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Demi Dee: “Imagine that you’re the subject of your message”

A verbal online attack feels worse than a verbal argument in “real life” because the former is more likely to be intensified by several factors. With words on a screen, the recipient is missing the tone, energy and facial expressions of the communication — elements that are part of face-to-face “real life” communication. And in the absence […]

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A verbal online attack feels worse than a verbal argument in “real life” because the former is more likely to be intensified by several factors. With words on a screen, the recipient is missing the tone, energy and facial expressions of the communication — elements that are part of face-to-face “real life” communication. And in the absence of these elements, the person attacked may assume the worst that is in line with this person’s own insecurities and fears. This assumption amplifies the attack and the shame that comes with it. When the attack is online, it can also be transmitted to others and scaled quickly through shares and hashtags. In cyberspace, there is no true “delete” button; even if the original message is deleted, it may have already been shared several times and saved as a screenshot for future reference. For example, the media often references a deleted tweet or post from a given celebrity and publishes the content of this now deleted message in order to report on the incident.


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 Demi Dee, the founder and CEO of The Knockout Room (TKR). TKR is a lifestyle brand for households with tween and teen girls that offers online holistic coaching in fitness, nutrition and wellness. Demi is a certified Canadian fitness trainer and health coach based in Toronto, Canada. She incorporates feminine power principles in her methodology, with a focus on the common false beliefs that prevent girls and women from reaching their full potential. Demi and The Knockout Room have been featured in several media outlets including Insider, Elite Daily, Bustle, InStyle, MSN, and 24Life.


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 a thirty-something gal from Toronto, Canada, that followed a very traditional career path — finished school, found a 9-to-5 job, and worked my way up the corporate ladder. I’ve worked several jobs in the last decade in the publishing and legal industries, navigating a changing landscape filled with uncertainty and instability. Like many others, I realized that this wasn’t what I wanted, I wasn’t happy, and I wanted to make changes. After the legal firm I worked at closed abruptly, I found myself relocating to Denmark a few short months later to pursue my MBA degree. This move was much needed mentally, physically, and emotionally as I had also been taking care of a terminally ill relative leading up to my firm’s demise. It was a terrifying and humbling experience that taught me some really important life lessons about self-care and living my life to the fullest. I promised myself that I would learn more about fitness and nutrition in order to take better care of myself. While in Copenhagen, Denmark, I completed my MBA degree and it was there in my Danish apartment that I founded The Knockout Room. I returned to Canada following graduation in order to build my company in my home country. Initially I provided at-home fitness training to women. I realized that many women struggled to start a fitness regime or if they started at all, they would stop shortly thereafter. I also saw what was happening around me, and on the news, and in the media in terms of the ongoing pressure that young girls face to look and behave a certain way. I decided to focus my attention on this younger female age group that is most vulnerable to external pressures and to focus on helping them establish healthy habits and a sustainable lifestyle. So here we are now!

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

For a period of nine months or so, people continually told me that I looked familiar, that they recognized me, etc. At the time, I had no public social media presence. The first few times that this happened, I just laughed it off. But then it kept happening and I began to see a pattern and so I asked questions like “Where have you seen me before? What is it about me that is familiar?”

The funniest occurrence was when I attended a wellness trade show. Both young girls at one booth saw me as I passed by, made eye contact, and immediately expressed their excitement by approaching me and asking, “Are you on TV?” It didn’t look or feel like a prank because their expressions showed genuine excitement. We chatted and laughed about the mix-up. I told them that this had been happening for months. Turns out that they thought I was a TV personality because I had a fun, approachable personality. Hey, I’ll take that! That’s an awesome compliment.

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 was a guest speaker at a university event where I gave a wellness talk. In my preparation, I had been so focused on getting the facts right and making sure my content flowed well from one PowerPoint slide to another. During my presentation, I attempted to add humor to my content and to incorporate pop-culture references, but it was a tough crowd! They just stared back at me. Awkward. It didn’t feel funny at the time, but after some self-reflection following the event, I laughed about it. I realized it was more important to build a connection with my audience by really understanding the audience’s wants, needs, and desires than to bombard them with so much information. So, the lesson was to focus more on connection than content.

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

I am! I’m working on my online platform for my community of tween and teen girls and their caregivers.

