“5 Things We Can Each Do To Make Social Media And The Internet A Kinder And More Tolerant Place”, With Former Miss Nevada & Confidence Curator Hilary Billings

Online attacks always have a way of hitting a little harder than in person for so many reasons. For starters, when people have something to say in person they don’t bring pitchforks; they meet you on a human level. Online, most of those doing the attacking don’t know you, so they’re basing their judgments solely […]

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Online attacks always have a way of hitting a little harder than in person for so many reasons. For starters, when people have something to say in person they don’t bring pitchforks; they meet you on a human level. Online, most of those doing the attacking don’t know you, so they’re basing their judgments solely off an internet persona and treating you as a non-human. Because of anonymity and many other documented factors, online haters are much more acerbic than in-person hecklers. Not to mention, as humans, we use body language to interpret meaning 90% of the time. With text, you take away all of those context clues, tone of voice, and opportunity to humanize each other.

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 Hilary Billings. Hilary is an on-camera host, celebrity interviewer, online influencer and host of the forthcoming podcast Red Carpet Confidence. As a former Miss Nevada United States, producer for E! News and travel host for Norwegian Cruise Line, Hilary has been a featured contributor for USA Today, Thrive Global and Huffington Post as well as being featured on Extra! Entertainment TV. As a burn survivor with humorous monologue videos that have been seen by an online audience of millions, Hilary is focused on everything but the superficial. She is a sought-after speaker and coach that helps people overcome inadequacy through finding, interpreting and affirming their self-worth.

Thank you so much for doing this with us Hilary! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share your “backstory” with us?

The reason I became so passionate about helping others build authentic confidence is because I struggled to obtain it for so long.

My journey started by personally dealing with immense amounts of rejection. Despite being a top-ranked student of my UNLV graduating class, I was rejected from fourteen graduate schools. I felt like my life was over. So, I took off to Nicaragua to hide out. There I started a travel blog and documented my international travels and feelings of inadequacy. Slowly, I began to build my confidence back.

Not long after I started seeing some success in blogging and gaining an audience in 120 countries, I was hit in the chest with a malfunctioning firework during a freak accident on the Fourth of July. I suffered second and third-degree burns and doctors didn’t know what my healing time would look like, or if I would ever look normal again. I felt incredibly un-feminine. So much of the confidence I had gained fell apart.

On my blog, I frequently encouraged others to put themselves in uncomfortable situations and find a way to make themselves comfortable as a way to achieve self-growth. I decided I needed to take my own advice. Nothing sounded more terrifying than being on stage in a bikini and having someone judge me, so I entered a beauty pageant as a way of overcoming my fears of inadequacy. And then I won.

But even when living my success, I struggled with imposter syndrome. As Miss Nevada United States, I would often be told at appearances that I didn’t look like a Miss Nevada. And even though I wasn’t fully clear on what that meant, I convinced myself it wasn’t a compliment.

I realized throughout that year it was my responsibility to affirm my own self-worth, which has now become my journey and mission. I’ve since learned to appreciate people telling me I don’t look like a Miss Nevada. That just means I’m breaking down their preconceived notions as to what a titleholder is supposed to look like. We all get to be our own meaning makers.

Can you share with us the most interesting “takeaway” from your career as an interviewer and host?

The biggest takeaway has been regardless of achievement, status, or perceived ‘got-it-all-togetherness’, everyone struggles with feelings of inadequacy, confidence, and affirming their self-worth internally. What surprised me was how very few people are talking about this, given what a massive problem it is, which amplified my passion for having that dialogue openly.

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?

As someone who has spent years in the media (and on social media), I’ve seen the disconnect between the stories that make headlines and reality. I’ve witnessed the manicured problems being put forth on social media and have personally gotten lost in the highlight reels of others’ lives. I want to bridge the gap between the filtered posts we see and the reality of how someone achieved their success. So, I interview high-profile achievers, pro-athletes, influencers, and top performers about times when they felt inadequate. I’m gathering this information for my audience as much as for myself. I also take time each week to answer questions from listeners and give advice on how to increase confidence given their specific situations. My goal is to help my audience connect authentically to their role models and learn some coping skills along the way.

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?

Show me a woman who hasn’t been embarrassed on social media and let’s lock her in a room, because we all need her secrets.

My experience in the content creation world, as well as my study on inadequacy, has naturally led me to want to effect change in the social media space. I don’t inherently think that social media is bad. Much like anything, what you choose to do with it determines its impact.

