The Southern Poverty Law Center
The SPLC fights hatred and bigotry, seeking justice for the most vulnerable members of society.
The Southern Poverty Law Center fights hatred and bigotry, seeking justice for the most vulnerable members of society. Their aging platform, organized around content types and organizational departments, faced another challenge: surviving the multitude of crippling cyber attacks perpetrated by the hundreds of hate groups that the SPLC fights.
In redesigning their website, we helped them better tell their story through digital journalism and data visualization. We also solidified their platform and implemented measures to keep the site secure.
Our redesign of the Southern Poverty Law Center site was voted the People’s Voice winner in the Websites - Law category of the 2016 Webby Awards, and was named an Honoree in the Best Practices category.
After reviewing the existing site and evaluating the data gathered about how the SPLC’s visitors navigate it, ThinkShout traveled to Montgomery to work with the SPLC’s team in person to better understand their organizational goals, what they hoped to achieve with their online presence, their audiences, and the content that could connect the two.
Content is at the heart of ThinkShout’s discovery and development methodologies. When content is organized according to internal business structures, site visitors must first learn the language of the organization. This imposes a significant roadblock between them and the information they’re seeking.
We worked with the SPLC to put content strategy first, which in reality put their audiences first. This key step helped maintain – and build – the SPLC’s reputation as a trusted and valuable source of information amongst supporters, donors, consumers, and other stakeholders. The information architecture and organization of the site flowed naturally from there.
Visual Storytelling and Mapping
The SPLC maintains an annual list of hate groups, “groups [that] have beliefs or practices that attack or malign an entire class of people, typically for their immutable characteristics.” The Hate Map, one of the SPLC’s flagship pieces of cross-channel content, needed a major overhaul for today’s responsive environment.
ThinkShout worked with the team at the SPLC to rebuild their online Hate Map from the ground up. By showing all of the hate groups in the United States in a single visual, the Hate Map tells a powerful story.
The custom icons encourage users to dig more deeply into the vast library of content the SPLC maintains about the groups and their ideology. Users can toggle to a view showing the actual number of groups in each state, demonstrating that hate is not some far flung problem, but something in their own backyard that they must confront.
The sheer volume of content produced by the SPLC presented an organizational challenge. On the previous site, content was largely grouped by type, so an article from the Intelligence Report about the standoff with Ammon Bundy in Nevada often had no connection to a news story about the latest events.
We worked with the SPLC to improve their taxonomies so that we could pull related content together, regardless of its structure, and introduced faceted search features that allowed users to quickly step down to just the content of interest to them, instead of making them dig 10 layers deep.
We also introduced powerful tools that allow SPLC content administrators to include compelling visuals to break up what had been an extremely text heavy site.
Instead of turning to Medium or the like, the SPLC can now leverage Drupal to present gorgeous, if heartbreaking, stories.
The complicated and fragile infrastructure of the old site was re-engineered with three key requirements in mind: stability, security, and simplicity.
Pantheon was selected to provide the core hosting platform due to its track record of stability and developer/workflow tools that enabled rapid development with minimal infrastructure distractions. Detailed load testing showed the site fully capable of handling traffic in excess of five times their historical peaks.
To further improve capacity and add an additional layer of security, the site sits behind Fastly’s extensive content distribution network (CDN). For the increasingly common Denial of Service (DoS) and Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attacks where attackers overwhelm a site with requests and make it unavailable for other visitors, Fastly again provides protection. By utilizing Pantheon and Fastly, the SPLC team can focus all of their energy on the important work they do rather than managing servers and other infrastructure.
In the end, the new SPLC flagship site is not simply streamlined, beautiful, and performant, it’s effective in furthering the mission of the SPLC by helping them tell the powerful stories we all need to hear.
Since the site launched, traffic has increased more than 60% year-over-year – and more than 130% for mobile devices. Visitors are staying longer, and importantly, providing more support online: donations through the website are up significantly, as well.
The combination of a solidly built Drupal site, hosted with Pantheon, and Fastly as a CDN and security layer has allowed the SPLC to withstand both dramatic spikes in legitimate traffic and countless attacks. The launch of the updated Hate Map saw traffic to just that section of the site spike over 20 times the historical averages with no impact or additional needs placed on the underlying infrastructure.
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