It’s a work in progress that is coming together through the incredible feedback that I’ve received from the TKR community. Together, we’re creating a safe space where we can discuss all things health and wellness and encourage collaboration among the girls. Collaboration is a really important value in the TKR community because it allows us to dismantle the divisive culture of our society that encourages girls to compete with one another, which was so aptly illustrated in the movie Mean Girls.

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?

Yes. I was called out for something I said, and the commentator was highlighting the hypocrisy of the situation. At first, I felt embarrassed because the tables had turned, and I was now the subject of the joke. I then felt terrible because I recognized that the commentator was right. I apologized and deleted the post. There was a silver lining to this situation as well: I realized that I was in the company of a true friend who wasn’t afraid to speak up and call me out when necessary. This evolution of emotions happened over a period of a few days.

What did you do to shake off that negative feeling?

I wrote in my private journal. Journaling helps me work through my emotions and process events.

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

Yes!

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

Initially, I posted my gut reaction to a media story about praise for a celebrity that was notorious for displaying disrespectful behavior. I later regretted my post because it was essentially a hate message that didn’t add any value to the conversation. It was my gut feeling again that led me to delete it. I didn’t want to put my energy and time toward that type of messaging because ultimately my own message was drawing more attention to this person who I felt was so undeserving of the praise, and it left me feeling off-balance because this is not the kind of energy I want to put out into the world.

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?

I imagine that a public online critique feels like a paralyzing moment where all your worst fears surface. You experience physical discomfort along with inner turmoil that has your inner voice reciting every nasty thing you’ve ever said about and to yourself. You relive the situation repeatedly long after it ends, deconstructing every element to see where you went wrong, going over every theory and interpretation you have about the incident. Your reaction to a situation will vary, but will likely be influenced by your fears and insecurities, the nature of the critique, the level of shame you already experience, the size of the audience, your previous experiences, etc. If you’re a public figure, you’re a prime target for media outlets and the public in general who will condemn your every move, so I imagine that your fear of being further humiliated is warranted.

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

A verbal online attack feels worse than a verbal argument in “real life” because the former is more likely to be intensified by several factors. With words on a screen, the recipient is missing the tone, energy and facial expressions of the communication — elements that are part of face-to-face “real life” communication. And in the absence of these elements, the person attacked may assume the worst that is in line with this person’s own insecurities and fears. This assumption amplifies the attack and the shame that comes with it. When the attack is online, it can also be transmitted to others and scaled quickly through shares and hashtags. In cyberspace, there is no true “delete” button; even if the original message is deleted, it may have already been shared several times and saved as a screenshot for future reference. For example, the media often references a deleted tweet or post from a given celebrity and publishes the content of this now deleted message in order to report on the incident.

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

Someone who was shamed online may experience long-term psychological, physical and emotional scars, such as feeling anxious, insecure, shy and withdrawn. This person may experience nightmares, panic attacks, headaches and may even engage in self-harm.

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?

I believe social media tends to bring out the worst in people for the following reasons:

  1. Anonymity & Lack of Accountability 
    Social media and the Internet in general provide a degree of anonymity that you’re not afforded when you express your opinions in “real life.” This anonymity can unleash the jealousy, hatred and other feelings that people otherwise mask in a face-to-face setting in order to look good to others. Many people don’t have the courage to speak the truth to someone’s face but have no qualms about saying it on the Internet. Anonymity eliminates the sense of accountability and responsibility. When interacting with people online, you don’t see firsthand how your words and actions have affected the other person and those watching; you can pretend there wasn’t an impact on the other person. When you pretend there wasn’t an impact, you don’t take responsibility for it.
  2. Herd Mentality
    Some people are influenced by their peers and often do things to fit in; they are desperately seeking external validation. If it’s become a trend to hate on someone, some people will hate on said person to get in on this trend, regardless of whether they have a real reason to be upset with this person.
  3. Entertainment & Disconnection from Reality
    Bullying others online, especially celebrities, has become a form of entertainment for some people. The lack of face-to-face interaction decreases our sense of accountability and it begins to feel like a video game where you get a hit of dopamine every time someone likes your offensive comment (your attack) and feeds off of it. Unfortunately, this “video game” has real casualties.

