Simon Puleston Jones, former lawyer and lobbyist, is the CEO and Founder of WokenUp, a new global social network designed to bring individuals and organisations together in the name of action. I sat down with Simon, to discuss WokenUp, the future of social media, and how Gen-Z will change the world…
MG: So, Simon, tell me about WokenUp!
SPJ: WokenUp is a new global social network, a social network for good, for those who want to take action on today’s pressing social and environmental issues. It’s framed around the seventeen United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (UNSDGs), and our premise is pretty simple: times are changing, and people, especially Generation Z, are a bit sick and tired of the world being the way that it is. All we’re doing about it is talking. So what we are doing is doing something about it. We’re looking to be the social network for people who are taking action on the causes that matter to them.
By people, I’m talking about four different constituent parts: the individual, companies, non-profits and tech-for-good platforms. All WokenUp does is, it creates a forum that helps companies, in a time when people want to invest in companies with purpose, explain, ‘This is the action we are taking and the impact we are making.’
Our research showed that in 2013, the average person had an account with four different social networks. By 2018, it had doubled to eight. Why had it doubled? Because we use different social networks for different purposes — I use LinkedIn differently to Facebook, which I’d use differently to Instagram, and so on, and there’s a gap there for us. The gap is, just as Generation Z are coming of age, and are the most socially active generation to date, there is no purpose-built outlet for their social activism. As we all wake up to pressing issues, not just the climate, but poverty, diversity, inclusion, social mobility – there’s no vehicle to go and change it.
Our mission statement is to transform humanity for good. That’s pretty big. What do we mean by that? We mean that this past decade can be described by a single word, and that word is ‘selfie’. This decade has been all about “me”, how right I am, and how wrong you are.
MG: That was something I wanted to ask you — is WokenUp more “we” centred than “me” centred?
SPJ: Yes, it’s exactly that, it’s the mirror image of Instagram. If Instagram is all about me, me, me, WokenUp is all about we, we, we — it’s about collaboration. Instagram became wildly successful because it came about just as millennials were coming of age, entering the workplace and becoming the largest generation of consumers. Here we are in 2019, and Generation Z are doing the same, but there’s no social network that caters for their we, we, we-ness and their social activism.
Social networks are a bit like a body. I think of Facebook as like the entirety of my body, in that it’s used for everything. I think of Instagram as one eye, Youtube as the other. Twitter is like a mouth, LinkedIn is the brain, and what is WokenUp? WokenUp is my heart. It’s about me taking action on the stuff that matters to me.
MG: I want to ask you about cynicism. There is so much cynicism online about so-called “social justice warriors” like Greta Thunberg. How do you respond to the cynicism people have towards activism?
SPJ: I think it’s Newton’s Third Law that says for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. Because this decade has been about how right I am, it has been incredibly destructive. I think Brexit and Trump, frankly, are two great example of that, Bolsonaro in Brazil being another one. This rise of far right extremism is indicative of the fact that you focus on you, there is no room for compromise, and where there’s no room for compromise you get more extremism. If you look at what an election here in the next few weeks might look like, do you want a far right Conservative party or a Marxist Jeremy Corbyn? November 2020 in the US, do you want a far right Donald Trump or a far left Warren or Sanders? There’s no centre ground because we’re all focused on ourselves. Without compromise, the world just doesn’t work, and we get frustrated. That’s why there are 1.7 million ordinary Hong Kong citizens protesting its government right now.
So how do you deal with this cynicism? You accept that there will always be people who are massively cynical about “bloody do-gooders”, to be pejorative. That’s fine, because there’s an equal but opposite community of people who realise that in 2019, the world we find ourselves in is not the world we want to be living in by 2030. We’re Darwinian, it’s survival of the fittest, and this is a fight for our very survival. The only way we’re going to survive is through collaboration.
MG: You’re speaking about our Darwinian nature, how do you feel about companies that dominate the market, like Amazon, Apple and Facebook? These have been condemned for unethical practices in the way they operate. How are you going to get across to enormous companies like that? We talk about you and me, the individual, buying tote bags and reusable water bottles, but how do you tackle the big institutions?
SPJ: The corporate world is changing. You’ll increasingly hear the words, ‘responsible capitalism’ or ‘ethical capitalism’, and about publishing responsible business reports. Well, WokenUp is not a once-a-year responsible business report, it’s a responsible business report in real time, continuously published throughout the year, in a single sentence of data that my nine year old daughter could understand, as could my seventy year old mother. It’s available instantly, globally, to everyone, in particular the people who want to buy from, or work for these companies.
It’s perfectly natural that some people will say that this is green-washing or virtue signalling. For many, it may well be. Sure, there are companies that realise that in order to sell goods, they need to tap into the way society is changing and say what they’re doing for diversity and sustainability. But I know there are lots of others, who genuinely and sincerely want to drive a change. It’s easy to forget that companies are just a collection of people. Female employees and those from less privileged backgrounds – they all want to see a company respect them for who they are and empower them.
