“Think of social media as your classroom.” The internet is a place we can all learn, talk, and grow with each other. It’s like a virtual school. If it’s a school, you’d treat your classmates well because you expect them to do the same to you. The best way to make a good friend in class is to help them learn something new. When I was heavily involved in Twitter, I educated my followers a lot about the LA startup scene by sharing lots of news and my personal opinions. Eventually, some of them became my loyal followers and good friends and we hung out in the real world. If we all respect, care, and talk with each other as in the classroom, the internet and social media will be a better place.
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 Yudai Nishiyama.
Yudai Nishiyama, is Co-Founder at Moments Technologies Inc. Social media platforms have come full circle in the last decade. From allowing users to be candid and relaxed in the late 2000s to unleashing a rat-race of likes and followers by 2020, they have strayed far from their purpose. Users worry about comments from strangers they have neither met in real life nor ever will. In this increasingly superficial environment, we’ve forgotten why we started using these platforms in the first place. A recently launched social media platform called Moments is reversing this trend by helping people connect in a meaningful way. Moments is a social calendar app that helps users share information and memories in a calendar format with close friends and family. It helps them form strong bonds by giving them a chance to share their daily lives in the form of short videos.
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 originally from Tokyo, Japan and moved to LA in 2018. I came here for my MBA degree at UCLA and worked on a few startup projects there. Last year I became a co-founder of a tech startup, Moments Technologies Inc. and now am working in the tech space. Before coming to LA, I worked for a tech startup as well.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?
During college, I joined a tech startup and helped take it public after just 3 years. As the seventh employee, I experienced the highs and lows of the startup journey from seed stage to post-IPO. I learned how to pull off growth by playing a role on the core team responsible for the customer expansion and revenue growth required for their IPO.
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?
In my first year as an MBA student at UCLA, I was working on my own startup project in the cannabis space — a domain that is growing a lot these days. I was supposed to take my project off the ground during our summer break, but ended up spending the entire summer exploring the many “products” I could find in the LA market. As I focused more on my entrepreneurial journey, I lost interest in my academic responsibilities and thought about dropping out. I eventually got an F in one class. I almost failed to graduate! I learned the hard way that entrepreneurship requires self-discipline.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
I’m working on Moments — a new calendar app that’s designed to connect you with your closest friends, classmates, or family back home. Nowadays, people feel disconnected as they get busier both online and offline, always doing something that draws their attention. Our idea is to use the calendar to visualize plans and availability so you can organize with friends more seamlessly. Our app also pulls all live photos and videos from your phone and organizes them in our calendar UI. It helps people reflect on their memories and plan something fun in the future.
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 a bunch of friends who are influencers and they wanted to feature me on their social media channels. I had a lot of stories from the LA startup scene that were of interest to their audience. One day, we did a recording that went well, but the content itself was edited to their preferences to appease their followers. I wasn’t embarrassed at all, but that was the moment I realized the negative impacts of social media on my life and that our friendship was based on superficiality.
What did you do to shake off that negative feeling?
I realized having a good time and friendship is essentially different. It was fun being with them, but that doesn’t mean they are my real friends. I gradually distanced myself from them and deleted my Twitter account.
Have you ever posted a comment on social media that you regretted because you felt it was too harsh or mean?
I published content online about the US cannabis startup scene and my posts got the attention of thousands on a daily basis. Some of my good friends back in Japan judged me because cannabis is outlawed and associated with the Yakuza as opposed to LA where it’s legalized. That was another instance where I recognized my behavior on social media can have a negative impact on my relationships with friends.
Can you describe the evolution of your decisions? Why did you initially write the comment, and why did you eventually regret it?
The way that social media currently works is not ideal. These platforms are designed so that their users are constantly competing with one another for more likes and followers because of their advertisement business model. As I gained more followers on Twitter, I realized how much I started focusing on getting more followers, likes, and attention — it like I was competing with other influencers. The easiest way to do better is doing something more dramatic because the audience is looking for something entertaining. I found this is not what I really want to do, so I dropped all social media for a couple of months. Eventually, I deleted my account and pursued a more meaningful life.
