With 28,000 followers on Instagram and an up-and-coming name in the Wah!Banana YouTube family, local actress Sofia Dendroff seems to lead a picture-perfect life – but there’s a lot more to Insta-fame than what meets the eye.
While the Internet culture has created a platform for people to openly express their opinions, it has inevitably given rise to an army anonymous keyboard warriors lurking behind their screens. Sofia is no stranger to the damaging effects of cyberbullying, having suffered her fair share of malicious comments through the years. But she is ready to speak up for justice, using her voice to advocate for cyber wellness as part of the Better Internet Campaign 2018. In a no-holds-barred heart-to-heart with Teenage, the social media darling opens up about online harassment and shares her personal tips on how to rise above the negativity.
Hi Sofia! How did you get involved with the Better Internet Campaign?
I’m with a YouTube channel called Wah!Banana, thus I had the chance to be part of this campaign through them. But after hearing more about it, it resonated a lot with me as I’ve gone through cyberbullying myself. I felt like I had a story to tell. I feel like people who are going through cyberbullying tend to feel that they have no voice – and I guess using somewhat of my influence, to speak up about it and share my experience, might help them to get through it as well.
So I had the privilege to be on the Media Panel for the Better Internet Campaign 2018. A campaign promoting cyber wellness. Something I feel very strongly about as I’ve gone through Cyber bullying myself back when I was 18 and a blogger. Being on the media panel and sharing my story with everyone in the room only reminded me how much I wished I had handled the situation differently. I didn’t know who to talk to back then. We live in a world today where technology is everywhere and is a part of our lives. It’s important that the younger generation and parents today are aware that Cyber bullying is a very real problem. It could happen to you or someone you know. So it’s crucial that in the event it does, you’d know what to do. #SID2018 #SaferInternetDay #BetterInternetSG
People tend to underestimate the effects of cyberbullying. Are there any stigmas you would like to set straight?
I think that cyberbullying isn’t something that people should take very lightly because just like physical bullying, cyberbullying can be just as damaging as it really messes with a person’s emotions and their psyche. Especially since we’re living in the digital era, you can just throw out a negative comment to someone without thinking it could actually hurt them when you’re hidden behind an online persona. If you’re someone who’s being harassed, you should never feel ashamed or embarrassed about going through it – speak to someone about it. You’re not alone in this.
What’s the nicest and meanest comment you’ve ever received?
People can be really nice you know? (Laughs) Sometimes you get so taken aback because you don’t expect strangers to be so kind, but they exist! Just people saying how I inspired them, helped them to get through hard times and all. I’m always very grateful and I hope to be a good role model as best as I can.
When I got my first acting gig in Malay, I remember having this anonymous blogger slamming me in his/her blog – saying how my Malay was terrible, I couldn’t act etc. It really hurt my feelings at that time, but I used that negativity to spur me on to improve myself. I made sure to practice Malay every single day, and sit down for hours going through my script.
How do you deal with the negativity?
At first, it didn’t go very well. It was a difficult point of my life because I just didn’t understand why I was getting all this hate. It affected my love for blogging and I ended up shutting down my blog. I started doubting myself and stopped myself from fully chasing my dreams of becoming a radio DJ as I felt like I wasn’t confident enough. Through time and a lot of self-growth, I started to love myself and decided I need to live the best life that I possibly can. I know that at the end of the day, if I don’t try, I’m going to be the one who’s feeling sorry – not the haters. It was tough, but I did it anyway!
What made you overcome your fears and gave you the confidence to be the Sofia Dendroff we know today?
I read a lot of self-help books! Right now, I’m reading this book called ‘How To Calm Yourself In A Busy World’ by Hyemin Sunim. I feel like if you surround yourself with positive vibes, you’ll think positive too. If you’re struggling with self-esteem issues, don’t be afraid to seek refuge in a self-help book and be inspired by their words. They’ve helped me, and they could help you too.
Who’s your greatest role model in life?
I really like Ellen DeGeneres. She’s such a sweet, kind and genuine soul, and at the same time, she’s very confident in what she does. I don’t know how she can host a talk show in front of thousands, especially at the Oscars. I hope that I can be just like her one day, but for now, I’m still a work in progress.
What’s an important lesson you’ve learnt from your personal experiences?
You’re a lot braver than you think you are. It’s scary in the beginning, but if you actually push yourself to do something, you’ll realise that the only thing that’s stopping you are the thoughts in your head. It all comes down to self-love; if you believe you’re not what people say you are, everything gets a lot simpler. Don’t let it get to you – ignore the naysayers and work on loving yourself. It’s your life, who cares what other people think?
What kind of changes do you hope to see at the end of this campaign?
I hope that people can be more thoughtful of what they say and have more empathy for others. Like come on, we’re a team! We shouldn’t bring each other down; we should be there for one another. If you’re not doing it for the other person, do it for yourself and make yourself a better human being.
Lastly, what’s a word of advice you would like to give people who are going through cyberbullying?
I think it’s very important to have a support system. Confide in someone you can trust, be it a friend, a counsellor or a teacher. Of course, if you’re getting very mean comments, always save the evidence of whatever that’s hurled at you, report the message and get the other party blocked immediately.
If you or know someone who is going through cyberbullying, please seek help at TOUCH Byber Wellness (1800 377 2252), Coalition Against Bullying for Children and Youth (6223 3122, [email protected]) or Community Health Assessment Team (6493 6500/6493 6501, [email protected]).
For more tips and resources, visit the Better Internet Campaign 2018 website.