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5 Things We Can Each Do To Make Social Media and the Internet a Kinder and More Tolerant Place, With Rio Rocket

We exist in such duality as human beings. That’s likely the case for most people who could be considered online trolls. People are meaner online because of the anonymity and protection the computer screen provides. The same phenomena occurs during road rage. A screen seems to offer a person a layer of protection to shield […]


We exist in such duality as human beings. That’s likely the case for most people who could be considered online trolls. People are meaner online because of the anonymity and protection the computer screen provides. The same phenomena occurs during road rage. A screen seems to offer a person a layer of protection to shield them from the backlash that would normally ensue in an open air face-to-face confrontation. Others (trolls) may be the actual victims of bullying in “real life” and need an outlet for empowerment. Those individuals may require more sophisticated means to help them find their way. Then there’s the category of people whose actions simply stem from inconsequential thinking. Our awareness and accessibility to information also affects our perspective on this topic. Many things in the real world go unnoticed, but internet comments stick like glue online and attract far more attention.


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 Rio Rocket. Rio is a multi-hyphenate film, television, and voice actor, commercial model, motivational speaker, writer, and event host in the entertainment industry. In the realm of digital marketing, he’s a highly accomplished graphic artist, web developer, and branding expert. Based in New York City, Rio’s tenure in digital marketing features a strong track record of successful brands, products, companies, and professional services across multiple categories. His work in the entertainment industry as an emerging talent demonstrates his ability to ambitiously pour his creative talents into a craft he never expected to be in.


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’m an extremely grateful person. I was born into the world under very adverse circumstances but thanks to a loving family I was able to discover and explore my gifts and talents in a healthy environment. I grew up in Queens, New York and one of my most epiphanous memories goes back to the age of five or six. I was able to draw before I could read or write so I would draw comic books at home. I sold my first comic book to my cousin for a price of .25 cents marked up from the original .05 cents. I did this after she expressed interest in buying my comic, telling her the law of supply and demand dictates it had just become much more valuable. In reflection, that was the moment I knew I was born to be both creative and an entrepreneur.

I learned to play five musical instruments growing up: acoustic guitar, piano, alto-saxophone, tenor-saxophone, and baritone horn — in that order. I was heavily into creating music as a teenager and became an investment banker in my twenties, but something led me right back to the creative world and entrepreneurship. So I began a career as a part-time graphic artist and web designer in the early stages of the modern internet. As the internet evolved so did I. I grew my business into a full-service commercial art, web development, and digital marketing service.

Eventually I needed another mountain to climb, and through a series of unlikely events I fell into voice-acting. I could always do all these crazy voices: Kermit the Frog, Miss Piggy, DMX, Archie and Edith Bunker, Antonio Banderas, Vegeta, Christopher Walken, Rodney Dangerfield, Morgan Freeman, Owen Wilson, Gandalf the Grey, most of the Transformers, nearly the entire cast from Pulp Fiction, children, babies, monsters, literally I’ve got hundreds of them. Eventually I was urged to pursue on-camera acting for film, television, and commercials and so I did. Today I’m a full-time actor, motivational speaker, event host, and I’ve also managed to funnel my overflowing creativity into writing for film and television.

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

I have so many. One story I find interesting is from a production I worked on this year. It came as the result of the very last audition I went on in 2018. It was December, brutally cold, and the audition studio was nearly empty. I don’t believe in “mailing it in” so I thought to myself why not end the year with a bang. The audition was for a motivational speaking spot for Lowe’s Home Improvement. At the end of my audition, casting informed me that no decision was going to be made until after the holidays. So I just went forward with my holiday activities and completely put the project out of mind. In January, I receive a call from my agent that Lowe’s has chosen me for the spot. At that point I became the first and only motivational speaker ever hired by Lowe’s. I look at that experience with the highest level of gratitude. I hope my words gave the utmost inspiration to all the people they reached.

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?

