Franchesca Ramsey shares the secret to a successful social media detox [podcast + transcript]

She's just great. Trust me.

  
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This week on The Present Age Podcast, I chat with Franchesca Ramsey. You may know her from her YouTube videos, her time on Comedy Central’s Nightly Show with Larry Wilmore, her web series MTV Decoded, the recent iCarly reboot, NBC’s Superstore, or even a Maroon 5 video.

Parker Molloy: Hey, Franchesca, how's it going?

Franchesca Ramsey: Hi Parker. I feel like the standard answer is it's going good, but the realistic answer is taking it day by day.

Yeah, it's a challenge.

It is a time. It's a time, but we're here we are doing the best that we can. I'm trying to hold on to the fact that I'm healthy and I'm working and I'm working on stuff that I'm excited about, so those are the things that are getting me through.

Yeah. And when did you move? Because you said you're out west now, right?

Yeah. I'm in L.A. I had such a strange journey here. I technically was here in September working on Superstore for three months, but I still had an apartment in New York, so I was subletting an apartment here for three months. Then I signed a lease, went back to New York, packed my apartment, and then physically moved everything here on December 1st. So technically I've been here a year, but I'm counting December as my full anniversary in Los Angeles.

Cool. Well, congratulations on the move.

Thank you.

And also, and so here's kind of the funny thing with Superstore, I watched Superstore since the first episode.

Oh wow.

And then I didn't see that you had posted online that you were, pardon me, I'm just at home watching, and I was like, okay, cool. And I'm like, wait, hold on. I know her. We worked together.

That's so funny. A number of people said that. I mean, social media is so strange because sometimes it feels like you're getting all the updates from someone, and then suddenly you get none and you realize like, oh, this person's just not in my feed anymore and I'm not sure why. I've been taking a lot of extended social media breaks and I took a big one right when I booked Superstore. So I wasn't even online for a while. I don't hold it against anyone if they're not up to date with what's happening in my life.

It was a pleasant surprise! You were great on that show!

Thank you.

One thing I like about the show is it really seemed to show...it was a very labor-focused, it shows from the worker's perspective talking about unions and stuff. That's not something you see on TV much.

I think a lot of times so many shows you can see the transition when the people making the show start making lots of money, become very out of touch, and you see it with celebrities too, where either their stand up or their Instagram posts or their interviews are really about normal people shit. And then there's like this moment where they become celebrities and that happens in TV shows too. And with Superstore, it was very much the opposite. It really felt like, oh right, the people that are working on the show have worked in retail, they know what it's like to live paycheck to paycheck. They know what it's like dealing with customers. And that's why the show, I think really spoke to a lot of people because it just felt really real.

Yeah. Yeah, definitely. And that was one of the coolest aspects of it because you always have shows like Friends where people are working these kinds of low-wage jobs, but then are living in these fancy apartments.

Beautiful apartments while working at a coffee shop

Well then you'd have like on Superstore, it'd be oh, someone is sleeping in the tunnel under the stores, something like that where it's just, that's more realistic, I guess. But, yeah, that was cool. And I mean, you've done so much. You had a really big YouTube following for a long time, and then had your own MTV web series.

Yes, which Parker wrote for, yes!

Yes!

So many episodes, Parker.

Thank you.

You turn those around and it was so delightful that I got to work with you again.

That was so much fun. Yeah. It really was.

It was really great. I just had to hype you up because... I always showed up that you worked on that show, but I think people don't know, it really does take a village. It's not just me.

Yeah and I mean, and the thing I appreciated about that is I've wanted to write TV for a while, and that was a nice opportunity to really kind of get into that sort of quick writing scripts and stuff. So I really appreciated that opportunity when you offered it to me.

No, cool. So great to work with you!

But yeah. And then you worked on The Nightly Show with Larry Wilmore, which got canceled far too soon.

Yeah.

You wrote a book, you made a pilot for Comedy Central. I already mentioned Superstore. You worked on iCarly reboot. And you were in a Maroon 5 music video with Ilhan Omar.

Oh my God. Yes. Before everybody knew who she was. I mean, it's just, yes. Well, I have done all of those things!

You're done a lot of stuff. So what are you up to now? Like, work-wise, what are you doing?

