ADL Director of Technology and Society Brittan Heller speaks at the ADL National Leadership Summit in Washington, D.C., May 2017 (Photo/Courtesy ADL)
ADL Director of Technology and Society Brittan Heller speaks at the ADL National Leadership Summit in Washington, D.C., May 2017 (Photo/Courtesy ADL)

ADL to showcase fight against cyberhate at night of festive activism

The wine will flow on Oct. 19 as the local Anti-Defamation League chapter holds its third annual “Speak up for Justice and Equality” event, the venerable Jewish organization’s look back on a year’s worth of activism.

The celebratory evening also will offer one of the first glimpses of the national ADL’s Center on Technology and Society, announced in 2016 and set to launch in November somewhere in Silicon Valley. “We’re going to bring a proactive approach to fighting cyberhate,” said Brittan Heller, head of the center, who will speak at the event.

Citing security reasons, Heller would not offer many specifics about the center, not even where it will be located. However she did say the center will track online hate speech and harassment and work in partnership with tech companies and law enforcement to find a way to use technology to address the way others are using technology to spread hate.

“These are problems many people wouldn’t have conceived of five years ago, and the center gets to be on the forefront of that,” she said, noting that the ADL has been tracking online hate speech since 1985. “You may not know of us as a cyber agency but we’re very much that, and ever more so.”

She added that since then, the issue of online hate and harassment has been escalating, not only because of the divisive presidential election and the post-election boom in hate speech, but also because the tools are getting better.

“Tech has accelerated the speed at which hate spreads,” she said. Heller recounted how the ADL helped the online dating site Bumble eliminate anti-Semitic and neo-Nazi infiltration by identifying Nazi symbols that abusers might use.

Heller herself knows something about online bigotry, having been one of a number of women targeted online with violent harassment while a student at Yale Law School. She was also one of two women who brought a lawsuit against the website and her harassers.

“I know what it feels like to be targeted,” she said.

Since then, she has investigated and prosecuted cyber crime and human rights violations at the U.S. Department of Justice and the International Criminal Court in the Hague. Her appointment to the center was announced in March when the ADL announced that an initial gift from eBay founder Pierre Omidyar’s charitable foundation would be used to set up the center.

These are problems many people wouldn’t have conceived of five years ago.

With “Speak Up” announcements asking for “party attire” and mentioning “cocktails, wine and hors d’oeuvres,” and with a well-known band, San Francisco’s Luce, booked to play, the night is definitely for celebration.

“It’s really going to be a fun night,” said Shaun Kozolchyk, director of development for the ADL’s Central Pacific region.

But the event will also have a more serious side — unavoidably so. Kozolchyk said that there was no way the event could ignore the upswing in bigotry and anti-Semitism across the country.

“We realize we are living in a post-Charlottesville world,” she said, referring to the events of Aug. 12 when a white nationalist rally in Virginia ended with a man driving a car into a group of counter-protestors, causing one death and many injuries.

But Kozolchyk said that while the national news has been rough, at the state and regional level the ADL remains a strong force.

“We do have a really loud and strong voice here,” she said.

Some of the victories the ADL will be celebrating include the district court decision in Hawaii blocking President Donald Trump’s executive order banning travelers from seven Muslim-majority countries, in which the ADL filed an amicus brief. The organization also filed an amicus brief in successful sanctuary city cases San Francisco v. Trump and Santa Clara v. Trump, where the federal government threatened to block funding to cities that did comply with directives on immigration.

As many as 200 people are expected to come together to celebrate those victories, but they’ll leave the Fox Forum banquet hall in Redwood City with concrete tools for standing up against hate speech and bigotry, Kozolchyk said.

And with dancing to round out the evening, Kozolchyk hopes people will also leave with their spirits up.

“It’s actually a really upbeat way to end the evening,” she said.

“Speak Up for Justice and Equality,” hosted by ADL Central Pacific Region. 7-10 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 19 at Fox Forum, 2411 Broadway St., Redwood City. $100 and up. RSVP required at

Maya Mirsky
Maya Mirsky

Maya Mirsky is a J. Staff Writer based in Oakland.