themselves.
“The kind of world I want to see in the future is the kind of internet I want to see in the future,” Ms. Iham said. “And that is where people will have freedom and they will be able to exercise their rights in a way that does not harm anyone else.”