Sometimes, we forget that GIFs don’t fall out the sky onto our phones… someone had to put to them there. In recent years, GIPHY has positioned itself as a giant within the social media industry, compiling millions of GIFs that users worldwide use every second. With that being said… have you ever thought about what it takes or the people whose jobs consist of creating these second-long video clips we archive and use on a daily basis?
We have. Cue Jasmyn Lawson.
As GIPHY’s Culture Editor, Jasmyn has played an undeniable and pivotal lead in the movement of diversity and inclusion in the GIF world. Before, it was pretty hard to find a GIF that could reflect what you wanted to say but representing you at the same time. Now, we have hundreds of thousands of cultural clips at our fingertips… a lot of that is due to her.
Outside of the comedic use of GIFs, they help us capture and document history. Jasmyn’s role as a digital documenter is something that we should never overlook.
This week, Jasmyn announced her departure from GIPHY where she created an incredible legacy in such a short amount of time. Join us in presenting Jasmyn her digital roses as we present this exclusive February 2017 interview.
Empire Life: After a Google search (or two), we learned that we have no clue of where you’re from. It could be Atlanta because you attended the esteemed Spelman College but we know better than to jump to conclusions. Please tell us where you’re from and what you love most about your city.
Jasmyn Lawson: I’m originally from Jackson, Michigan. A very small city that even some people from Michigan have never heard of. My mother and I moved to Georgia shortly after I graduated high school, around the same time I started college at Spelman. I think the one thing I love most about Jackson is all of the mom and pop restaurants. There are certain things, like Hinkley’s Doughnuts, that you can only find there. I dream about the food there often. I haven’t gone back in about 5 years.
I love everything about Atlanta, it’s one of my favorite places in the world. The people, the music, and of course, the food — Atlanta’s a city that’s means so much to Black culture as a whole.
I love how everywhere you go most of the faces you see are Black and everyone accepts it as normal. From Buckhead to Bankhead, you get to visually see the diversity of Black life and that in itself is very powerful.
EL: For a handful of us, we learn what we want to do with our lives in college. Did this happen for you during your time at Spelman? Tell us about your experience there and if that had an impact on what you do now.
JL: Spelman was my dream school and it played a huge role in shaping who I am as a person and my career interest. I always knew I wanted to work in the media industry. That was something I discovered in high school, but I entered college with a passion for film and television production. I got my first internship on the set of a film after my sophomore year and I didn’t like it much at all. The long hours, take after take, a lot of standing, it just wasn’t as enjoyable as I thought working on set would be. — that lead me to want to work for a network as opposed to a production company.
The following year, I landed an internship at Cartoon Network working for their digital team, and it was there that I developed my passion for both media and technology.Since then I’ve been pursuing the areas where media, pop culture, and technology intersect.
EL: Relocating from Atlanta to NYC seems like it would be a drastic transition. What landed you in New York City and how were you able to adapt your new pace of life?
JL: I moved to New York in 2013 to participate in NBC’s Page Program. It’s one of the leading post-grad pipeline programs in the entertainment industry. During the program, I had the opportunity to work for Syfy, The TODAY Show, MSNBC, and USA Networks. I also had the opportunity to work all of NBC’s live shows like the Tonight Show, Late Night with Seth Myers, and SNL. Moving to NYC was very hard for me. I knew no one in the city prior to moving and it was hard to unjust to the hustle that is New York. I still struggle with the ways the city scams you and I actually don’t think I’ll be here forever but I’ve grown to love New York a lot.
When things are good, it can be the best place in the world full of so many opportunities — it’s just a good time. I’ve grown to really appreciate my friends and my network. They’re irreplaceable and make it all worth it.
- via GIPHY
EL: Your extensive background in media is pretty damn impressive. Excluding your current job, share what your favorite job and or project was and why.
JL: This is a tough one because GIPHY is definitely my favorite job thus far, but I would have to say my last job was great in the fact it allowed me to merge two things I care a lot about and that’s TV and social media. I use to joke that I got paid to tweet and it was sort of true. I ran the Twitter accounts for reality shows like Braxton Family Values and The Mindy Project. And I thoroughly enjoyed engaging with the fans of these shows because I too am a fan who tweets a lot about the shows I watch.
Social media has sort of just become a part of watching TV these days. I couldn’t imagine watching something like the BET Awards or Insecure on HBO without Twitter. Having a social presence as a tv show is super necessary.
EL: Your position as Culture Editor at GIPHY is what sparked our interest in you as we use GIFs in our everyday lives as social media loving millennials so it was a joy to find one of the people who curate them. Please tell us what a typical day at GIPHY is for you.
