Rhea Freeman: 5 Things We Can Each Do To Make Social Media And The Internet A Kinder And More Tolerant Place
Put the phone down. Before you type a feisty response to a situation that has just happened, STOP. Make a cup of tea, chat to a friend, sleep on it. Don’t let your first, angry response define you and be what you’re known for online. It’s not the real you, is it?
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 Rhea Freeman.
Rhea Freeman is a social media expert and small business coach based in the UK. In addition to running a membership group, Rhea is also the founder of the award winning Small & Supercharged Podcast and a Facebook group of the same name designed to help small businesses and influencers in the equestrian and rural space. She’s an award winning PR adviser, #SheMeansBusiness accredited trainer and Facebook Certified Lead Trainer.
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 didn’t take the most direct route to get to this point, let me tell you, but equally I think that all the experiences that happen to us are there for a reason! I started off working outside, with horses, and became a riding instructor. This led me to write for magazines around my specialist subjects, which allowed me to write for brands, which led to traditional PR (obviously these transitions took a long time!). Over the years, social media started to provide brands with other ways to reach their target market- and that really interested me as I have always prided myself on being able to help brands promote themselves on a budget. As social media continued to grow, there was a real shift in spending and circulation on traditional media, and so I started to improve my skills and learn all I could about social media too. And this naturally increased my interest and knowledge around all other forms of digital marketing too. Now, I coach a handful of business owners one to one to help them develop their businesses and grow with help from social media and digital marketing, and I also work with a greater number of small business owners through my groups.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?
Oh gosh- that’s a tricky one! I think winning my first award was quite interesting- and funny. The whole ceremony was online due to covid and I was sat in my kitchen watching the awards on my computer. It came to the PR section and, all of a sudden, it hit me who I was up against and that it wasn’t really a winnable category for me. I typed ‘Congratulations’ into the comments box, waiting to insert the winner’s name, and to my surprise my face appeared on the screen with lots of lovely words from the founder of Enterprise Nation, Emma Jones. Well, to say it took my breath away was an understatement. And slightly more surreal was that my two children were watching cartoons in the next room, completely oblivious to such a big moment happening behind them!
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?
Oh, I think I have blocked these out! I try really hard to reframe mistakes as learning opportunities to help me deal with them a bit better and find the positives!
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people? I am… I’m working on a book, and I really hope it’ll be out soon! It will help small business owners particularly, helping them learn how to promote themselves effectively on zero budget, which I think is so empowering as I really believe you don’t need a huge marketing budget to run a highly successful business. But you need to learn how social media, marketing and PR works, and then put it all into action to do well.
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’ve had a few weird experiences. One that really sticks out was a few years ago when a post I had scheduled for Boxing Day was published. I looked at it a few hours later and a lady had commented really laying into me about what a sad case I was posting on Boxing Day (the fact being I hadn’t, it was scheduled a long time before!). She was really very unpleasant. And I had never heard of her before. I looked at her Facebook profile and it just had a poor quality image of a dog. No posts. No friends. No anything. Anyway, something didn’t seem right, so I put the image into and image search and it was matched with a dog available for rehoming on a rescue website. It was horrible, even though a) if I want to post on Boxing Day, I can b) I hadn’t done the thing that she had said and c) she was clearly a troll who had to create a fake account to be mean. One could argue that that would take a lot more effort than scheduling a post… but there you go! All this considered, it was still really unpleasant and did leave a very nasty taste in my mouth.
What did you do to shake off that negative feeling?
It was hard. I spoke to friends who were on social media about it. One was so cross she commented back, which was very kind, but I deleted the troll’s comment because we really shouldn’t feed trolls- it doesn’t help us. I think, when I realised her account had been set up with the sole purpose of being mean, I felt a bit sad for the troll. That said, I’ve had strange things happen since and it always gets to me, although now I see it as something to share with people, to help show people it’s not just them and that the chances are they’ve done nothing to warrant such behaviour. Because it can be embarrassing and shameful, we as people tend to keep this kind of thing to ourselves and then it just eats away at us and can make us withdraw from the hugely positive side of social media too. I try and use the experiences to teach others. It’s the best way I can shake the negativity.
Have you ever posted a comment on social media that you regretted because you felt it was too harsh or mean?
I don’t think so. I say this because I really try and take a step back. I also make a conscious effort to not follow people who are likely to post things I disagree with to the point that I could be harsh in my response. That said, I have the policy of always stepping away before commenting if something someone else has posted has created an emotional response in me.
Can you describe the evolution of your decisions? Why did you initially write the comment, and why did you eventually regret it?
