Bad behavior? How to be civil – and stay safe – online

Justin Davis, CEO and co-founder of Spectrum Labs, poses in this undated handout photo
Justin Davis, CEO and co-founder of Spectrum Labs, poses in this undated handout photo obtained by Reuters on December 8, 2020. SPECTRUM LABS/Handout via REUTERS

December 9, 2020

By Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan

NEW YORK (Reuters) – Justin Davis, chief executive and co-founder of Spectrum Labs, learned his first lesson on civility as a 14-year-old working at a grocery store. The shop was a meeting point for just about everyone in Lucama, North Carolina – with a population of about 1,000.

“The folks that would come in there were from all walks of life, from farmers to business people or people passing through that small town to get to the bigger towns, and they would stop in there and just talk,” said Davis, 37, whose San Francisco-based firm helps companies protect their brands online.

“No matter how different everyone was, you learned how similar we all are at the center of it,” Davis added. “Being exposed to a whole bunch of people was very formative in those early years in shaping how I thought how people should be treated.”

Davis chatted with Reuters about how to thrive in challenging times as well as strategies to combat bad behavior online. Edited excerpts are below.

Q. What has been your biggest challenge in 2020?

A. Burnout. Now, there’s no separation between church and state, home and work. You do all the same things in the same 800-square-foot (70-square-meter) apartment, and it’s really difficult to get those things separated.

Q. What’s your strategy for managing burnout while working from home?

A. Any exercise or weightlifting for me is good, but also a mindfulness about my time. If I have 10 minutes between two calls, there’s no point in me using that time to read something or work. I’ll spend that time doing nothing. I don’t look at anything, I don’t think of anything. I just sit in silence and reset. That’s done wonders.

Q. What’s the piece of job advice you always give?

A. Don’t be a turkey, and just work harder than the next person beside you. If you’re nice to people and are generally nice to work with, you typically will set yourself apart from most of the people out there.

It has nothing to do with how smart or how talented you are. If you do those two things, that will get you pretty far in life.

Q. What is your work-from-home setup?

A. I go back and forth between my kitchen counter and my couch, which is the worst ergonomic setup you could possibly have.

But I’ve never been one to be pinned down. Even when I worked in large companies, you would never find me at my desk. I would sit in different lounge areas with my laptop, cross-legged.

I’m a pacer. I pace in the same laps around my apartment. So if I’m on a call I’m constantly just walking around. It keeps me energetic, the juices going.

Q. Why do you think toxic online behavior has exacerbated in recent years?

A. More and more people are coming online and getting comfortable with expressing opinions. In the last four years, there’s been a rise in overall racism and hate speech and misogynistic behaviors online. Coming out of the 2016 election, it became pretty clear that the internet was on fire, and we were going to need a whole lot of solutions to address this.

Q. Why is it important for companies to address this issue?

A. A lot of the places that we like to go to build community online are struggling from a lack of safety, and there’s real harm that can evolve. People can be harassed or doxed or abused or threatened. People want to use these services without fear of being scammed, defrauded or harassed.

There are always going to be toxic elements on the internet. All social platforms of all types have started to stand up and recognize that what they were going in the past, whether it’s chat filtering or filtering out profanity, is not enough to detect terrorism or human trafficking or malicious cases of hate speech.

(Editing by Lauren Young; editing by Jonathan Oatis)