But yes, I have experienced first-hand the ugly underbelly of social media. When I was a titleholder, I had Trolls and that circle only increased as I started garnering a larger social media following and views on my motivational comedy videos. I have been criticized on everything from my content, to my speaking style, hair color, makeup, dress size, clothes, and for talking too much on camera (perish the thought). I’ve been told to kill myself and had numerous people (specifically older men) express their desire to physically hurt me because of my content. Super heartwarming stuff.

What did you do to shake off the negativity?

Well, initially, I didn’t shake it off. After I had my first comedy video go viral (which was about how having a girlfriend is like having a cat), I didn’t sleep that night. I was so lost in the comment ticker where strangers dragged me, I almost believed releasing the video was a mistake. But that was the point, wasn’t it? These haters wanted me to stop because it would validate their lack of creation.

This was one of those hallmark moments where I realized how important internal validation was to feeling fulfilled and happy in life. I thought to myself, “Wow, I’m a full-grown woman and a former Miss Nevada. I have traveled the world, achieved incredible feats (like training lions), interviewed some of the most iconic people alive today, and I’m allowing myself to be bested by some fifteen-year-olds in Australia?” I then realized that somewhere around the world was a teenage girl who didn’t have the life experience or coping skills I had, who was experiencing the same hatred. I knew in that moment I needed to make my voice louder for her benefit.

Have you ever posted a comment on social media that you regretted because you felt it was too harsh or mean?

As an imperfect human, and one of the original adopters of social media, I’ve had a lot of learning in this space. Before Facebook and Instagram, I had Myspace (I’m showing my age here), and part of being young is that you don’t fully think through your actions. There were a few times where I said something in an attempt to make myself feel better that not only hurt another, but didn’t have the desired effect I wanted (i.e. It didn’t make me feel better). I had to take a hard look at my own actions and drivers and re-evaluate. I’ve also posted things which I thought were incredibly helpful and supportive, only to have them misinterpreted, which can be frustrating for both parties.

Can you describe the evolution of your decisions? What caused you to change your approach?

One of the bigger lessons I’ve had to learn with social media is how little information text gives people. Context clues and body language are so important to how we interpret dialogue. I’ve had to learn that people will most likely take your words in the worst possible way, even if you meant them in kindness. Asking myself how my words may be perceived has allowed me to grow in the realm of social media conversations. I also no longer assume I know what peoples’ intentions are. I always ask for clarification and seek to understand when needed. This usually saves me some exhausting back and forth.

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?

The numerous and very public teen suicides caused by cyberbullying should tell everyone what they need to know about what the recipient may be feeling. So many young people are choosing to end their lives because a sample size of uneducated people, who they believe represent an accurate snapshot of the world, are telling them they don’t matter and they should end their lives. And studies show us this number is only increasing.

I feel the better question to ask here is, “What are the critics feeling when they choose to write such comments?” We’ve established that all of us at some point have said things we wished we hadn’t via social media, and I’m a big believer that the change starts on the individual level. The key here is preventing bullies from becoming bullies and having an awareness of why we exhibit bullying tendencies. The more we focus on that, the more we diffuse that power.

Do you think verbal online attacks feels worse or less than a verbal argument in “real life”? How are the two different?

Online attacks always have a way of hitting a little harder than in person for so many reasons. For starters, when people have something to say in person they don’t bring pitchforks; they meet you on a human level. Online, most of those doing the attacking don’t know you, so they’re basing their judgments solely off an internet persona and treating you as a non-human. Because of anonymity and many other documented factors, online haters are much more acerbic than in-person hecklers. Not to mention, as humans, we use body language to interpret meaning 90% of the time. With text, you take away all of those context clues, tone of voice, and opportunity to humanize each other.

What long term effects can happen to someone who was shamed online?

The amount of research showing social media use — let alone of those who are bullied online — leads to increased anxiety, depression and suicide rates is staggering. Social media use has also been linked to increased teen suicide rates, especially among young women. If anyone thinks their online actions don’t come with major repercussions, they’re not paying attention. We need to find a more effective way to communicate with each other in these forums because our current proclivities are making us feel more alone and sadder than any previous generation.

What would you tell someone who is currently experiencing social media shaming?

Not all opinions are weighted equally, so stop treating them as such. It’s incredibly important to limit the opinions you ingest to only those that matter. You wouldn’t take life advice from someone whose life you don’t want, go to a restaurant that fails its health inspections, or see a doctor that doesn’t have his license. Vet the information you receive. There’s a fabulous speech by Theodore Roosevelt called, “The Man in the Arena,” which details the kind of people you should pay attention to. Read that every day and figure out who’s in your arena. You won’t be surprised to find that those who are also fighting for a cause are most likely to be incredibly supportive and helpful because they too know what it’s like.