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?
Some people get used to it eventually, but I found it to be mentally challenging. Even if you are able to brush it off, hearing a new type of critique that you don’t normally get in the real world can easily make you feel overwhelmed. It feels like you are being called out in front of all your friends, classmates, family members and even people you don’t know. I found that these comments were often exaggerated just to get attention and didn’t necessarily reflect what I originally meant. All of us should be more aware of the implications of online comments and how they might affect someone on a personal level.
Do you think a verbal online attacks feels worse or less than a verbal argument in “real life”? How are the two different?
The online attacks can feel worse since you really cannot tell the commenters real intentions or feelings. In real life, you can hold people accountable for their comments and resolve disagreements before they get out of hand. Online, toxic communities can single out and gang up on individuals very quickly.
What long term effects can happen to someone who was shamed online?
It can have a substantial impact on their real life. Those who were shamed online can feel negative or depressed for a certain period of time when they could have tackled challenges in a mentally positive state.
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?
Simple. Two reasons. First, the way that current social media networks connect people is different from the real world, and we are still in the process of learning the best practices. In the real world, there is at least one context; the same school, community, or values to initiate the interactions before we connect. However, on social media, we connect or follow first. Then, we start interacting without sharing any contexts. Without the shared context, the interaction can easily go wrong or invite misunderstanding that cannot be solved by online communication.
Second, current social media is like a stage with thousands or millions in the audience. We are all expected to be on that stage when most don’t have any direct experiences or training as opposed to professional entertainers. This public setting changes the way we talk. Having the audience impacts our egos. No one wants to show their vulnerability in public. Instead, they want to prove themselves and are sometimes willing to take a chance to hurt someone else to boost their reputation.
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?
I will answer one. “Think of social media as your classroom.” The internet is a place we can all learn, talk, and grow with each other. It’s like a virtual school. If it’s a school, you’d treat your classmates well because you expect them to do the same to you. The best way to make a good friend in class is to help them learn something new. When I was heavily involved in Twitter, I educated my followers a lot about the LA startup scene by sharing lots of news and my personal opinions. Eventually, some of them became my loyal followers and good friends and we hung out in the real world. If we all respect, care, and talk with each other as in the classroom, the internet and social media will be a better place.
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?
Of course, freedom of speech should be respected in the social media space as well. Each individual should enjoy a right to express themselves. What matters is how we can have the right in the virtual world as we do in the real world. I believe we’re still in the very early stages of the technological revolution driven by the internet. No company has created a perfect substitute for what it feels like to connect in the real world. That’s something our society needs to have. For example, if someone on the street makes a hateful speech that doesn’t make sense, their voice won’t get heard most of the time. However, it can be widely distributed on social media in 2021 because there is a divide in the system between the virtual world and real one. It’s the responsibility for tech companies and entrepreneurs to design products that make the virtual world more aligned with the real one.
If you had full control over Facebook or Twitter, which specific changes would you make to limit harmful or hurtful attacks?
I would change their business model. They should monetize from subscription and digital goods and rely less on ads. Currently, they are better off as they get more page views, likes, and followers. This structure incentives the platforms to connect more people and spread more news to keep users’ attention on their platform. The more time users spend on their media, the more chances they have to gain revenue from advertisers. Hates and fears can easily get our attention because it’s built in our DNAs to learn where our enemies are to protect ourselves for survival. This business model shift is already happening and more is coming.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“The risk correlates with the return”. It’s one of the most basic finance principles. I learned this theory in a college finance class when I was 19 years old. This applies to the real world, not only to the financial world. Since then, I’ve been trying to take the risk to do what others will never do. People don’t want to do something with uncertainty or high risk to fail while I keep challenging myself. At the end of the day, I need to be a unique person if I want to be “someone” in this world. That’s my approach to build a good startup and live a 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 🙂
Billie Ellish. I believe she is a leader in global pop culture and knows what her audience — especially younger ones — want to get out of today’s society.
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Thank you so much for these insights! This was so inspiring!