Del Harvey is Twitter’s vice president of trust and safety, charged with cleaning up abuse and spam. She has a colorful past.
She isn’t a lawyer and won’t say if she graduated from college. Del Harvey is not her legal name. She is secretive about her past but allows that she grew up in the South, where she spent a summer as a lifeguard at a state mental institution working with troubled youth. Her education about the dark side of the Internet came instead from experience. In 2003, when she was 21, she started volunteering for Perverted Justice, a group that posed as young kids online to engage potential pedophiles in chats. When they “caught” one, they’d post the chats along with the identity of the would-be molester. She eventually became the site’s law enforcement liaison, bundling up evidence for local police, and later, thanks to being small of frame, reprised her young-girl (and boy) decoy role on the NBC show To Catch a Predator. Her work put people in jail, and she adopted the pseudonym then to conceal her identity from exposed pedophiles. “I do a lot in my life to make myself difficult to locate.” It informs her work: She advised Twitter to scrub location data from uploaded photos to prevent stalkers from using them to locate people.
Harvey was hired by Twitter in 2008 to deal with a proliferation of spam accounts harassing early users. “Del became an encyclopedia of the weird things people were doing,” says Twitter cofounder Jason Goldman. Though she accidentally shut down the founders’ accounts as “spam” when she first arrived, she proved herself by thwarting the pranksters at chatboard 4Chan from derailing a race between Ashton Kutcher and CNN to be the first Twitter user with a million followers. Rather than delete the 4Chan Twitter account programmed to rapidly rack up fake followers, Harvey recommended silently throttling it, says Goldman, so that it wouldn’t simply be replaced with a new one. When Goldman left in 2010, his farewell advice was to protect Twitter’s brand by protecting users and “respecting their voice.” He wrote, “In case of emergency, trust Del.”