Alumni Spotlight: Interview with Jen Weedon, Head of Adversarial Planning & Redteaming, Trust & Safety at Niantic, Inc.

Jen Weedon (MALD ’08) is the Head of Adversarial Planning & Redteaming, Trust & Safety at Niantic, Inc.

What did you study at Fletcher? 

I studied in the Master of International Business (MIB) program with concentrations in Strategic Management and Southwest Asia and Islamic Civilizations. But almost everyone knew me as the “Central Asia guy.” I had just come back from living in Kazakhstan, and I really wanted a career helping companies invest in Central Asia, Russia, and other countries of the former Soviet Union. I found a way to insert my regional interest into nearly every course I took at Fletcher. I studied Public International Law and International Security Studies. I had a self-driven Russia studies focus within those areas, because during my time at Fletcher, there wasn’t much focus on Russian foreign policy!

What are you currently doing for work, and how did you get there?

I currently lead Niantic’s Safety by Design efforts as part of its Trust & Safety team. Niantic creates mobile games (one of them being Pokémon Go!) and AR platforms and experiences. Niantic’s mission is to use emerging technology to enrich our experiences as human beings in the physical world, and my role is to ensure we are innovating responsibly and setting up the right processes, design choices, and safety best practices to prevent harms before they occur.  

I’ve long been focused on online safety and security, and these topics’ nexus to offline consequences. After Fletcher, I focused on intelligence and cybersecurity both for the government and several private-sector firms, helping contextualize how the internet can be misused, and why it matters. I joined Facebook (now Meta) in 2015 and helped build out some of their first intelligence teams exploring harms ranging from emerging threats, to influence operations, human exploitation, child safety, and extremism and hate organizations.  We worked collaboratively with our Product partners to try and mitigate these harms at scale.  

After many years of focusing on the actors (and products and features) that perpetrate harms, I have slowly shifted my emphasis on the prevention of harms through the field of Safety by Design. This includes workstreams like red-teaming new products and features to make them more robust, adversarial personas to help game and product teams understand how their products can be misused, and instrumenting clear processes for product reviews for safety concerns. 

What makes you most excited about your current role? 

Niantic’s wide range of products and gaming portfolio means I get to learn new things every day and think creatively about different parts of the trust & safety stack. At Facebook I was fairly specialized given the size and investment in integrity there; Niantic is much smaller and thus there are many opportunities to wear multiple hats. This has exposed me to closer partnerships with adjacent teams like User Experience and Design, which has broadened my perspective on what makes a safe & secure online experience.  

I also enjoy forging new ground. With generative AI, augmented reality toolkits and distribution platforms, and new frontiers in mobile gaming with location-based games, I am getting to help define the field of Trust & Safety in developing disciplines, technologies, and their applications, and doing so with safety and ethics at the forefront.   

How do you interact with technology and global affairs in your current role? 

I used to focus much more directly on international affairs and technology; for example, at Facebook, I co-wrote a paper about the use of the platform to attempt to influence electoral outcomes, and gave testimony before the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission on commercial cyber espionage and barriers to digital trade in China.  As my career has evolved, I’ve still engaged with constructs around technology in different markets, whether it be via assessing the risk of location-based games in locales around the world, assessing the regulatory and country/language-specific needs around moderating user-generated content, and incorporating a diverse and global view into understanding our players’ needs and concerns. 

How are you using technology now differently than in your previous positions? Has this also changed your relationship with global affairs over time? 

One development I didn’t anticipate is that I now enjoy gaming! My shift from social media platforms to the gaming and AR sectors (not to mention having a son who also loves gaming) necessitated me engaging with the tech so that I could better understand how it’s used (and misused). I have found the element of play and some of the literature around the psychology and design of games to be interesting, and an activity I can enjoy with my family.  Gaming also has its own challenges with trust & safety issues, so the interdisciplinary analytic skills I honed at Fletcher have helped me navigate these adjacent fields and connect the dots, which has contributed to better outcomes.

What class, or professor, influenced you the most while at Fletcher, and how? 

A few stand out: the first being Professor Dan Drezner’s Art & Science of Statecraft course. One of our assignments was to write an op-ed, which required a different style of writing, and I thoroughly enjoyed the creativity of the assignment and the opportunity to communicate in a different way.  Professor Gideon’s Analytic Frameworks course stayed with me and helped grow my foundational thinking in analytics and instilled a lasting love of employing frameworks in making decisions, which I still use all the time! Lastly, Professor Glennon’s Public International Law class was challenging and fulfilling (albeit terrifying at the time!). 

What advice do you have for Fletcher students interested in a career in technology policy that you a) learned from Fletcher and b) learned after graduating? 

Stay curious. I had a very specific vision of what I wanted to do right after Fletcher, but in reality, my career quickly took a different path. Technology changes quickly, so you will need to embrace change and constantly be learning, and be okay with that. I’ve found that having certain principles to apply to my work (i.e., What types of problems do I want to solve? What environments give me energy?) has been a more reliable guidepost than looking for a specific role or company. Depending on which sector of tech and policy you might work in, market downshifts can impact jobs – so you will need to be flexible and adaptable. My time at Fletcher was key in helping me develop skills to connect the dots and think analytically, and that has served me well throughout my career. 

What hobbies do you enjoy in your spare time? 

 In addition to playing games, I’ve gotten into birdwatching. I am teaching myself how to photograph and identify shorebirds, which is a fairly geeky endeavor, but I love engaging more in my environment. I’m also active in several trust & safety industry groups and in my local community. I try and actively prioritize non-work endeavors now, which I learned the hard way after burning out, and spend lots of time with my husband and son on hikes or at the beach. 

Organized by Izabella Nickel

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