Influencer Sydney Serena: 5 Things We Can Each Do To Make Social Media And The Internet A Kinder And More Tolerant Place
Remember that everyone is fighting their own battles that you don’t know about. They could be going through a divorce, coping with the death of a loved one, battling depression- and you could have no idea. Don’t add to their distresses by commenting something hurtful.
If someone comments something negligent or rude, resist the urge to respond. This is a mistake I’ve made many times in the past, and it will only encourage more arguing. Remain the bigger person and choose the mentality, ‘kill them with kindness.’
As a part of my interview series about the things we can each do to make social media and the internet a kinder and more tolerant place, I had the pleasure to interview social media influencer and soon-to-be college student, Sydney Serena. Sydney makes lifestyle-based content on Youtube, and continues to inspire her core audience, teenage girls, through her vlogs. She is eager for her upcoming transition to attend college in the fall, where she will be studying business while continuing her social media endeavors!
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share your “backstory” with us?
I grew up watching Youtube and admiring social media creators, so I decided to start making my own Youtube videos one day after my fourteenth birthday. Since then, it’s transitioned from a hobby to a full-time career. With the growth of my Youtube channel, I was able to move from Minnesota to Los Angeles, California, and I worked there for a year and a half. Aside from work, I love spending time with my friends and family, playing the piano, and binging the Mission Impossible series!
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?
A little over a year ago I was on a flight back home to LA, and I was randomly seated next to a man who was in distress over his girlfriend not being able to return home after their trip because of issues with her Visa. I talked, listened, and empathized with him during the entire flight. We connected and got along well, and I had told him I was interested in getting into acting. Later on the flight, I found out he was the producer of a big television show, and a month later he called me asking to audition for a role in a film he was producing. I got the part, filmed it and it should be out soon (hopefully! COVID-19 is delaying things a bit). It goes to show that being humble and open to strangers can sometimes bring amazing opportunities.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
I once slept through an interview I was supposed to have with a management company. Thankfully they were understanding and rescheduled for later that day. Needless to say, after that I purchased the Sonic Bomb alarm that I still use to this day. It hasn’t failed me since!
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
While it’s not so much a ‘project’ but rather a new chapter, I’m going to be attending Chapman University in the fall to pursue a major in business! I’m so excited for this opportunity. Amidst so much uncertainty, I believe the value of having a backup plan is greater than ever. Undeniably, the chance to receive a college education is an enormous privilege I have access to. That being said I hope I can encourage other teenagers subscribed to my YouTube Channel to further their education beyond high school to some degree. I plan on releasing a series of videos to paint an authentic portrait of the first-year college experience, which I hope will help young viewers identify with their own goals and dreams to determine their future plans.
Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the main focus of our interview. Have you ever been publicly shamed or embarrassed on social media? Can you share with our readers what that experience felt like?
Posting on social media in any capacity will almost always come with negative comments or remarks: that’s why it’s a choice to put yourself out there and be open to criticism. Of course, like many others, I receive negative comments criticizing the things I say, choices I make, people I’m friends with or the way I look. The comments that affect me the most have to do with my character or personality. If someone says “Why would she make this decision? She’s a terrible person,” I would take that more personally than someone saying “She’s ugly” or “What’s with her shirt,” because it has to do with my character. Sometimes I would feel pushed over the edge by negative comments which spiraled me into overthinking the choices I was making and changing the person I was. It’s such a toxic cycle, but it can only control you if you choose to let it.
What did you do to shake off that negative feeling?
With all the negative comments I receive, I also receive so many positive and uplifting comments. I’ve learned to not let those negative comments affect me, and if they do, I’m over it a day later because I receive so much love from my supporters that keeps me going! For anyone dealing with online bullies, it’s important to similarly focus on the people who love you and surround yourself with real support, such as from family and close friends. What matters to me are the opinions of my close friends and family who truly know the person I am and have my best interest at heart.
Have you ever posted a comment on social media that you regretted because you felt it was too harsh or mean?
No. It’s never crossed my mind to leave a hurtful comment. The only outcome it can produce is either hurting the person you left it for, receiving backlash from others for your comment, or both. There’s never a “win” or positive result for anyone involved. Bottom line, if it’s going to hurt someone, why comment it?
When one reads the comments on Youtube or Instagram, or the trending topics on Twitter, a great percentage of them are critical, harsh, and hurtful. The people writing the comments may feel like they are simply tapping buttons on a keyboard, but to the one on the receiving end of the comment, it is very different. This may be intuitive, but I feel that it will be instructive to spell it out. Can you help illustrate to our readers what the recipient of a public online critique might be feeling?
That is a great way to put it. Honestly, it may only take the person writing the comment 15 seconds, but on the receiving end, the person may spend hours or days pondering and analyzing just one single comment. It can lead to a lot of internal back and forth talk with oneself, and sometimes even changing oneself to please the other person. It takes self-confidence to trust in yourself and the person you are to know that those comments hold no weight or significance. I wish these commenters could visually see the distress this can cause someone, as I feel it may propel them to change their ways.