I'm writing on Yearly Departed again...

Oh great!

On Amazon, which is the end of the year comedy special. And it was so wild because it was the first thing, the first job that I had during the pandemic.

So it was a remote writers' room. There was no vaccine when we shot that. So it was stressful going to set and getting tested all the time. And this was a time when the rat rapid tests weren't really available. So you had to go get tested like five days before that. And then you had to come a day before and get there super early. And it was just like a whole process.

So this time around things are a lot different. We're actually going to have an audience this year. My mom is going to come and sit in the audience, which is going to be really fun. So I'm working on that.

And then I sold a pilot to a streaming service. I sold two pilots. So I won't say who they are because I hope they're listening and they're like, oh, she's talking about no week. She's talking about us. Yeah. Pit you all against each other. So I am like racking my brain right now. I'm trying to hit my deadlines, which is not fun, but I'm making it work. And yeah, that's it, that's it.

Your average person is doing like a little bit, a little bit of everything. You’re doing four, five people's worth of work, that sort of stuff.

I’m an overachiever, but here's the thing is I realized that I thrive when I'm busy and that I will complain the whole time, but if I'm not busy, I will complain because I'm bored. So I would rather be busy than bored is the thing that I've been saying to myself.

That's a good point. I think that I kind of have that, that same issue, but I ended up convincing myself that it's better to be bored.

There is power in taking time off, and I'm actually kind of juggling all of these projects and a big part of why I've taken on lots of things is especially in an industry like television, where so much is out of my control. I find that it's better to have multiple things in development so that when, and if one thing does not come through that my whole world doesn't fall apart.

So I'm right now looking at all the things I have in development, what's most important to me, what am I okay with if it falls apart and also what will I do in the event that nothing goes.

And so a part of me is kind of like, I hope these things happen, but if they don't, I'm kind of, because I had to take some time off. I might just take the end of the year and just not do anything, which I have not done in a long time.

Yeah. Yeah. And it is nice to take a break. And that was one thing that I, when I first started doing this the podcast and also the newsletter that I was with, I quit my job in June and was just, I'm just going to kind of dive into this and hope for the best. And it's scary, but I'm trying.

Yeah. But I think a lot of people did that this year. It either, they were forced to do it because their job ended or they needed to move back home or their living situation shifted in whatever way.

But I think also it's just been a huge time of reflection where people are saying like, I could die. Do I want to do this thing that I'm putting all this time and energy into? Isn't making me happy. Is it paying my bills? Is it contributing to the world? Or whatever your priorities are. And so it's really brave to say, well, this isn't working out for me and I'm just not going to do it. And if things need to change, you can go back and get another job.

Yeah. Well, exactly and hope for the best. It's not like working in media was, is particularly stable. Anyways. It's not I was leaving some super stable job that I know will be there 20 years from now. it's entirely possible. I could have gotten laid off two months later anyway. So I might as well be something that I like.

Yeah, It's true.

But one thing I kind of wanted to talk to you about is back when you were on YouTube a lot and also I do appreciate that, your, the most recent YouTube video you uploaded was from like a couple of years ago.

Yeah, I don't do YouTube videos anymore.

Yeah. And it's just you and Michelle Obama, here I am just me and Michelle just chilling here and then, “I'm not going to update anymore.” That is such a perfect flex.

Oh, that's so funny. I didn't think about it that way, but yes my last video is myself and Michelle Obama.

But one thing, one thing that sort of happened when you were really putting a lot of time into YouTube was you got a lot of...you kind of were one of like the early targets of those response videos, which for people who aren't really familiar, first off, you're lucky. But second, it's like, there's this whole genre of video where someone will just watch someone else's YouTube video and then offer their commentary or to debunk in argument or however they try to frame it. But I mean, in your case, it was just someone, it was kind of a lot of people just being really mean and racist and...

Oh, yes.

Which is awful.

Yeah. It was a perfect storm. I mean, the internet has changed so much since I started creating content. And it seems like it just gets faster and faster, but in many ways, Decoded, and what I was doing before Decoded was really new.

People were not talking about social justice, the way that we talk about it now, I kind of stumbled into it. And that's really what my book is about that I accidentally started these conversations about race and privilege and microaggressions truly without any knowledge beyond my own personal life experience. And I don't regret it. I'm glad that I did it. But at the time I really felt like I was on an island making this content and not getting support.

