Before you hit send, ask yourself, “Would I say this to my mother? Would I say this to my best friend?” If the answer is no, then don’t post it. Remind yourself that behind every internet personality is a human — someone else’s friend, sister, brother, etc.
As a part of my series about how we can make the internet a more tolerant and kinder place, I had the pleasure of interviewing Dani Robinson. Dani is the head of PR and Influencer Marketing over at Territory Foods. With a BS in Applied Psychology and a certificate in nutrition coaching, Dani’s expertise lies heavily in her passion for connecting with others. When she isn’t strategizing with the marketing team at Territory, you can find her in kitchen, her true happy place, or around LA exploring the newest food options and hikes.
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?
Absolutely! I graduated from NYU with a BS in Applied Psychology and began my professional career immediately after graduating in shared office real estate for startups and tech companies. I was there for about a year before working my way back to LA where I joined a similar venture, but focused more on the community-building aspect of entrepreneurial hubs. About two and a half years ago I pivoted and joined Territory Foods, a meal prep company that focuses on quality ingredients prepared by local chefs. I currently head up our PR and influencer marketing strategy.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?
I’ve had so many cool and unique opportunities since beginning my career, but one of my absolute favorite memories is one I actually almost missed out on. Upon moving back to LA in 2014, I was actively searching for jobs and when I received an offer letter, I was super excited to have a week of downtime before starting my job. A few days after signing the offer, my future manager called me and asked if I could start two days earlier, but couldn’t tell me why. I wanted so desperately to have those extra days to spend some quality time with my family, but something told me I needed to do it. Lo and behold, it was because they needed help setting up for an incredible event — an intimate conversation about the future of tech led by President Obama. It was a surreal experience.
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’ve made a number of mistakes as I’ve been building my career. Some funny, others not so funny. One that always sticks out is the first time I spoke on stage at my previous job. We hosted a lot of events and would cycle through who introduced our company before the event started. I loathe public speaking, and would do my best to avoid it! One night I couldn’t avoid it and made my way on stage in front of about 50 or so people, shaking and terrified. I opened my mouth to introduce us and said the wrong name. The wrong name of the company I’d been at for over a year at that point! When I got off, I ran up to my colleagues laughing and almost crying and none of them knew what I was talking about. They didn’t hear the mistake and complimented me on my first successful speech. I’ve used this as a lesson — that most people have no idea how nervous you are. Most people are just genuinely curious about what you have to say and are not judging you for getting up there, they’re admiring you.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
At Territory we’re constantly iterating on our model and our offerings, listening to our consumers and adjusting to changing times. For example, we recently launched compostable packing in LA, with plans to expand into all four markets soon! This is a project that we are so excited about. It’s taken a lot of hard work to get here, and we still have a ways to go, but we’re excited at the impact we can have on reducing single-use plastic in the consumer world.
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?
Fortunately, I haven’t been publicly shamed online. For someone whose career relies heavily on social media, I’m in fact, not that active personally. However, I do remember the first time I received a negative comment on my recipe Instagram. I think it was something as simple as the person did not find my creation to be appetizing, which as I think back on it, is something I’ve definitely learned to shrug off. But I remember, it was on my mind all day. Wondering what I did wrong — was my photo not pretty enough? Was my recipe off? Was it me? I truly thought about it all day, and that isn’t healthy.
What did you do to shake off that negative feeling?
In this particular instance, I shared the comment with my boyfriend at the time (now fiance). I always stress the importance about expressing these things with those you love. Not only are they there to talk you through how it made it you feel, but to reinforce all the ways in which you are not what the stranger on the internet tells you.
Have you ever posted a comment on social media that you regretted because you felt it was too harsh or mean?
I’m sure if you dug deep enough into the social platforms of ‘2007 Dani’, you’d likely find a comment here or there that I’d definitely regret. Now? No, definitely not. I was a junior in high school when I made my first Facebook profile (only a year after it’s launch) and I think that by growing up in the era that grew with social media as it evolved, I definitely made public mistakes that I’d be loathe to repeat. I’m grateful that social media launched when it did, because I think it really helped shape my personal approach to it as an adult.
Can you describe the evolution of your decisions? Why did you initially write the comment, and why did you eventually regret it?
Most, if not all, hurtful comments are written from a place of insecurity. Thinking back on high school and my initial foray into social media, that was probably the most insecure time of my life. It’s never an excuse, but when you think about young people on social media, you have to remember that they’re making mistakes and learning to navigate life all while over-exposure on social media is the norm. I largely made my young adult mistakes privately, but that isn’t necessarily the case for the generation today.
