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Changemaker Spotlight: Maddie Freeman

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November 23, 2021


Maddie is a social innovator spreading awareness around Big Social’s extractive design techniques and how it affects our mental health and well-being. She is an advocate for suicide awareness and prevention and most recently launched NoSo November, a new campaign to educate and empower Gen Z students to create a more humane and meaningful relationship with technology that serves our interests over profits.

Get to know Maddie’s story and what brought her to this work in our conversation below. Please note this interview discusses themes of suicide. If you are in crisis or require assistance, click here or call 1-800-273-8255.


JOIN MADDIE

(Note: This interview was edited for brevity)


Was there a pivotal moment or experience that launched you into your current focus and work?

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My work has stemmed from my high school years, where I lost a lot of friends to suicide. I knew over 10 people who died by suicide, and four of those individuals were really close to me and their loss impacted me heavily. It was this repetitive loss over and over again in my community—it became the new normal. Specifically in 2020, I knew five people who died. One of my closest friends committed suicide in August, and that was the moment that made me feel like I didn’t know what to do anymore. It was just awful.

I remember sitting in my room and was like: “I can either just lay down and die, or I can do something about this, because I don’t know what to do with all this emotion and pain anymore.” I needed to do something. So, I wrote a petition to my high school district addressing the problem, because I didn’t feel that they were doing enough at all to prevent these suicides and give us mental health resources. I definitely saw that as part of where the problem was stemming from; a lack of support and understanding of mental health in our community.

Long story short, I started working with my high school district. We got 14,000 signatures on the petition within three days! It was so cool to see the community coming together in that way.


“I can either just lay down and die, or I can do something

about this, because I don’t know what to do with this emotion

and pain anymore. I needed to do something.”



maddie freeman



We started creating more resources for the school district, having weekly meetings with them, and changing the protocol for what happens after a student dies. We were introducing new avenues of help. We even installed physical mental health locations in the schools for students to go. All these things!

Then that was when I watched The Social Dilemma. The part of the film that was pivotal for me was seeing the suicide statistics. When the graph of suicides of teen girls was shown skyrocketing…it hit me. It wasn’t triggering, but things just clicked. I was like “Oh my god, this is a big part of what I’ve been experiencing and why so many of my friends have died.” I felt manipulated, used, and grossed out by the fact that these platforms were doing this to us.

That’s when I came up with the campaign concept for No Social Media November. We piloted it in my high school and it went really well. Then I ended up pitching the campaign to Lookup.Live and The Social Dilemma’s Startup Grant Competition. With zero expectation of getting anywhere with it, I ended up winning the Lookup.Live grant! Ever since then, I’ve been working really hard to build up the campaign. It’s been amazing and has honestly helped me so much in working through my grief. It helped me feel like I was doing something for all those people that died in my life.

It’s really cool for me to reflect on that now and see how hard everything was, but I was able to turn it into something positive. I found my life calling and goals from that. Everything kind of happened in a beautiful way. Even though it started with really bad stuff happening.

The NoSo November campaign focuses more on individual action. I focus on ways we can make our relationships with tech platforms healthier and find solutions to prioritize our well-being. It’s really important to have legislation, but for our own, individual mental health and well-being – we need to take action for ourselves.


In your opinion, what are the most promising ways we can address Big Social’s business model?

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I think the first step is bringing awareness and then fighting for change: fighting for legislation to force these companies to rewrite their business models and change the algorithm.

For legislation, regarding what we’re now learning from Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen and other whistleblowers, it’s crucial for lawmakers to be educated on this and understand the intricacies of what’s going on with Big Social’s business model and how it’s impacting our society.


What top action(s) can you recommend to people searching for ways to change the way they interact with technology?

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My focus has been on educating students in my generation about the impacts of social media on our mental health and sharing my own experience to engage folks around taking action to reframe their own relationship with technology

Currently, this looks like learning about the issues by watching our “No Social Media November” official video, and taking individual action to log off of all social media for the entire month! NoSo November is a month-long detox, a reset. It’s that opportunity for folks to reframe the way that they interact with technology keeping their own well-being in mind.

“It’s really important to have legislation,

but for our own, individual mental health and well-being,

we need to take action for ourselves.”


maddie freeman

With NoSo November, can you give us a teaser of tangible examples, tools, or easy-to-follow actions folks at home can apply this month and beyond in reclaiming their relationship with technology?

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First of all, I realized a big issue with the whole tech space is the continued newsfeed scrolling. That’s the way they’re trying to trap you and addict you. I used to spend hours scrolling on Instagram. But now I’m only focusing on using social media for posting and communicating. Somebody might think that’s selfish, because you’re not looking at other people’s posts, but it gets you right back in that addiction spiral.

Another tip is choosing which apps are most important to you. Take the step to cleanse yourself and delete one or two apps you really don’t utilize that much. You can then focus better on the apps you do want to keep and spend your time more mindfully there. There’s a lot of other small things you can do like unfollowing people that make you feel bad about yourself, and following people you don’t agree with politically is also really important.


How are you finding balance between being an activist and student while you focus your energies on the NoSo November campaign and elsewhere? How are you finding authentic connections to your community through it all?

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Striking that balance is not just a one time thing – it’s a work in progress, for sure. And it’s definitely hard. I’ve been doing a lot of reflection on how to do that, especially after taking a gap year during COVID. Without having many responsibilities, I jumped into everything at once. Having so much to do constantly has been a lot to adjust to, and it ties back to mental health. I struggle with mental health. I’m making sure to really prioritize my mental health over work sometimes as I’ve found myself getting sucked into work like it’s the only thing that matters.

I started doing small things like taking breaks, especially from my phone. I started walking to the river with a cup of tea for 10 minutes, journaling outside or going on a short walk. Trying to have short, 10-minute, mindful moments. That can make everything feel so much better after working for hours on end.


TAKE ACTION​

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LEARN MORE


For a deeper look at how social media impacts our mental health, read this ongoing, open-sourced literature review posted and curated by professor and social psychologist; Jonathan Haidt and Jean Twenge; author and Professor of Psychology at San Diego State University.

GET HELP


Your mental health matters, and you’re not alone. If you need support or are experiencing suicidal thoughts, you can anonymously get help 24 hours a day, 7 days a week through the Crisis Text Line. Text “START” to 741741.

SHARE YOUR STORY


A powerful movement for change is growing. The Center for Humane Technology’s #MySocialTruth offers a platform for you to bring your voice to this movement. Share your experience here of how these platforms are impacting your mental health and help us reimagine the future.


The post Changemaker Spotlight: Maddie Freeman appeared first on The Social Dilemma.
 
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