And so when my content started taking off, a number of people realized, oh, I can just react to this and piggyback off of the views and saying incendiary things will always get you views just saying something heinous, even if you don't believe it, because honestly, I'm not sure some of these people even really believe the stuff they're saying, not that that excuses it, but just say something wild or racist or sexist or transphobic or whatever, and you will rack up youth.

So a lot of people did that. I paid a lot of people's rent for many years.

Yeah, you did.

I don't know what they're doing now. A lot of them are “pivoting” quote-unquote, and are now “liberal” quote-unquote, I clocked it. But, it's one of those things that if you haven't been through it, it's so hard to understand. And no one who hasn't been through it really knows how to support you when it's happening. But I got through it and a big part of my reasoning for leaving YouTube and just pivoting to other things was realizing I'm not happy doing this. The reward is not worth the risk to me. And I think there's a better use of my time and talents. And so that's what I've done.

I'm so sorry about that. One other thing I wanted to talk to you about and ask about was that you are really great at taking these social media breaks and I have tried and I have failed. And I just want to know is there anything specific that you do that, that helps you not check Twitter or whatnot, again?

Yeah. I have a whole strategy. I take all the apps off of my phone and I don't just log out of them. Like I delete the app off of my phone. I log out on my desktop. I enable my parental controls and I put on my parental controls, all of my social media of choice. So Instagram, Twitter, I even put some gossip sites that I, I love celebrity gossip. I don't indulge the way that I used to, but I just like to know what's going on. I put those on there and I just, I do that because even when I consciously decide I'm taking a social media break, it's just embedded into my daily routine that I wake up and I check Twitter.

I don't even think about it anymore. I'm just, oh yeah, I'll just check Twitter. And if it's not there, if my popup on my desktop says, this site is blocked. I can remember, oh right, I'm not doing that right now. And I usually set a time limit for myself. I don't just arbitrarily pick a date, I say, okay, I have a script that's due, or we're going into production or it's pilot season or something like that, I'm going to take off for two months. I'm just not going to do it. And I think I'm trying to prime myself to eventually quit social media full-time. I'm just not there yet, but oh, I want it so bad to taste it.

Well, one of the reasons that I personally struggled to take these breaks and keep these breaks and all of that is just the fact that I worry if I'm not on social media, that I'm missing out on an opportunity or that I am just missing out on anything. I mean, but especially when it comes to work-related stuff, I...

You need to know. You need to know what's happening in the world, especially if your job is to quote-unquote “report” on it or react to it or commenting on it or whatever. I totally get it. That has been a big part of the reason that I haven't been able to quit.

Social media does not pay my bills the way that it used to, but it pays a few. There's a few. And so, sometimes I'm like, Ooh, should I take this brand deal? Should I take this? Whatever it is. And a lot of it comes through social media. Yeah. So I get it. It is really hard, but that is one of the conscious choices that I've been moving towards is making sure that I don't rely on social media for income and just bring it full circle.

A number of people made their careers off of talking about me, right? And then when I wasn't there anymore, they were fucked. So I sometimes I check on people just I really wonder what that person is doing. And I realized that their channel is tanked. Why? Because they built a brand off of what somebody else is doing. So I looked at my career and I said, “If Twitter went away tomorrow, would I be fucked the same way that when Vine went away?” there were a lot of people that were, that they were in trouble, when there was talk about TikTok no longer existing there were people who were freaking out because they had put everything into TikTok.

And I told myself, I never want to be in that position. Social media has been really good to me. I love it and I hate it, but I don't want to be handcuffed to it. And so I've been weaning myself off. So I think if that's something that you want to work towards, it's really trying to find opportunities off social media so that you've got a little diversity in your streams of income, but also in your entertainment and how you connect with people. The internet has been fantastic, but it can't be for me, the be all end all is it's, it's just not healthy for me.

Right. And there's another level of challenge to it when everything is in this pandemic and you're kind of, everyone's kind of cooped up in their own little spaces.

And that's what Clubhouse was popping up. People were lonely, people on Clubhouse falling asleep because they were just like “I need to talk to people.”

