Digital Discipline founder Tony Laulu says his organisation was born out of an eight-year addiction to social media and any device with access to it.

Born in Samoa, and raised in Onehunga, Tony attended Mount Albert Grammar School (MAGS) and played rugby for Te Papa Premiers.

He says he first started using social media about 10 years ago when Bebo was the “in thing”.

“I transitioned to Facebook and I started to use my phone more because I just was really fascinated by what my smartphone could do,” Tony says.

With access to the Internet, YouTube and social media platforms, he was soon well and truly hooked on the new technology. 

The father of two would easily clock up five hours on social media and it started to consume him – Tony was neglecting his family and the realities of day to day life.

“I was heavily influenced by what people thought about me and how I perceived myself,” he adds.

After a few years, Tony realised he was addicted to social media and sought help but all he found was two websites and a phone number to report online bullying.

Signs of social media addiction may include:

  • The amount of time you are on social media exceeds two hours in a day;
  • Checking accounts day and night;
  • Looking at your phone at events without being present; 
  • Social media use is cutting into work and family time;
  • Affecting your relationship with your partner and children;
  • You are comparing your life or your performance to other athletes;
  • Closely monitoring posts to see how many likes and comments you get; and
  • Feeling anxious if you do not have your phone all the time.

It was another year and a half before Tony came up with some solutions to help himself, he says. 

“There was a lot of trial and error, there was a lot of going back to old habits but the more I was conscious and aware of these addictive characteristics the more I wanted to acknowledge and learn how to better manage my relationship to social media.

“Once I found that balance and was comfortable with my relationship with social media I started my own project on Facebook to share all of the learnings experiences information and knowledge I had gained around the impact social media has on individuals, and within families.

With this, Digital Discipline was born. 

Originally, Tony intended the information to be used by his two younger sisters and cousins, but it grew organically, and within a few months different community and church groups started to message him to see if he would speak to youth around social media etiquette and wellbeing.

He has since delivered workshops at schools, health services, Auckland University of Technology, government agencies and many other organisations.

“Social media is not going away, and it is a very amazing tool to acquire knowledge, be informed and to be in touch with people.

“However, balance and discipline are key… it means that in certain times of the day I make sure I don’t pick up my phone and I dedicate two or three hours to focus on work or spending time with my sons.”

Finding the right balance is the key to maintaining an overall positive social media experience, he adds. 

Tony believes his knowledge and skills about using social media wisely and in moderation, will benefit rugby players.

“We have all seen how great social media has been for some athletes but also on the flip side how much social media can impact an athlete’s mental health and even their safety.”

Tony is keen to educate Pacific rugby players about the impact social media has on all those around them, and the pros and the cons to ensure they have a positive relationship with social media.

There are many pros of social media for athletes, including:

  • The reach and influence rugby players have is a marketing dream;
  • Direct contact with fans and followers;
  • Creative control over your content and what you display and advocate for online;
  • Providing insight into your journey as an athlete through social media; 
  • Securing endorsement deals and acting as an ambassador for different companies or organisations you support; and
  • Keeping in touch with family and friends overseas.

The cons of social media for athletes are plentiful:

  • You may be subject to online abuse, online threats and people saying unfiltered things about your performance, you as a person or maybe even your family; 
  • The access fans have to you extends to your private life.
  • Can affect relationships by attracting the wrong type of attention from fans;
  • Athletes may use it as an escape from the vigorous demands from a rugby career while neglecting family obligations; 
  • It is easy to distract yourself from day to day obligations by just being on your phone; and
  • Access to gambling websites and apps.

Currently, Tony is taking opportunities to spread the Digital Discipline message when they come up, and he aspires to grow his organisation.

“I would like to see it as an embedded educational tool right across all levels of school, and any other group that uses social media including households who need some guidance.”

He would like to see people becoming more aware of the time spent on devices, particularly while in the presence of others.

It is important to be kind to yourself when adjusting to new behaviours, he adds.

“Understand it takes time to adjust to a more disciplined relationship with social media.

“Remember you are in full control of your social media experience and not the other way around.”

Having seen both the negative and positive impact of social media use, Tony is hopeful he can help his peers and others to make some changes so there are far more positive experiences than negative ones.

Follow Digital Discipline on Facebook, Instagram and LinkedIn for more information.