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?
There is a whole slew of ways hateful messages can be interpreted by the person on the receiving end. From embarrassment and shattered confidence to deep-rooted sadness and disappointment in themselves. If someone is putting out content into the world just to have it torn apart by a rude comment, I always liken it to the feeling of being laughed at in school — whether you got a question wrong or someone made fun of your presentation. That never felt good and I think it’s a feeling that almost everyone can relate to. Remember that the next time you think you may want to say something mean.
Do you think a verbal online attack feels worse or less than a verbal argument in “real life”? How are the two different?
This is a great question, one that is largely subjective and hard to answer narrowly. However, I think a big distinction here is — a verbal online attack can live on forever. The idea that the recipient of a verbal attack can go back and mull over those hurtful words forever is a really scary reality to grasp.
What long term effects can happen to someone who was shamed online?
The age of social media has brought a lot of good, but with it comes a lot of negative. To varying degrees, the effects of online shaming can be extremely detrimental to one’s mental health. As is the case with verbal bullying, young people who are affected can suffer from depression and severe feelings of isolation and loneliness, and in some cases even lead to suicidal thoughts or actions.
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 express so much of ourselves and our intentions with non-verbal communication. A smile, a nod in response, hand-holding, etc. When we limit our interactions to social media and the internet, we lose that human touch, something so vital in conveying intent. Without that, people are free to speak their minds without the repercussion of the recipient’s immediate physical response. Thus, people become more confident in their ability to deliver hurtful messages without giving a second thought. Due to this, there is a severe lack of accountability behind the screen, which ultimately just feeds into the idea that we can get away with little to no consequence.
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?
- Before you hit send, ask yourself, “Would I say this to my mother? Would I say this to my best friend?” If the answer is no, then don’t post it. Remind yourself that behind every internet personality is a human — someone else’s friend, sister, brother, etc.
- Speak up. If you see a hurtful comment, don’t just scroll past. Stick up for not only yourself but others in your online communities.
- Report it. Sometimes saying something isn’t enough. For these times, report the comment and ask your friends to do the same. Responsibility lies not only with ourselves, but with the creators of these platforms.
- Share. Did you scroll past something you found insightful or important? Share it. The more good we collectively put out in the world, the less the bad has time to shine.
- Educate. This is mostly for the parents and teachers out there, but remember to teach your kids, students, friends, etc. the importance of kindness both in real life and on the Internet. The more they are learning to be kind to each other every day, the more that will seep into how they treat people behind the screen.
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 don’t. It’s a tough subject to approach, but I think we’re at a point of time where many people are confusing the meaning behind freedom of speech, especially when discussed in conjunction with social media platforms. And oftentimes, using it as a shield of protection. Social media platforms like Facebook are privately held and by no means required to allow everyone to say whatever is on their mind. If that means they choose to censor nasty, negative comments, they have the right to do so, per their established terms of agreement. Which, we’ve all agreed to, whether we’ve read them or not.
If you had full control over Facebook or Twitter, which specific changes would you make to limit harmful or hurtful attacks?
Something I always thought would be helpful would be if social platforms highlighted common negative or hurtful words, in the same way a word document highlights misspellings. Maybe it’s wishful thinking, but I imagine a second glance at a comment calling out your negative words may be enough to force someone to think over whether they really want to say what they’re about to say. Maybe one day it would even come with a pop-up! “Are you sure you want to hit send?”
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
I am a sucker for a good quote. There is nothing better than coming across a quote in the wild at the exact moment that you needed to hear it. One of my absolute favorites is, and I’ve seen a couple versions of this over the years, goes something like “You will be exactly as happy as you choose to be.” There will be so many things that happen to us in life that throw us off our game and bring us down. And that’s okay, that’s life. But I’ve learned that as long as you choose yourself and your happiness, you can push through.
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 could answer this with hundreds of names, but if keeping in line with the theme of spreading kindness, I’d have to go with Ellen DeGeneres. She uses her platform for so much goodness, through humor and grace, which is something I very much admire. Also, Michelle Obama. Always, Michelle Obama.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
I’m not very big on social media, but if you like looking at pictures of food, you can catch my recipes over at @dollop_of_dani. To keep up with the exciting things happening at Territory Foods, you can follow us @territoryfoods.
Thank you so much for these insights! This was so inspiring!