You Should Know… Laurel Lehman

Laurel Lehman. Photo by Soren Schmidt

Laurel Lehman’s Jewish life started around the same time her professional life did.

Now a policy analyst in Consumer Reports’ Washington, D.C., office, working to hold social media platforms and websites accountable for the spread of misinformation, the 28-year-old has always had an interest in online accountability issues.

Shortly after she moved to Dupont West End and joined Consumer Reports right before the pandemic, Lehman began her journey of converting to Judaism at Washington Hebrew Congregation, where she is a member and part of the LGBTQ affinity group.

What are some things that people can do to improve the safety and quality of their online experience?

Many of the platforms that I’ve talked about do have reporting mechanisms, have mechanisms that make sure that you can see your platform, your timeline, chronologically — choosing an order rather than what the algorithm is giving you. There are options to lock down your privacy settings, to across-the-board enabling two-factor authentication on the privacy front…. implementing the existing settings on a platform intentionally.

What got you interested in online policy? How did it lead you to Consumer Reports?

I started out, really, as a copyright policy nerd, and that was in college. For me, it was this intricate framework that touched so many things I cared about: that was music; that was theater; that was fiction. It was who got monopolies on production, control, art and ideas.

I was a queer person growing up in fairly suburban or rural upstate New York. The importance of having access to those ideas was very visceral and very real, so I had a vested interest in, When do we get access to these different forms? And who gets to decide when?

My first job out of college [Yale] was doing copyright enforcement at then-Facebook, now-Meta, at first in California and then in Ireland. And when I was there, on the frontlines of enforcing copyright, I really started to wonder more about the mechanisms of corporate accountability.

If we can imagine pre-pandemic 2020, in this first couple months, I was in Ireland for Facebook, and I had a bunch of friends stateside doing door-to-door work for the primaries, and I was here phone banking with a Google Voice number. l wanted to feel like my day-to-day work made more of a difference and the kind of difference I can be proud of. I found myself phone banking for candidates whose policies I believed in.

And then I had the chance to switch, come back very early in the pandemic and transition — from what I knew about moderation and enforcement on the back end of a platform to say, “Okay, here’s how we should hold these folks accountable” and transition to platform accountability and advocating for nuanced policy to approach that exact exact question.

Can you tell us more about your Jewish journey?

My grandfather was Jewish. I was raised Catholic, I converted Catholic to Episcopalian in college, and a large part [of that was] rooted in being a woman, being a queer person.

Even then, I remember talking to the pastor about Judaism and he said, “There’s a really long path to Judaism. Don’t worry, you don’t have to stop here if you don’t want to.” And I felt this giant sense of relief that I didn’t clock as relief until many years later.

When I got here [to D.C.], the first thing I signed up for was a “12 Jewish Questions” class at Washington Hebrew Congregation because it was sort of my curiosity to connect with parts of my family and friends, and I said, “You know what? I just want to know more.”

I came to D.C. for this work that felt important to the world around me, and when I got here, the first space that I found was a Jewish one.

How do your Jewish values intersect with your work at Consumer Reports?

It’s so easy to get overwhelmed at the scale — of a truly unprecedented scale — of problems and the speed at which problems compound online, that policy work, everyday work, community work can make that difference there. It’s returning to doing work that I feel is right and meaningful. ■

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