We were motivated to give a voice to the voiceless and even to vent about personal experiences from the past

Javier and Susana are Alumni of the Audiovisual Production Cycle at the European University of Madrid. Their Final Degree Thesis “Influence” about bullying in Social Networks has been published in several relevant media

Who are you both, what have you studied and what campus were you at?

I’m Javier Vázquez, I’m 20 years old and as soon as I finished college I enrolled on the Audiovisual Producer course at Universidad Europea, as I’ve always had an interest in the world of film and television, and everything it involves. I’ve always believed that both in cinema and TV you have to be there to tell stories and put feeling into them, which is why I ended up in this job.

I’m Susana Dominguez, I’m 25 years old and I have a degree in Audiovisual Communication from the Universidad Rey Juan Carlos. When I finished, I wanted to continue researching, especially in the technical area, and as I received great recommendations about the Universidad Europea, I decided to enrol on the Audiovisual Producer course. This last stage helped me to undertake projects that give visibility to important topics.

Your project, Influence, arose for that exact purpose. What is it? How did it come about?

Susana: Ever since Javi and I met we’ve had similar interests, such as psychology, cyberbullying, bullying… And when we had to do our Final Year Project (TFG), we decided to look for a topic that would motivate us at the same time as allowing us to help people. We got stuck into the topic from that moment on.

Javi: We have lots in common and we both knew that something interesting could come of it. We were motivated by the fact that we wanted to give a voice to those who don’t have one, and even offload our own personal experiences from the past. That has helped us a lot with the development of the project.

During the project you worked with some well-known figures. Did you expect that? Was it planned from the start or did it just happen? What was the process like?

Javi: It was planned, because the main idea was to get the message out to lots of people. And what better opportunity to do it than with influential people.

Susana: During the project we realised how many people had suffered from these same experiences on social media. We thought that they were the best people to help us expose this issue.

What difficulties have you encountered when contacting people who are somewhat inaccessible?

Susana: The biggest issue has been time. It’s still a short-term project. We began preparing it in September and needed several months to contact the influencers due to scheduling issues.

Javi: For example, in some cases we needed 3 months to get a video. Just to give people an idea. Not all cases have been as complicated.

How do you overcome the “blank page” moment? What is the first step in tackling such an important project and at what point do you realise its dimension? 

Susana: Javi was very important, as he knew more about production and already had certain contacts that made the search easier. Of course, at the beginning, the bar was lower in terms of the influencer’s profiles. We never thought we would reach any larger profiles. But, little by little, we saw that they were interested as it’s a problem they suffer from first hand. They joined the initiative, as it was a great way to let off steam for them too.

Javi: It’s a project that has been going on for many months. The recordings were made two weeks in advance. For example, we saw that a Telecinco series was dealing with these issues, which is why we decided to contact the production company and they made the decision to collaborate.

It seems that the mental health debate is starting to take on the importance it needs. In this case, do you think it is related?

Susana: It’s definitely related, and even more so these days, as we’re completely dependent on our mobile phones. Our self-esteem often depends on how many likes we get. Anxiety and depression are also issues that in many cases arise from excessive use or perhaps misuse of social networks. That has a direct impact on health.

Javi: We tried to approach it from different perspectives. For example, the model who refers to criticism as a result of fatphobia, the streamer and influencer Luisa Garrido spoke about receiving criticism to the point of contemplating suicide.

The project was scheduled days before to appear on Twitch, on Luisa Garrido’s channel. That’s when we knew it was going to have an impact. We then saw that it was published in the 20 minutos newspaper, and that was a big surprise. We were thinking about it all day long, everyone got in touch…

How do you combine research and production with your studies?

Susana: It wasn’t that difficult, because we were always quite ahead. We had very clear ideas and we did well by progressing little by little.

Have you discovered something you used to see differently? What did you learn?

Susana: I was surprised by the significant amount of criticism. I saw videos that could never be offensive, yet they still received criticism. For example, a makeup video posted by an influencer.

The easy argument made by many people is that as influencers are in the public eye and have money, they should tolerate any kind of criticism because “it’s part of their salary”. What would you say to people who make that argument?

Javi: In our work we always refer to two types of profiles: those who are dedicated to social media and those who aren’t. Profession aside, harassment of any kind must be prevented. It’s never justified.

Susana: People who criticise for the sake of criticising should stop and think about what brings them to do so. Nothing good. All this makes more and more people decide to delete their social media profiles, whether they’re famous or not, in the face of so much unnecessary criticism. Recently, the actor Mario Casas gave an interview while promoting his latest film, in which he said that he no longer has Instagram on his phone. He only checks it on his computer when he gets home. He said that having access at all hours made him anxious. We’ve reached the point where someone who uses social media as a promotional tool cannot use it because of how much criticism and anxiety it generates.

Are you optimistic that things will improve? What needs to be done?

Javi: More content like ours needs to be made for cinema, TV, etc. Away from social media there’s barely any discussion about the harassment that actors such as Mario Casas or Jaime Lorente, for example, are subjected to. So, imagine what people with anonymous profiles experience.

Susana: Cristina Pedroche also had to stop posting because she received criticism regardless of what she posted. If you don’t like the content, don’t follow the person.

What has surprised you during the project?

Susana: I’m surprised that the problem we’re highlighting is so internalised now that even some profiles just accept the fact that they have to live with it. Or that there are people who say that they’ve thought about committing suicide. And these are people who just create content. Or the obsession behind posting a photo.

Do you think this should be taught in schools and universities?

Javi: It’s very necessary. Just as there are talks about drugs or sex education, we need to raise awareness about harassment on social media. The younger generations are starting to use them earlier and earlier. My cousin is 13 years old and has all kinds of social media profiles. So, it’s an issue you have to deal with very early on.

Susana: Although bullying has always existed, the rise of social networks and their misuse means that there are now many more cases of suicide or anxiety among children.

The eternal question… Are social networks good or bad?

Javi: After the documentary we came to the conclusion that people shouldn’t stop using social media. They just need to learn to use it. We can’t be optimistic because it’s getting worse by the day. We do our bit, but in order for it to stop, more people need to get on board: education, protection… etc.

Does the University transmit these values to you? 

Susana: It’s not taught, but I’ve noticed that there’s a lot of respect in our group. For example, the projects undertaken by other peers. I’ve never felt attacked and we’ve always learned from our mistakes.

What was the best and worst part about the process of making the documentary?

Susana: The best part has been working together. We got along really well and were very well organised.

Javi: Also, how easy it was when it came to working with people. Many were very willing to be part of a project like this. And the worst part was realising that we haven’t really come that far.

What are your next steps? What advice would you give to new generations of students?

Susana: We want the project to go as far as possible. We’ll be open to similar projects. I’d advise them to enjoy themselves and take advantage of opportunities to give both voice and creativity to issues that impact them.

Javi: To make the most of the opportunities and go in search of their passion.