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. If you wouldn’t say it to their face, don’t post it online either. This guideline comes back to the concept of anonymity that gives some people the impetus to unleash their demons. For example, you see this on dating apps where someone may ask you a very intrusive question that would never be asked in person. You never really know if the information in the person’s profile accurately reflects the person’s identity; this shield can make some people quite brazen.
  2. If you’re feeling highly emotional in a given moment, refrain from posting online. Remember: there’s no real “delete” button. Instead, try journaling in a Word document in order to express your emotions without worrying about accidentally publishing the content online. Next, sleep on it. You may find that you have a change of heart the next day and realize you didn’t mean the things you wrote. You may also realize that the things you wrote about others were psychological projections.
  3. Ask yourself why you’re posting a piece of content, be it a comment, a picture, a video, etc. How is your comment contributing to the conversation? Is the sole purpose of your comment to shame someone? It is possible to disagree with someone in a tasteful, respectful way and to explain your position. Constructive criticism can be very helpful. For example, on YouTube, some comments are purely hate-driven while others include respectful disagreement with specific examples of how the content could be improved.
  4. Imagine that you’re the subject of your message. How would you feel if this were said about you? Would you still post this content? This change of perspective can be really powerful because it makes us realize that something is funny as long as it’s not said about us.
  5. Express your support through the power of attention. Attention is currency.You can show your support for subjects, causes and people you enjoy by giving them your attention. By the same token, you can show your disapproval or opposition for something by redirecting your energy and attention elsewhere. For example, on YouTube, music videos often attract a lot of haters who are some of the first people to comment on the video. While they’re expressing their distaste, they’re also contributing to the video’s number of views and to the overall attention given to the content. This attention may help the subject of the content break records, which would in turn yield more attention on this person. In this case, the hatred actually worked against the people posting the hurtful messages; these people’s time and energy would’ve been better spent commenting on something they actually enjoy.

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?

I believe we need to acknowledge the negative effects of anonymity in the online space when considering what is and isn’t acceptable on social media. The gathering place — public square versus online — should inform our governance approach. I believe that we need to be even more vigilant in policing on social media platforms than in policing in the public square in order to create a safe space where people can interact with each other. I don’t believe that anyone has the right to say whatever they want within the confines of a social media platform owned by a private enterprise. Whether a social media platform is owned privately or publicly is irrelevant when it comes to freedom of speech because social media platforms have become part of our social fabric. We must create and enforce social media laws and policies that allow self-expression that is not to someone else’s detriment.

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

I would look at how we could use developments in artificial intelligence to detect hate speech and shaming language on these platforms and then suspend accounts immediately while a further investigation takes place. 
I would also examine hashtag use and create a more robust monitoring system to detect and deactivate trending hashtags that are part of a bullying campaign. For example, cancel culture on social media involves boycotting a person or a group by deeming this person or group “cancelled” and this word is often found in a hashtag. 
It’s also important to consult with people who have experienced online bullying in order to gain insight on other areas for improvement that I may not be aware of at the moment.

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

American entrepreneur Derek Sivers says that if you’re not saying “hell yeah” about doing something, say “no.” I find this rule of thumb works really well to keep my priorities in line and to make sure that I’m loving myself by only doing what I truly want to do.

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 🙂

Yes, I have two people in mind:

Rachel McAdams — she is a respected, talented, and sought-after actress who has achieved incredible success in Hollywood and lives a low-key lifestyle in Toronto. I would love to chat with her about her career, her environmental activism and how she has established personal and professional boundaries in order to live the private life she desires.

Taylor Swift — she is a talented singer/songwriter who has achieved phenomenal global success and continues to connect authentically with her fanbase. She stands up for herself, uses her massive platform to speak up about important issues, and deeply understands the negative effects of cyberbullying on one’s self-esteem. She’s been in the public eye since her teens and has faced sexism and intense media scrutiny for over a decade. I would love to chat with Taylor about the lessons she’s learned and the wisdom she’s gained over the years.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

Readers can find me on these channels:

INSTAGRAM
@DemiDeeTKR
@TheKnockoutRoom

TUMBLR

TheKnockoutRoom.tumblr.com

FACEBOOK
@DemiDeeTKR

@TheKnockoutRoomOfficial

TWITTER

@TheKnockoutRoom

LINKEDINhttps://www.linkedin.com/company/TheKnockoutRoom/

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

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