Yeah. A social media network that's created … conference calls.

Oh my god.

People are sitting there willingly dialing into conferences.

So I didn't even think about that. We hated conference calls so much and then people were selling their access to Clubhouse on eBay. Will you spend a thousand dollars for a Clubhouse invite to be on a freaking conference call? That's so funny. Yeah.

Well, and then obviously, as it goes with social media, every other company was quick to create their own version, now Twitter has its own spaces. I think that...

Twitter has, I've never used it before, but.

I like it. I listened to someone in there and I like it better than clubhouse because it transcribes what's being said in like super fast, it's not perfectly accurate as those types of things are, but I was just reading a conversation as it was going. And it was cool. And I was this is cool. This is what was missing from Clubhouse.

Yes. Absolutely. Accessibility.

Yeah. And that's another thing I tried with this podcast is, I either find the time to transcribe the whole thing, or, which is 99% of the time, I send it to one of those transcription services. The charge is like a dollar a minute and I'm like, it's worth the 30 bucks to...

Franchesca Ramsey:
Yeah this is write-off too, I mean, it's for work.

But yeah, when doing that, I've talked to so many people who were like, I don't listen to podcasts, but I really appreciate that this is accessible. Not just, not even just for people who need to read things, but just people who don't want to listen. Which is fair.

Yeah or you're multitasking. I am a chronic multi-tasker. And so being able to read the captions on a video when I'm supposed to be doing something else. Is really, really helpful. So I get it. I can only assume that other people are doing that with podcasts.

Yeah. It's a lot easier to sneakily read something on your phone than to listen to the podcast or watch a video, but...

Absolutely.

Yeah. And so as you were kind of saying when, with trying to wean yourself off of social media and thinking about the question of how screwed am I if Twitter shut down today or something like that. It's, that's kind of what went through my head before I quit my job, because for some reason I succeed on Twitter and don't succeed out of it.

I know why you succeed, because you're a good writer. And because you're smart.

I'm not good on Facebook or...

They're all different skillsets, that's why, because it's so funny because you and I met through Upworthy...

I always tell people how weird that was of a fit, that was for me, if they're like “Upworthy? The place to post happy things?” I'm like, “Yes, I know. Right. Yeah.” It wasn't always happy.

Okay. But it wasn't always happy things and...

But It's what people associate it with.

Yes, but you and I specifically, I think we honed our voices at Upworthy and kind of like changed the culture of what Upworthy was doing because it was just fluffy. A son says something to his mother and you'll never believe dah, dah, dah, whatever. But like we started doing things that were kind of pushing people to think differently about race and gender issues and things that the platform wasn't doing before.

But to that point, the way that we had to learn how to shape our voices was very specific to Facebook. What was it called? the information gap or...

The curiosity gap.

The curiosity gap, right? Facebook really lends itself to these long personal inviting topics and conversations that you like want to engage in, where Twitter is more like a bullhorn. It was like, listen up, I have something to say.

Yeah. And that's fair, that's a fair point about like the differences between those two. And another thing on Upworthy, that sort of, that sticks with me to this day is the fact that Facebook give, if Facebook can take it away.

I mean, it's, listen, it's all connected. Look at what happened to Upworthy.

It’s not that the content changed.

No, it's definitely it's Facebook changed. Facebook changed.

And then they tried to change the content to match Facebook, which to match what they thought Facebook wanted, which...

You can't predict what Facebook is going to do. And that's why I think it's really smart, but so many people are pivoting to newsletters, right? Where they like...

It's your mailing list.

I want to have access to my fans or my audience. I want to connect with them directly. I want to go right to their inbox. I don't want to have to rely on, I mean, I've seen it too many times where people are like, I never see your Facebook post in my feed. And I'm well, I can't control that. I don't know why.

Yeah. That is one of the frustrating things to watch. And in the few years that, because after I left, after Upworthy, I went on to work at Media Matters, this progressive media watchdog, where basically it was like watching a lot of Fox News and stuff like that, where the whole time they would on Fox and on all these other right-wing kind of sites they would complain about tech bias. They would say it's against conservatives.

It's happening to everyone.

