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Jessica Higgins on How We Can Make Social Media & The Internet A Kinder and More Tolerant Place

Every person just wants to be heard, and to matter, but so few people have a voice, which breeds anger. As a result, the most nominalized people become the angriest, and they are the types who look for an outlet like the internet to unleash all of that emotion. There are unfortunately millions of people […]

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Every person just wants to be heard, and to matter, but so few people have a voice, which breeds anger. As a result, the most nominalized people become the angriest, and they are the types who look for an outlet like the internet to unleash all of that emotion. There are unfortunately millions of people who feel unheard and unrepresented. When people who are filled with hate get a voice, things like cyber-bullying are the unhealthy byproduct of that. I also think the METOO movement made it unacceptable to marginalize women via sexualization in person like you could in the past. Women have endured horrible treatment for generations and are just now standing up for ourselves in person, but the cultural rhetoric is still hiding in the back of a lot of people’s minds. The internet is the last safe place to free those horrible thoughts.


I had the pleasure of interviewing Jessica Higgins, JD MBA BB. Jessica is an entrepreneur, culture design expert and marketing communications professional. Her research and publications help executives and everyday people better understand the impacts of emerging cultural trends, and how to create behavior change at scale. She currently spends her time helping ot scale promising companies through her marketing agency, Digital Unicorns.


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 advisor, venture capitalist, investment advisor, operations consultant and award-winning marketing expert so I’ve pretty much been on all sides of business at this point.

I started my first company around 12 years old, coding websites before anyone in my neighborhood knew how, and so every business needed one and didn’t mind hiring a kid. That became what the internet meant for me: a free space where anyone could become an entrepreneur by offering value to others. Unfortunately, there is an ugly side to freedom that people exploit on the internet as well.

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

The most interesting point of my career (for me) will always be creating over 1,200 jobs in a high-unemployment area of California through small business growth and development strategies. Small businesses are the backbone of our economy, which is a focal point to much of my work.

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?

A particular funny moment that stands out was entering the finance sector. Within the first month I was nicknamed the dominator, a title previously only given to one particularly ruthless person on the trading floor. I have been underestimated during the overwhelming majority of my career, which I used as an advantage, but was certainly spotted in finance! Those guys know when a fellow shark swims into their territory.

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

We just built a Research and Innovation Institute which is proving exciting from both an intellectual standpoint, and based on our preliminary outcomes. My business partner is genius in his fields, and I am experienced in mine as well, so we came to a vision of an think tank where knowledge and curiosity are combined and deployed across a selection of interesting projects. We take them companies through radical growth stages, which is great for us as both investors and advisors, to get to see the first-hand results of our work.

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 have been oversexualized as a means of writing my work off countless times. When I produce a piece of research and the comments section is full of sexual notes about my headshot, instead of my work. People claiming that my results must be ill-gotten through sexual means because of how I look.

It is incredibly hurtful every time. Had my work been attached to a man’s form no one would ever consider such a thing, which is incredibly demotivating at times. I’ve worked so hard to create so much for myself, and yet I remain vulnerable because of the simple factor that I am a woman.

It is painful, scary, and motivating. I constantly have something to prove. So, for everyone of you who wishes to put someone down, understand that there is a side of your hate that will drive them even further, even if it’s just to prove you wrong.

What did you do to shake off that negative feeling?

Pain can be motivating. I remind myself to be grateful I don’t have it easy. Great results aren’t born out of comfort. I am also committed to being unafraid to speak up on behalf of so many women who do not feel empowered to do so, whether out of fear of retribution from their boss, or just fear to be honest. Honesty can be a great catalyst for change, and that inspires me.

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

Honestly, no. People who have a lot to do don’t have time for nonsense like commenting on social media. Although, I do write on social media that “posting is not activism”, which may sound harsh but is absolutely true. Get off your laptop and go make change.

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?

Treating people badly will always inspire more negativity in the world. Whether on social media or in person. Now, more than ever, we have a duty to lead with good examples for the future we want, not the one we have. I don’t want to continue living in a world full of sensationalized anger past 2020.

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

I’ve had people attack my ideas in boardrooms and I always get a meaningful opportunity to defend my work and my conclusions. Online this is not the case. You have no chance to defend yourself from the internet trolls, no matter how false and slanderous their statements. Every good business person knows not to sue empty pockets. The Richard Branson’s of the world aren’t slandering others, it’s people with nothing to lose, so there’s ultimately nothing you can do.

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

The unfortunate part of cyberbullying is that unlike being bullied in person, online literally everyone can see you being shamed, which can cost you greatly, and ultimately for the rest of your life. People who were bullied in school can at least move on from it. Online, not so much.

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?

Every person just wants to be heard, and to matter, but so few people have a voice, which breeds anger. As a result, the most nominalized people become the angriest, and they are the types who look for an outlet like the internet to unleash all of that emotion. There are unfortunately millions of people who feel unheard and unrepresented. When people who are filled with hate get a voice, things like cyber-bullying are the unhealthy byproduct of that.

I also think the METOO movement made it unacceptable to marginalize women via sexualization in person like you could in the past. Women have endured horrible treatment for generations and are just now standing up for ourselves in person, but the cultural rhetoric is still hiding in the back of a lot of people’s minds. The internet is the last safe place to free those horrible thoughts.

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?

There will be a time when you are held accountable for your actions online. You’re seeing the cultural movement toward accountability. Don’t be blind to it. Be proactive and create a positive footprint now so that over time, it outweighs any negative one you have already created.

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 is a tough question for me because I was one of the advocates working for a free internet since I was in law school. I am an altruistic person who believes in the greater good in the world. There will always be people who abuse and exploit any system. I believe it is our job as a culture to collectively progress toward what we want to be, and that regulations are merely a poor means of creating barriers against poor cultural norms. People who wish to exploit will always find a way. The more of us who see hope, and move things forward, will have a greater collective force than the sum of the bad.

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

This is hard to say because the communities on these platforms are opt-in, meaning that you select who you interact with. There is a dark side of humanity now that is fueled by negative sensationalism. I don’t know how to redirect that dopamine toward a positive end, but if I did, I would have already developed it.

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

“Oh, the places you will go.” — Dr. Seuss

Everyone is looking for the short-term ends, the quick fixes, which directs a lot of their unintelligent behavior because it’s grounded in short-term thinking. Life doesn’t work like that. Us, our actions, we’re all here for the long haul. When you start thinking that way you will develop a sense of accountability, of patience, and of drive. We will all overestimate what we do this year but will underestimate what we can do in this decade. To me, that is the inspiring part of life.

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 🙂

Peter Thiel, because he was one of the few people brave enough to seek retribution for cyber-bullying. I think that’s a great example of how much money and power you need to defend yourself from online attack, and that’s a shame. However, I would still like to have a cocktail with the one man brave enough to do it, simply to cheers him.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

Twitter @jessquired

All other social media @jessicahigginsdotco

My personal website is also jessicahiggins.co

My research + innovation institute is researchinnovation.co

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

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