MG: As a young woman entering newly into my field, I often feel that intimidation and impostor syndrome, that I’m not good enough to be here.
SPJ: Me too! Someone said to me, ‘Who do you think you are? You aren’t Mark Zuckerberg.’ I was a lawyer and a lobbyist for twenty years, I’m not a tech guy. But I saw a problem I wanted to solve, and I’m trying to solve it.
MG: How do you think that interaction between an individual who’s using WokenUp, and the corporation or non-profit that they’re speaking to, will work? Do you think there’ll be a hierarchy between the two?
SPJ: You’re right. How do we bring JP Morgan and Extinction Rebellion together? Especially when XR is all about rebelling against the system. The answer is, they both have a common thread of humanity which is that both of them, for different reasons, want to take action on things that matter to them.
So how do you bring these disparate groups together? You do it by identifying their common humanity, and by asking them to focus not on themselves, but the reason we’re all here, our oneness with one another. Whether you voted for Brexit or against, if you’re a Trump supporter or you’re a Democrat, whatever you are, we’re all human, and there are some things that unite us more than they divide us. Social media has been great, this decade, at dividing us. We now look to use the power of social media to bring together a network and inspire a collaboration for good. Instead of focusing on ourselves, let’s come together to focus on this bigger cause. Together we can do this.
The future doesn’t exist yet. The way we will achieve this is to collaborate together to make it the future. So, let’s work together to create a future without poverty, without hunger, with gender equality, with decent work opportunities, with good health, with clean energy, with clean oceans. We can do it, it just requires a mindset. You know, billionaires can put 600,000,000 euros into restoring Notre Dame within a matter of hours. There’s plenty of money to solve poverty and hunger and homelessness. It’s a question of will, it’s not a question of money.
MG: Exactly. There’s a Twitter account which only tweets one sentence, every single day. They tweet, ‘Jeff Bezos has decided not to end world hunger today.’ It really hits me in my core, because the money exists. And there are people who really can, and choose not to.
SPJ: Look at JK Rowling. She is no longer a billionaire, because she’s given so much money away to causes. She’s still got lots of money, but at least she’s looking to invest the fruits of her labour in other people.
MG: Do you consider yourself an activist?
SPJ: Well, what does activism mean to me? It doesn’t just mean being on the streets protesting climate change. When I break down the ‘ism’, I’m just left with ‘active’. What activism means to me is taking action, rather than complaining about something being a certain way, and it never changing. It means taking action in furtherance of a goal that doesn’t relate to you, it relates to the rest of the world.
MG: So if I’m browsing WokenUp, and I know I’ve got my Saturday afternoons free, for example, and I want to do some volunteering. Is there a way I can find opportunities in my area?
SPJ: You can do two things. One is, you can offer help, by posting that you’re looking to volunteer on your network. The other is that we will have a volunteering portal. Instead of just going on Time Out and looking at what to do in Hackney this Saturday, you can use WokenUp to combine that with some volunteering in the area.
Likewise, you can find a company that inspires you with what they’re doing, by looking at their tags on, for example, gender equality. Your next question is, are there any jobs going? Having found a company with purpose, you can now find job opportunities on there, too.
MG: Something I’ve noticed on Facebook, although they allegedly don’t support hate speech or bullying, there’s no proper filtration of these things. And there’s no guideline when you sign up, of how you should be conducting yourself online…
SPJ: We will moderate and identify hate speech, through a combination of AI and human moderation. The UK Children’s charity Kidscape is one of our launch partners, too. We will be working closely with them to ensure that WokenUp develops and implements the tools necessary to safeguard children when they are using our platform, to keep them safe from bullying, grooming and other online harms.
Social media is no different from any other company, it’s about trust, like any relationship. You have to trust in them. There have been so many repeated instances of that breach of trust. Today, Facebook released their online dating platform. Would you trust Facebook with your dating data?
The anti-trust laws that apply to the financial services world are coming to the social media world. One of the advantages I have, having been a lobbyist for the last five years, is what I foresee, in the very near future, is social networks being the new banks, in terms of the level of regulatory scrutiny to which they are subjected. And I’m all for it.
MG: So, tell me what’s next for WokenUp. When can I use it?
SPJ: If you’d like to sign up, go to http://www.wokenup.com, give us your email, and we’ll keep you updated. You’d be able to be one of the first to try out the platform ahead of the rest of the world! For companies, they want to be associated with us because, by definition, it shows that they take their purpose seriously — that they’re interested in making an impact, not just writing letters saying that they’re going to try harder.
It’ll be available to try out around the 1st November 2019, and it’ll be available to the rest of the world by the end of November. We have to build a community, so I’m spending every day speaking with companies, individuals, journalists, about that question: what is the world we want to live in?