But they would do it so constantly that you could tell when Facebook would kind of start just artificially, like boosting some of these pages. And so now if you look at the top pages on Facebook, it's Ben Shapiro, Breitbart, all of these right-wing goodness.

It's the same thing that I was talking about on YouTube though. It is chasing rage clicks. Like Upworthy, we talked a lot about empathy and heartwarming and feel good, that's what's making people share.

Those outlets are relying on people sharing because they're mad and you can be mad on both sides of the issue, right? You can be, I agree with this and I'm pissed off about it or you're this is bullshit and I don't like it now I'm going to share it to tell everybody how much bullshit it is.

And both of those are very profitable for them. People don't share, we are more vocal about things that we hate and I'm guilty of this too. The things that we love, it goes on Yelp and it's, this salad was amazing. No, they're like the salad had a rat in it, burns places look great.

Yeah. I mean that's totally it. I remember when I was in college, someone was, one of my teachers was talking about that, just being something just expect a 10 to one negative to positive experience kind of what drives you to respond to something and l kind of think about that in shaping writing and stuff like that, because you want people to respond, but I don't want to make people angry.

And that's why I think that, I feel, I every once in a while, I think about the fact that if I wanted to, I could, because there's nothing that people, that the algorithms in, all of these, on all of these platforms love more than people who will advocate against their own rights. Or if I was a trans person who was saying, “Oh, I shouldn't be allowed to use any public restrooms. And here's why,” I would become, I would get to...

We had examples of that, right? People love, they're called a “pick me, pick me, pick me.” They love a pick me. They love a token. I mean, there is, I get people a lot of times I ask how do you go viral? how do you do it? And there's not really like a trick to it, but there is a recipe that the internet and the algorithm likes, it likes hot girls, it likes cute babies, it likes cute animals, it likes weird-looking animals.

As we both have our dogs.

So we both have terrier dogs.

Both cute and weird looking.

Very cute and weird looking, the internet loves them, but it also favors outrage, anger and things that are surprising. And again, the surprising element was what Upworthy was really good at. But if you are a marginalized person saying something that people don't expect, you're going to blow up because people are going to be mad that you said it, people are going to be like "finally someone said it." It's going to be a bunch of people that are just like so confused. Is this a bit, is this like that Christian Walker guy

Yeah.

Oh, been like, “Isn't this a performance? This gay black man is seeing, he doesn't like gay people and he doesn't like black people. This is real?”

Yeah. It's like, “What is this guy?” and at first I was, “Oh, he's probably, maybe he's just doing this making cash, making a lot of money.”

I think it's maybe a little of both.

I mean, but also his dad is a former professional football player who is now running for Senate in Georgia, so.

Yeah. I mean, again, I think it is a little bit of both. I think he, maybe he does believe some of it, but I also realize that he is embellishing a lot. Like he's always in a Starbucks drive-thru doing these rants and ordering, he's always, "hey, look, blah, blah, blah" and then he will stop and order his frappuccino. And I'm like, you're doing a bit, you're doing a bit, he knows that is ridiculous. And he knows that people are going to think it's cringy, but they're also going to think it's hilarious because, but he's doing that on purpose.

And people who agree with him will share it because they agree with him. And here is the, this is the thing I'm trying to dial back on is sharing content that I disagree with to say how bad it is and that is...

Look, I am guilty of it too. Like, it is a hard line because ultimately you are preaching to the choir. People who believe that terrible thing are not going to be swayed by you sharing it.

…And explaining why such and such thing is wrong. And then the algorithms, the social media platforms, they see that something's being shared and they're like, guess people like it, like to them a share as a share and it's all the same. And I try to think about that one.

It's totally true. It's totally true. I really have tried to kind of move away from like education forward. Like the types of stuff I was doing it to code it or Upworthy or even Nightly Show, which was still a lot of like infotainment and be more comedy forward, just because I think that it personally is less taxing for me.

I'd rather make people laugh than just straight-up lecture them. So that's kind of been my personal compromise and also picking my battles. Sometimes I have nothing to say that someone else hasn't already said, so I'd rather just share something someone else's said rather than add my voice to the chorus. That's just saying the same thing.