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? Horrible. Although there are screens and many miles separating us all, words (whether written or spoken) have huge power. We hear of cases of online bullying and social media trolling that have led people to take tragic actions that have ended their lives and destroyed their families too. Even the strongest people can be hugely affected by hurtful comments online, as they would be in real life. They’re real people. They might be rich and famous. They might be held up as perfection. But they have emotions and feelings like everyone else.
Do you think a verbal online attacks feels worse or less than a verbal argument in “real life”? How are the two different?
I think in many cases, people wouldn’t verbally say what they write! For most people, if they’re stood in front of someone, they’re unlikely to be verbally abusive. And if they were, the volume of this kind of behaviour would be less as that person would an exception… and there wouldn’t be thousands or millions of people doing the same thing. Is it worse? Well, in relation to the fact that it’s right in your face and if they’re threatening you it would feel a whole lot more real, but online is different. People are more willing to be critical and unpleasant on social media because the distance gives them some ‘protection’. And the volume can be a lot more too. Many will type things that they would never dream of saying, but that doesn’t lessen the impact.
What long term effects can happen to someone who was shamed online?
They can be life ending. We have all read about people who have taken their lives due to bullying, trolling and threats made online. It can really be that serious.
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? It’s a good point. I do also think that social media can bring out the best- just for the record- but I know that’s not the question! I think the main thing is the ‘protection’. Many people don’t use their real name when they’re trolling others, so it’s no linked back to them- they can say whatever they like without anyone thinking badly of them, but they can, perhaps, reveal their real feelings about the situation.
Another reason is the screen and distance. The phrase ‘keyboard warrior’ is so true. People will go to war on their computers or phones over things that they would never say.
Another reason is that online, many people respond immediately to a situation without giving it time- if you were meeting someone in real life and they’d annoyed you a week ago, the chances are you wouldn’t be annoyed in a week’s time as you would have moved on a little. The ability to immediately respond is not always helpful!
And my last thought on this is the ‘gang’ mentality that can occur… if lots of people think the same thing, you’re not acting alone, you’re kind of belonging to a group- and some people really like this too.
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?
- Treat others as you’d like to be treated. So simple, right? It’s something so many of us are taught growing up but can go out of the window when we get older! If you’d like people to leave nice, supportive comments on your content, then why not do the same? YOU have the ability to make someone’s day better or worse through what you say- why not choose the nice option?
- Use mute and unfollow. If you don’t like what someone is talking about, there is no need for you to become a troll. The most powerful tools are muting on Instagram and unfollowing on Facebook. This means that you’re still a follower or friend, but their content doesn’t appear in your feed, so there’s less chance that you’re going to get cross!
- Use report and block. To take it up a level, if you’re seeing people exhibit trolling behaviour to yourself or others, use the inbuilt tools the platforms have to report that behaviour and then block them so you don’t need to be exposed to it anymore.
- Would you say this in real life? This is a great sense check before you post. Would you say what you’re saying to that person if they were stood in front of you? If the answer’s no, you probably shouldn’t post it, ok?
- Put the phone down. Before you type a feisty response to a situation that has just happened, STOP. Make a cup of tea, chat to a friend, sleep on it. Don’t let your first, angry response define you and be what you’re known for online. It’s not the real you, is it?
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 think freedom of speech is important, but I think when it’s abusive, threatening and hateful then that needs to be stopped — whether that’s online or in real life. Because whilst that person has freedom of speech, what about the person who’s being attacked verbally? Do they not have the right to some kind of protection from this kind of behaviour?
If you had full control over Facebook or Twitter, which specific changes would you make to limit harmful or hurtful attacks?
I think that a lot is being done to improve this. Instagram seems to be leading the way with a lot more features like Hidden Words that can also be added to manually, and the ability to block people in whatever incarnation they appear in next! I think it’s great that the platforms are investing so much in this, but I do also think we need to take responsibility for our own actions, as it’s not the platforms’ fault- it’s the users, isn’t it? We, as people, need to improve how we respond on social media. And we also need to know when to put the phone down and talk to a real life friend if things get hard.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
You either win or you learn. It makes ‘failure’ more of a learning experience which makes it a lot easier to take when something doesn’t end up as planned!
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 🙂
Jasmine Star- I love her! So inspiring and informative and really does walk the talk!
How can our readers follow you on social media?
I’m on Instagram @rheafreemanpr (https://www.instagram.com/rheafreemanpr), Twitter @rheafreeman (https://www.twitter.com/rheafreeman), Facebook /RheaFreemanPR (https://www.facebook.com/rheafreemanpr), and my website is www.rheafreemanpr.co.uk
Thank you so much for these insights! This was so inspiring!
Rhea Freeman: 5 Things We Can Each Do To Make Social Media And The Internet A Kinder And More… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.