“5 Things We Can Each Do To Make Social Media And The Internet A Kinder And More Tolerant Place” With Nico Hodel of Start It Up NYC

An online attack can surely be worse than an in-person one depending on the circumstances. A comment or video online can potentially reach an audience of hundreds, thousands or even millions of people. Others online, protected by their anonymity will often chime in, producing a public shaming dynamic that is extremely toxic. As a part […]

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An online attack can surely be worse than an in-person one depending on the circumstances. A comment or video online can potentially reach an audience of hundreds, thousands or even millions of people. Others online, protected by their anonymity will often chime in, producing a public shaming dynamic that is extremely toxic.

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 Nico Hodel, Co-Founder and CTO of Start It Up NYC. Nico is a full-stack web developer and programmatic marketing specialist with over seven years of experience developing websites, mobile applications and web content for fast-growing NYC startups and technology companies. After successfully exiting real estate tech company Livewith, he ran content and web development efforts at Valence Digital for over four years, overseeing a six person marketing and development team, working on projects in the Angular, React, and React Native frameworks. Today, Nico is a frequent speaker at startup and tech-related events throughout New York City and plays a leadership role in Start It Up NYC’s web development, programmatic marketing and technical content writing efforts.

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

Sure. I grew up in Honolulu, Hawaii and after settling in New York City became passionate and involved in technology, particularly in web content and mobile app development. I joined my first startup, Livewith, while still in college, and after selling an equity stake to exit the company, I founded Valence Digital where I went on to work on web development and content marketing projects for various clients in the technology, finance, and real estate sectors.

Finally, wanting to help support innovation in the NYC ecosystem, I Co-Founded Start It Up NYC with Adi Patil. Start It Up is an agency focused on helping startups and technology companies grow by providing app development, content marketing, event marketing, and PR services.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?

When I first started to learn how to program, I was working on building a new site for a client at the time after his old one was compromised. When I asked what happened to the client’s former site, he told me he’d send me the link so I could see for myself. I was shocked to find that his old site was filled entirely with hard-core pornography. Needless to say, I stressed the importance of the new site I built for him be HTTPS secured.

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?

When I first started learning programming, I began by working on a number of open-source projects. After working for hours on one particular feature, I submitted a commit only to realize that I had commented out the entire patch of code. It made me the butt of the joke on many a chat room.

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

I’m excited to be working with some new clients with Start It Up NYC. Among them are food delivery and home chef app Saavor, networking education platform and podcast NetWorkWise, AI marketplace AI On The Fly, Blockchain platform Bankchain and many others.

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?

I’m lucky that I have not had the bad fortune of being shamed or embarrassed online, but I have had friends and even past clients been the victim of online harassment and false statements, which were extremely difficult for them to deal with on an emotional level.

What did you do to shake off that negative feeling?

I’ve often recommended taking a social media or information fast. It can be helpful to detach oneself from online activity for a set period of time, and to talk to trusted people or even a therapist in person about what is being experienced.

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

I often regret posting overtly political comments online, especially comments that are aggressive or personal. I’ve found that such exchanges are rarely productive and tend just to entrench people in their current views.

Can you describe the evolution of your decisions? Why did you initially write the comment, and why did you eventually regret it?

With so much polarization online, it can be difficult not to get drawn into political conversations. I’ve just found through trial and error that they are rarely productive, at least for me.

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?

Reading hurtful comments that attack you personally can be extremely emotionally painful. With no face-to-face recognition of the grievance, it’s easier to internalize and stew over negative comments or videos. Particularly for young girls, smartphone technology has been linked to higher rates of depression as these technologies are often weaponized through online bullying.

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

An online attack can surely be worse than an in-person one depending on the circumstances. A comment or video online can potentially reach an audience of hundreds, thousands or even millions of people. Others online, protected by their anonymity will often chime in, producing a public shaming dynamic that is extremely toxic.

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

Online shaming can produce horrible effects, including depression, and in terribly tragic cases, even suicide.

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?

The primary reason is the sense of anonymity people feel online. Not being identified can give people a sense that they won’t be held liable for their words.

Another reason is that online bullies don’t see the facial expressions and body language of their victims which inhibits their ability to empathize with their pain.

Finally, social media can foster a powerful herd mentality in which users pile onto others’ toxic comments.

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. Better Education Around Notification Settings: Push notifications are purposely implemented to make apps and software more addictive and can exacerbate addition and online bullying. Turning off notifications can be a helpful move for some.
  2. Less Anonymity On Public Platforms: While anonymity has its place online and can be important, public-facing social networks, especially those used by children should put an emphasis on verifying users’ identities.
  3. Enhanced Tech Literacy: Parents and school administrators should expand their awareness of how social media technology works and its dangers.
  4. Meditation: Taking a break from information technology, including social media, is very important to maintain perspective. Mindfulness meditation is a great way for people to detach from social media and find some inner peace.
  5. Different Incentives For Tech Companies: Current incentives encourage social platforms to prioritize engagement at all costs to maximize ad revenue. Prioritizing engagement makes for more toxic exchanges online and fuel the outrage culture that is such a big problem today.

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?

Social media platforms are not legally bound by freedom of speech being that they are private companies. However, they should be held accountable for censorship by users and in the public forum.

I personally would like to see the popularization and adoption of an alternative social network that makes public promises about not censoring content, collecting data without consent, and not prioritizing advertisers of users. There some companies that have developed great products in this vain, many of which are open source, including Minds, and others.

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

First, I’d make them all open source. This would allow users and developers to understand how the platforms are actually functioning and contribute towards making them better.

Second, I’d make it legally obligatory for data collection to be opt-in on the platforms. In other words, users would not have their data collected unless they agree to it.

Third, the algorithms would be adjusted to make useful content more visible rather than just content that generates the most engagement.

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 favorite quotes, and one particularly relevant here is from technologist Tristan Harris. It’s helped put some of the darker trends in technology into perspectives.

“The ultimate freedom is a free mind, and we need technology that’s on our team to help us live, feel, think and act freely.

We need our smartphones, notifications screens and web browsers to be exoskeletons for our minds and interpersonal relationships that put our values, not our impulses, first. People’s time is valuable. And we should protect it with the same rigor as privacy and other digital rights.”

-Tristan Harris

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 🙂

I’d love to sit down with the aforementioned Tristan Harris, podcaster Adam Connors, and Pano Anthos of XRC Labs.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

Find me online at:

Instagram: Instagram.com/nico_hodel

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/nico-hodel-1a925b58/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/nickhodel

Thank you so much for these insights! This was so inspiring!

About the author:

Yitzi Weiner is a journalist, author, and the founder of Medium’s Authority Magazine. He is also the CEO of Authority Magazine’s Thought Leader Incubator, which guides leaders to become prolific content creators. A trained Rabbi, Yitzi is also a dynamic educator, teacher and orator. He currently lives in Maryland with his wife and children.

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