I remember a time before the internet; a time before I felt anxious without my smartphone; a time when I raced home to listen to the answering machine; and a time when calling my mom collect on a pay-phone was a daily occurrence. I did have a cell-phone (the size of a small dog, mind you) but it was obviously only for emergencies, which at the time, made me feel fancy and sophisticated. Then all of a sudden, in swept the digital age. I dove in head-first, and the concept of the answering machine and small dog-sized cell phones are all just distant memories now. It’s strange to think that I represent the last generation to straddle that line of pre and post digital, now having been equally immersed on both sides of what is a defining moment in human culture.
When online video became a thing, I quickly found myself working, eating, sleeping (translation: not sleeping), and breathing that world. I gravitated towards digital because, unlike traditional TV at the time, it was a place that was constantly evolving and where I could learn something new every day while being a part of what would become the wave of the future. Why would I wait to tune in to TV at 9PM if I could watch what I wanted on my own time? We started making Clevver videos in a garage in West Covina, a suburb many miles outside of Los Angeles. We didn’t have air conditioning or real desks or any luxuries for that matter, but wow, those early days were exciting and full of potential, and we knew we were on to something special. Flashforward a decade and it’s mind blowing, uplifting and encouraging to see how far we’ve come as a team. However, one sad reality seems to have emerged from this era; an era that connects us all in new and exciting ways, but also gives way to a form of anonymity that allows online hate to breed at a rapid rate. This negative digital force opens the floodgates to trolls and pessimistic communities that oftentimes, unfortunately, steal the front seat in an age that is, at its core, built on creativity and inclusivity.
Over the last 10 years, Clevver has seen extraordinary growth as a brand and with that growth, my own personal social media presence has expanded. I’m so grateful to say that 99 percent of the comments I see on both my own pages and on Clevver’s pages are overwhelmingly positive and encouraging. Why then do I find myself remembering the seldom hateful, mean-spirited and cutting comments? Why are those the words that stick with us instead of the uplifting ones? And most importantly, why is this accepted as the norm? I’m an adult woman. I feel confident in who I am becoming, personally and professionally. But what about the millions of young people watching our videos that don’t feel that way and who are deeply affected by online hate? Do these trolls steal their joy and self-confidence? The answer is overwhelmingly yes. When we at Clevver realized how rampant this issue had become, we knew we had to take control of it within our own community. As leaders in this digital space we have a responsibility to create an environment where being a kind, positive and generous person isn’t a rule or some strict guideline brought on from overbearing authority; rather, being a positive person is the cool thing to do. Because guess what, it actually is. Young people need to feel empowered to live a life full of light. My goal is that every person that wants to be a part of our Clevver world can be. Everyone is welcome. We are inclusive. That said, we still want to celebrate each individual and what makes them special. Inclusivity and individuality are not mutually exclusive and I believe that celebrating both of those things is where we need to start.
We set out to fulfill a promise that we, both personally and professionally, would approach fan interactions, content, and everything in-between with positive and inclusive care and precision. That with every statement we make, every goofy joke we laugh at together, and every video we upload, we’re ensuring and encouraging positive interactions between brand and fan, talent and fan, talent and brand and fan and fan. We approach everything with a “Love, Not Trolls” mentality, and it has made us who we are today.
Our approach and philosophy is simple, yet powerful:
Seek out the positive, motivational, inclusive, and inspiring comments online and instead of just thinking to yourself “oh, that’s nice” and passing them over, engage with them. Elevate them. Highlight them. Breath life into them and ensure they rise to the top while everything else, specifically negative and mean comments, float to the bottom.
When negative and mean comments come hurling your way, simply reply with love and positivity. Sarah Silverman demonstrated this PERFECTLY recently, and it’s something we can all learn from. Taking this different approach highlights empathy and proves that there is never a need to fight fire with fire. Instead, we refocus on what truly creates positive change and shines a light on humanity; compassion and listening is ALWAYS stronger than hate.
Reward positivity. Far too often, we see only negative comments being latched onto, both on agreeing and non-agreeing sides. Positive comments and feedback are glanced over. If we determine small, fun ways to reward positivity, it can only increase. For example, more than engaging just 1:1, we at Clevver love to showcase and amplify the positive voices in our community. When someone says something amazing, supports someone else, and goes beyond to express their enthusiasm on what we do we use our platforms to celebrate and elevate their voice, drawing attention to it.
Whatever you do, don’t feed the trolls. Trolls want attention. It’s on of the main reasons they spread hate in the first place. When you cut off any sort of feedback, you eliminate any encouragement trolls might feel to continue.
It sounds cliche, but one of our goals is to make being positive cool and something to strive for; making it clear that being a bully will no longer make you the prom queen or king and that it’s no longer the cool thing to do (and in our opinion, it never was). It’s become clear that in this day and age, there’s a genuine push for positive change. One study shows that millennials are possibly the most optimistic generation this country has ever known, even under difficult circumstances. With the digital world at our fingertips, even influencers and digital talent are shifting the conversation and highlighting the fact that being a bully is not COOL and being accepting and tolerant is COOL, helping to instill that perspective in young minds. Be a part of that movement.
I know this sounds easy; the good news is that more or less, it is. It’s also a choice and sometimes choices aren’t easy but this one grows on you. It’s basically the flu virus you wish you could get. It’ll change you. The first step is the hardest part; rising above the noise and resisting the temptation to feed the trolls. That said, kindness is not a synonym for weakness. Rising above the trolls does not mean we roll over and allow them to say and do things without reproach. If things get to a point where intervention is necessary, then intervene. But always ensure that when you do stand up for someone, you do it in a way that doesn’t unnecessarily berate the troll. That won’t help; it’ll only worsen the situation. Rather, making it a point to highlight the positive and having that comeback be built from understanding and empathy, not more negativity, will truly change the landscape. Tone and intention in situations of confrontation are everything. These are simple steps you can take to slowly change the vast amount of negativity found on the internet today to a more positive and accepting dialogue.
Don’t get it twisted, I’m not clueless enough to think that by simply being positive it going to solve everything. Just talking about it doesn’t change it. Action isn’t optional. Action is a necessity. Kindness and love and generosity are meaningless without action. We need to make a formal decision to showcase and celebrate the positive. Take action.
Whether you’re a casual web-surfer or an in-depth by the minute contributor to the world wide web, you can easily apply this to your life and encourage others to do so as well. It’s the little steps we take that evolve into genuine movements that change the way we see and interact with each other and the world around us. Positivity breeds positivity and negativity breeds negativity and we all know the massive harm that comes if we feed into the latter. So go on, embrace the positivity, encourage it amongst others and see if you can change the online world, one troll at a time.