So early on in my career as a graphic artist I probably made a ton of mistakes, most I will never know what they were. I secured the majority of my projects through the internet, so if I didn’t get hired after submitting a bid then I’d never really know why. In my acting career I know for certain my funniest mistake is not having a professional headshot early on. This probably stems from the fact that I originally entered that business as a voice-actor and didn’t feel I needed one at the time. But when I started auditioning on camera it should have been my first priority. I remember handing one director a photo taken by a standard camera and printed out on a sheet of 8.5″ x 11″ printer paper at home. The look she gave me was as if I handed her a dirty diaper. Afterward I went out and found the best headshot photographer in New York City available so I never had to see that look on someone’s face again. The lesson is to always be a professional by projecting professionalism at all times.

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

I’m working on several projects at the moment. I just filmed a pilot for a revolutionary new type of cooking show and a pilot for a streaming series just prior to that. Those projects inspired me to write more so currently I’m writing more than ever. Pouring into my own world of storytelling and content creation which taps into this overflowing hot spring of ideas I’ve always had since a child. Now that my ideas have had time to mature and I understand the medium in which I can communicate them better, I know this is the right time to develop them. How they will help people is that they are all original, entertaining, and transformative. My goal is to address the social issues we face today while educating and entertaining people at the same time. I’ll continue to harvest these ideas while surrounding myself with people who share common goals.

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?

One thing about this topic is that because I held out for so long in actively engaging in social media, I’ve had time to observe what creates the possibilities for shaming or embarrassment. I’ve seen it happen more times than I would ever care to have witnessed. I actually felt more embarrassed for the people doing the shaming than the one being shamed. There’s something unsettling about being able to communicate harmful ideas and language electronically that otherwise would not be done in a real-world scenario. That’s the aspect of it that I think about most.

What did you do to shake off that negative feeling?

I’ve been through, seen, and heard a lot in life. I have plenty of experience with negativity. We go way back. If I experience negativity I don’t feed into it. I crush it with kindness or don’t give it life at all. Negativity cannot thrive within the parameters in which I operate.

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

That is not something I would ever do. I’m very considerate with any comment I leave on social media because I’m always mindful that people are posting content that is personal to them. It shouldn’t always have to jibe with the beliefs and opinions of others. As long as they are being true to themselves, that should be what matters to them.

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?

Yes I am constantly reminded of this and I see it all the time. Quite a while ago, there was a person whom I was friends with through X-box Live. He could be pretty rude to others, not everyone, just select people that he didn’t connect with. One day he insulted some people online whom I was also friends with and I had to pull him into a private chat room. I remember him saying, “Man, these are just gamertags and voices to me. Just names and voices.” I explained to him in vivid detail that just as you are a whole living person so are they. To help keep yourself in check, when you communicate to people online, place imaginary faces on the person you’re directing your words to. Step out of your shoes and imagine being on the receiving end of what you’re about to say. See it from their perspective before you press “send.” This exercise helps you to prevent yourself from dehumanizing your interactions online.

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

That may all depend on the situation. I saw the reporting of a disheartening story about a young girl who was bullied online and when her father intervened it only made it worse. When I was a kid if your father came out the house that was usually the end of things. It was a wrap as we say. These days it seems to exacerbate the situation and fuel the fire. The report explained how cyber bullying can be worse than its real-world counterpart because the bullies have a twenty-four hour window of access to you — unless you go completely offline. I think the victim definitely feels more defenseless in this type of scenario.

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

We’ve seen what the psychological effects of being shamed online can lead to and it’s no joke. It has to be taken seriously and addressed immediately. Those are effects that are going to stay with a person for a long time, maybe forever. There has to be more resources available for people under that level of duress. There also has to be sensitivity training for people who carry out those types of attacks.

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?

We exist in such duality as human beings. That’s likely the case for most people who could be considered online trolls. People are meaner online because of the anonymity and protection the computer screen provides. The same phenomena occurs during road rage. A screen seems to offer a person a layer of protection to shield them from the backlash that would normally ensue in an open air face-to-face confrontation. Others (trolls) may be the actual victims of bullying in “real life” and need an outlet for empowerment. Those individuals may require more sophisticated means to help them find their way. Then there’s the category of people whose actions simply stem from inconsequential thinking. Our awareness and accessibility to information also affects our perspective on this topic. Many things in the real world go unnoticed, but internet comments stick like glue online and attract far more attention.