JL: There’s really no typical day for me.
GIPHY is constantly moving with what’s happening in the world. I have certain goals and objectives with my work to make sure GIPHY is producing diverse and inclusive content. In February, that might mean promoting our best content to represent Black History Month and in March, our best content to represent Women’s History Month.
But then, if something like the phrase “cash me outside howbowdah” goes viral to the point it becomes a real moment in our current culture then my job also means making sure we have content to represent that moment. I also make sure that our homepage and our top tags (or search terms) reflect the diversity of our users as well.
If someone is searching for the perfect “hair flip” GIF, they should be able to find a GIF that reflects them. It’s a big part of my job to make sure people are getting quality results.
I also spend time looking at a lot of data, and although it’s not as glamourous as making GIFs, it helps me and my team make a lot of smart decisions.
EL: GIFs play a huge role in how we communicate today. Your contributions to the GIF world have transformed our use as we can now easily find GIFs that represent us as young Black people and our way of life. Can you tell us about your thoughts on this and why you think this is important?
JL: It’s very similar to what we are seeing when it comes to TV. I’m a huge advocate for quality representation.
Personally, when I’m using GIFs just for myself and in conversations with my friends I’m deliberate in using GIFs that reflect me the best and so that includes my race and gender. I believe that’s true for just about everyone.
The data we have shows that people are always gonna search for terms like “hello” and “I love you” and “sad” and within those searches, you should be able to find at least someone who mirrors you. I’m also deliberate in making sure there’s diversity within diversity. For example, when it comes to Black women, I make sure that there is an array of GIFs of different skin tones, hair textures, and body sizes and that we’re also very inclusive when it comes to gender and sexuality. I apply that same thought process to all marginalized groups — the same issues we deal with in terms of a lack of representation as Black folk folds over to almost every other minority community.
EL: A lot has happened in the past year or so, one of the biggest events being President Obama and the Obama family’s transition out of the White House. You shared on Twitter that archiving every Barack and Michelle GIF was your most rewarding project to date. Please share what that personally meant to you.
EL: We are sure that being plugged into the digital and social media world day in and day out can put a strain on you. What are the ways you choose to unplug and exercise self-care?
JL: I honestly really need to do a better job of unplugging. I’m always plugged in but part of my self-care includes spending mindless hours on social media. I’m currently obsessed with following the cast of the New Edition movie on Instagram. That brings me joy! But I also make my friends and family a priority.
My life is filled with brunches, day parties, concerts, traveling: the stereotypical New York millennial lifestyle.
And then I spend a lot of time alone too. I’m an only child so I value my space. Sitting at home binge watching tv and just not being bothered is usually my ideal type of self-care.
EL: In your Twitter bio, it states Black girls, Beyonce and brunch. Tell us what you love most about being a Black girl, what’s your favorite Beyonce album and your fave Brunch spot.
JL: I think about our history in this country and how the narrative has always been one of oppression and being counted out and time and time again we just prove people wrong. It’s quite remarkable to watch. And so many of the movements for change and equality in this country are due to black women getting in formation.
Black women are so damn amazing and powerful. Everything about us makes me smile.
I really can’t say which Beyoncé album is my favorite. I love them all for different reasons and they all show Beyoncé’s growth as an artist and a woman. I will say Self-Titled is one of my favorites, song for song and it’s the album that solidified her as a legend, but Lemonade pretty much includes everything I care about. It’s a true testimony to black womanhood and our pain, joy, and in between.
Beyoncé was already my fave but to see her be so bold about who she is as a black girl took me over the edge.
I think Beyoncé is more like us than this untouchable figure we often make her out to be and Lemonade revealed that to me. I also 4 is an EPIC album and don’t trust a Beyoncé fan who says otherwise. My favorite brunch spot in New York is Jacob’s Pickles. My favorite brunch spot in Atlanta is Flying Biscuit Cafe. Every single thing on both menus is a win!
EL: Before you leave us, we end each interview asking this last question: what advice do you have for others aspiring to build their own empire and legacy?
What I have learned is staying committed to your goals and your gut always works. There might not be a clear path getting to where you want to be. There will be a lot of setbacks even after your achievements, but your commitment to your goals will surpass any setback.
I knew 5-6 years ago I wanted to work in media and technology, but GIPHY didn’t even exist when I came to this conclusion. I spent years searching for a role like the one I have now, but it didn’t even exist during the years I was searching. However, during that time I stayed committed and focused. And I took a piece of every job I had and applied it to the next. Surely enough I carved a path to where I wanted to be. Just know it takes time but you’ll look back and you’ll feel super validated knowing you always stayed committed.