So if I have a fresh take, then I'm more likely to share it. Not because I think I'm going to change the perspective of the misogynist, but hopefully arm my audience with the information so that they're better prepared for these conversations or so that they can be better informed about the issues and really know what's on the line and what we're fighting for rather than I'm not going to, we're not going to change the minds of bigots, especially not on social media. It's just...It could happen, but it's highly unlikely.

I used to try to justify arguing with people online by going well, I'm not really arguing with this person. I'm arguing for the sake of others.

I believe that can be true.

Sometimes it can work, but...

Sometimes.

Sometimes it doesn't.

Yeah, but sometimes it doesn't and you know what? I have gotten to a place in my life where I am, I'm not going to dunk on myself because sometimes I've done shitty things, I'm human and yes, sometimes I'm having a bad day and somebody harms them and mention and says something racist and then like, you got to learn to think, motherfucker. I'm going to like clap back. I'm going to clap back and guess what? It's going to make me feel good in the moment and that's what I needed today.

There's a pandemic. I have enough shit on my plate, If I get a little serotonin boost from this thing, to me I'm like, it's fine. Right? The internet moves so fast, this person, they're troll, they don't care, they're, we all win, right? They got my attention, I got to dunk on them, a few people got to laugh and then I move on. So, I do think that there is value in it too, because there are people who will reach out and say I was having a terrible day. And then you said this funny thing, and it really made me laugh. And I'm like, okay, cool, great.

Every time I get a nice email, it's always like, I'm sure you get a ton of emails saying that people like your stuff, no, I don't get anywhere near it. I remember every specific one that I get because, because I do get lots of emails from people, but they're usually from people who are very angry about some, it's so that's one thing that I try to do a little more of is reach out and tell someone, I really liked this article, or I really liked this video you did, or I'm your, I appreciate your work because it helped me do something.

Oh my gosh. I love that. I try to do that too. It's funny because strangely enough, when I'm having a bad day is when I like to do that, I'll randomly go on Twitter and just say like, if you're having a bad day or you need support tweet me and I'll sign up in your DMS and I'll just spend an hour going in people's DMS and being like, you're amazing. I know you're upset about losing your job, but fuck those guys, you can get another job. And then they're like, thank you, this helps me so much and I'm, you being appreciative that I did this for you is as great for me as it is for you.

I mean, and that's, that's I think maybe is the lesson Fitbit. If social media was just a little more, if the way our attention worked was that we could get more attention by saying positive things and not necessarily trying to be extreme or surprise people that, that maybe the world would be slightly better place, but that's not the world.

I also, I forgot who I saw say this, so I'm not taking credit for it. But I saw something that was just saying that as humans, we were never meant to be able to communicate with this many people at one time, it's completely unnatural to, from your phone, speak to hundreds of thousands, If not millions of people, it's just, it's not the way things are supposed to be done. And so of course there are going to be consequences. There's a lot of positive too, but there's a ton of consequences that come from it. And so yeah, these networks and platforms are just capitalizing off of it because they don't care about our wellbeing. They care about selling ads, keeping the lights on. So they're going to chase what works and what works is people being upset and mean and terrible.

Well, before we go, is there anything else you want to mention or you want to plug or...

No, all of my stuff is still like in that percolating stage, but I will say at like at the moment of warm, fuzzy, cause we've talked about this negative stuff. I do appreciate that the internet has brought some really great people into my life. And I count you as one of those people, even if we don't get to talk all the time, I appreciate your voice so much on Twitter and just the fact that we've been able to stay in contact and find different ways to work together. And I'm hoping that we'll continue to keep doing that and that kind of gives me hope that the internet can be a really positive place. It's not all doom and gloom.

Well, thank you. I mean, and that's, there are a lot of times when a project will end or something and I'll be, “Yeah, hopefully, we can work together again sometime. And maybe I mean it, it just kind of like I know we won't.”

A thing that people say.

Yeah. But when, I remember when you left Upworthy, because you, I think we both kind of had the same attitude about Upworthy, which wasn't that bad. It was like, it's a job. It is what it is. When you left, it was, I hope we can work together on something moving forward.

And we've been able to do that a few times. So I'm always happy when that is, that is the case. And I really appreciate your work. You are always the person I, you are someone I look up to immensely, so.

That's really sweet. I really appreciate you saying that, Parker!

Thanks!