Do you think a verbal online attacks feels worse or less than a verbal argument in “real life”? How are the two different?
I find verbal online attacks to be a lot more direct and aggressive, simply because the opportunity for someone to be hostile is increased by being isolated behind a screen. In real life, there’s more fear and less shelter; there’s no computer screen separating the two, so they tend to be a bit more passive. Personally I find the online attacks to feel worse, because tone can be misinterpreted and comments can feel so personal and direct. It can rip you apart, but only if you let it!
What long term effects can happen to someone who was shamed online?
Online shame can definitely upset self-confidence. It creates a vicious cycle of constantly overanalyzing the things you say, decisions you make, photos you post. Once you start it can be hard to break…. While it’s important to be careful about the content you put out, you don’t want to become a robot; people love authenticity, and so do I. It’s something I never want to lose, so if I become too careful and deliberate with my choices, I will lose myself. I try to keep things in perspective and just focus on trying my best while realizing I don’t have to please everyone.
Many people who troll others online, or who leave harsh comments, can likely be kind and sweet people in “real life”. These people would likely never publicly shout at someone in a room filled with 100 people. Yet, on social media, when you embarrass someone, you are doing it in front of thousands of even millions of people, and it is out there forever. Can you give 3 or 4 reasons why social media tends to bring out the worst in people; why people are meaner online than they are in person?
1. There are fewer consequences. Yes, the commenter may receive some hate or backlash, but they aren’t typically faced with the larger repercussions that they would have brought upon themself for saying those same things in real life.
2. The illusion that a screen between the commenter and receiver makes these comments justifiable… It’s so much easier to leave these comments than face the person in real life.
3. The anonymity that comes with commenting online. Your identity can be fully protected and nobody would know it was you that left the remark.
4. The “cancel culture” mentality. Once one person makes a remark, others like to bandwagon off of the idea and continue to bully the individual to make their argument more powerful.
If you had the power to influence thousands of people about how to best comment and interact online, what would you suggest to them? What are your “5 things we should each do to help make social media and the internet, a kinder and more tolerant place”? Can you give a story or an example for each?
1. Remember that everyone is fighting their own battles that you don’t know about. They could be going through a divorce, coping with the death of a loved one, battling depression- and you could have no idea. Don’t add to their distresses by commenting something hurtful.
2. Before you comment, pay attention if you at all second guess what you are about to say. If you do, it’s probably not a good remark and you should scrap it if you’re at all questioning yourself.
3. Make an effort to comment/message your friends positive and uplifting things frequently. It will not only show the people you love that you care about them, but it will also make you in a better mood and feel better about yourself!
4. If someone comments something negligent or rude, resist the urge to respond. This is a mistake I’ve made many times in the past, and it will only encourage more arguing. Remain the bigger person and choose the mentality, ‘kill them with kindness.’
5. Take a break from your phone! This is a big one for me. I love spending time with my friends and family, going on walks, and being in the present moment. If you’re ever stressed out or frustrated by comments on social media, take a break, de-stress, and recharge. You’ll feel SO much better!
Freedom of speech prohibits censorship in the public square. Do you think that applies to social media? Do American citizens have a right to say whatever they want within the confines of a social media platform owned by a private enterprise?
We of course can’t revoke anyone’s freedom of speech, which is not the goal at hand. I suggest just asking yourself before making a post, “could this harm someone in any way?” If there is any hesitation, simply put, don’t post it. I don’t think that it being a public or private enterprise should have any weight on whether or not leaving a hate comment is acceptable.
If you had full control over Facebook or Twitter, which specific changes would you make to limit harmful or hurtful attacks?
While this would be nearly impossible, in a perfect world I’d love to have a large number of moderators reviewing nearly all comments coming in ‘by hand’ without the use of a computerized system. So many hurtful or negligent comments go undetected by the imperfect computer detecting systems, and actual moderators would be able to catch things the system wouldn’t.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
”Your comfort zone will kill you.” It’s true. In order to grow in your business endeavors or personal life, you cannot let fear control you or determine the decisions you make. If I had let the fear of what people thought of me determine whether or not I made my first Youtube video, I wouldn’t have grown to where I am today. If I had let the fear of leaving my hometown and everything I had ever known behind when I was 18 ‘win,’ I would never have moved to Los Angeles and met the incredible people or have the amazing experiences I did! Life is about pushing yourself to learn to be comfortable with the uncomfortable, this is where you will experience the most growth!
We are blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them :-)
Gary Vaynerchuk. I admire how direct and blunt he is with everything. He never sugarcoats things, he’s so genuine and I would love to have a conversation with him to learn more about his path to success and his advice for people in my position!
How can our readers follow you on social media?
They can subscribe to my Youtube channel, Sydney Serena, or follow me on all other platforms @sydneyserena!
Thank you so much for these insights! This was so inspiring!