My Digital Hero: Verizon Media UK MD Anna Watkins

We’re asking some of our industry’s leading figures to nominate their digital hero and to explain what’s so special about them.

Anna Watkins is UK MD of global media and tech giant Verizon Media. A pioneer in branded content, Anna launched Guardian Labs, the branded content arm of The Guardian and was formerly MD of media agency Initiative UK.

Who is your digital hero?

Alan Turing (1912-54) who studied mathematics at Cambridge University, worked at Bletchley Park during the Second World War and developed the Turing Machine which is seen as an early stage model of the modern day computer.

What did he do to win hero status in your eyes?

Not only was he a war hero given his pivotal role in cryptanalysis and cracking the German codes during the Second World War at Bletchley Park but he is also my digital hero given he is widely considered as the father of theoretical computer science and artificial intelligence. 

And what’s more he is an iconic LGBTQ hero given he was prosecuted for ‘homosexual acts’ in 1952, having to accept chemical castration ‘treatment’, before a posthumous pardon was finally issued in 2013, and now finally rightly being celebrated for his contributions by appearing on the new £50 note, entering circulation by the end of 2021. 

How did his heroism help drive digital?

He was the godfather of computer science and fought through adversity on so many fronts, giving so much to help and influence others: from the war effort, to the development of modern computing, to the LBTQ+ cause.  

What the biggest challenges in digital media we need another hero to solve?

There is a conundrum in Western democracies between promoting freedom of expression, democratisation and innovation and the abuse of that freedom to promote hatred, anti-democratisation and criminal activity.

It’s a fine balance and one that is not easily solved by any one person, but something that everyone who believes in a safer and trusted internet needs to work together to continuously strive for. 

What is your most heroic personal achievement so far in media?

Nothing I would consider particularly ‘heroic’ maybe, but I realise that the more experienced I am, the more influence I have in affecting change for good for the people I work with and in actively promoting programmes and initiatives that drive inclusion across the media industry and the UK.

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