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?

My 5 ideas:
 
 1. More Accountability:
Having an internet reputation score that follows you everywhere across the internet. This would either place limitations on activity or even prevent certain people from being able to sign-up with certain services that would adopt a reputation score standard such as X-bo Live, PlayStation Network, Social Media sites, forums and chat rooms. It would definitely curb harmful behavior on these platforms.
 2. Lack of anonymity:
All public comments on blog posts, articles, and social media posts are ID-verified. No one is able to post anonymously. I see this working efficiently for online articles and blog posts where the most vitriolic comments are usually made by anonymous or burner accounts.
 3. Removal of likes and views on certain networks.
This would remove the pressure to post just for likes (e.g. I did it for the gram’) and also increase the authenticity of content posted. It’s time for people to be their true selves. I’ve read Instagram is already considering and experimenting with this idea.
 4. More online and offline support groups.
This would provide an outlet for people impacted by online bullying, anxiety, or depression related to online activities. My idea would be to have it already built-in to the social platform. When you type in “help.nameofsocialplatform.com”, why not lead people to online support for social issues they’re having with their experience on the website? I believe that makes perfect sense. I understand it requires a high level of accountability and availability of resources from the social media site, but I think it’s a solid idea.
 5. Bridge the gap. We need more cohesive ways to encourage people to connect with those who they would otherwise never communicate with due to different interests, beliefs, and backgrounds. Sports is an example of something that does a great job of this. I grew up playing sports and the person who became my best friend of my entire life became my friend through football. The concept of teamwork, comradery, working towards a common goal, and brother/sisterhood breaks down all barriers.

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?

That is a topic up for debate. You can’t scream fire in a crowded movie theater, but you apparently can on the internet (in the form of fake news) so different rules apply. It seems someone can actually make up almost anything you want and post it online without repercussion. If you read over the terms of service on most social media sites the content is actually owned by the platform for perpetuity. So just because you are given the right to do something does not mean it cannot be used against you at any point in the future.

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

So I would create a team of intervention specialists that get involved only in extreme situations. This would be whenever there is hate speech, serious threats, and intense online attacks or bullying especially when it involves young people. These specialists wouldn’t be live moderators because we don’t need online referees watching over our every action. This would be a team of highly trained social experts who can buffer the flow of negativity and de-escalate a situation whenever necessary. I’m all for being able to debate your opinion or give someone a piece of your mind but when it goes over the top then action needs to be taken. In extreme cases, flags should be placed on accounts and then assessed as to what course of action to take next. My idea for a universal internet reputation score could actually offset a great deal of these extreme scenarios. Think about how much better off we’d be if half of these incidents never happened in the first place. Facebook and Twitter could maintain certain guidelines that restrict people from specific actions when their reputation score falls below minimum requirements.

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

I could serve up so many of these as it pertains to my life, but there’s two I particularly connect with. The first, “If you’re not as good as you want to be, just remember you’re twice as good as they think.” This has helped me keep things in perspective when I made the career-shift into acting. I spent a great deal of time being among the very best as a graphic artist, branding expert, and digital marketer. Acting was a new arena. One I literally thought would be the last I would ever participate in, so I had to calm my ego and deal with being not so good at it in the very beginning. The second, “Fall in love with the process, not the results.” That is where I’m at now, in my process and in love with it.

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 power lunch with Jordan Peele. Growing up a horror-fan I recently published an article, “The New Gen Black Horror Film Trope is Scary Good” in which I offer my views of what he has accomplished with the genre recently. I have ideas that I’ve been working on and pouring my creativity into that I’m certain would complement his.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

I’m most active on Instagram @TheRioRocket but can also be followed on Facebook and Twitter, same handle. You can also check out some of my video content on Vimeo @RioRocket

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

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