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”?

  1. Be intentional with your use. The internet has quickly become a place for us to blast our opinions that nobody asked for or wanted. To get clear on why we’re using it and what end we’re trying to achieve will allow us to form a roadmap to best execute on those things. I used to have a habit of scrolling through my feed for distraction and found it only made me unhappy. So, I reallocated that time. Ask yourself why you’re posting or scrolling on social media. Are you posting a rant to feel validated? Do you feel exasperated? Are you needing attention? Are you genuinely looking to connect with your long-distance friends and relatives? Know your motives so you can get the result you want.
  2. Flood your feed with positivity. Be the catalyst. Studies show that for every one negative experience, we need at least four positive experiences to counteract the negativity. Look at more puppy videos (or watch comedy videos). Share kind encouraging words with your friends. Comment nice things on their photos. You are just as responsible as the big scary internet for your experience on it, so take back control.
  3. Go on a diet. Unfollow anyone who makes you feel bad. And let me clear: this has nothing to do with the other person. I used to follow so many wonderful people who always looked like they had it together, but watching their feeds distracted me from my own hustle. That’s when I realized it wasn’t about them, it was about my inability to control my emotions and the comparison monster. So, in order to take back control, I lovingly unfollowed them. The result has been a shedding of emotional baggage and made me a better friend in real life.
  4. Turn the focus away from yourself. Part of why we all feel so isolated, alone, and miserable is because social media gives us ample opportunity to fall into narcissistic tendencies (feel free to raise your hand if you too have wondered why your last post didn’t get as many likes as the post before it). When I started practicing awareness, I realized that part of my problem was how self-focused I was on my social media use. By asking, “How can I add value to those around me,” and “What can I do to use this platform to bring other people joy,” I experienced a major shift. Getting outside of ourselves is an immediate way to feel better.
  5. When feeling angered or resistant to someone else’s post, respond, don’t react. It’s easy when someone is utilizing broad strokes language or demeaning words to take it personally and dive in to a comment match of biblical proportions. As someone who makes motivational comedy videos that get hundreds of thousands of views, I run into this often. The goal should be understanding, and above all else, not contributing to the problem. Ask the other person why they felt the need to share such a crass opinion. Seeking understanding breeds humanity into a Troll’s world. As I mentioned earlier, I previously had a video get over a million views and I received numerous hurtful comments about my appearance, voice, etcetera. I asked the Trolls why they felt the need to say such things and many were actually very apologetic, saying they never anticipated anyone would read the comments. Most of the time, others’ reaction to your creation is about them. And seeking understanding breaks the pattern.

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?

This question reminds me of my pageant days! Freedom of speech is vital to what our country was founded on. You don’t have to look far internationally to see how censorship can negatively impact culture. We’re seeing this debate a lot right now in many places other than social media (take the NFL for example). Where to draw the censorship line is a question no one knows the perfect answer to. I feel it’s better to address the root problem by finding ways to help those making the disparaging remarks see the err in their ways and create a cultural movement where this behavior isn’t accepted.

If you had full control over Facebook or Twitter, which specific changes would you make to limit harmful or hurtful attacks?

Obviously, Facebook and Twitter have to be hyper aware of what is being posted on their platforms. Situations such as copyright infringement, fake news, and voter manipulation are massive issues that take equally massive teams of people at those companies to combat. Opening that policing up to harmful or hurtful attacks would not only take an incredible amount of manpower, but what’s harmful and hurtful to one person is not necessarily harmful and hurtful to another. So, drawing the line is incredibly difficult. Again, I think the better approach is to raise awareness around this issue and find ways to show people how their remarks truly affect other, and encourage and reward positive interactions.

Can you please give us your favorite, “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

One of my mentors, who coincidentally happens to be a very successful social media influencer, once told me that not all opinions should be weighted equally. Hearing him say that after having experienced so much social media drama was incredibly freeing, not only for what I was building online, but also for my personal life. It’s given me permission to thank others for their insight and then do absolutely nothing with that input. This has been a valuable tool in helping me sift through the noise.

Your podcast is getting ready to launch, and you always have great assets to share with your audience. Where can people follow you?

For those who are currently battling with inadequacy, I have a “4 Steps to Quick Confidence” free workbook available on my website, You can also subscribe for updates on the podcast there as well.

If you’re interested in viewing some of my motivational comedy social media content, you can subscribe to my Facebook Fan Page. Get in touch with me! I’m always excited to connect with new people and help them on their journey.

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