New York University's independent student newspaper, established in 1973.

Washington Square News

New York University's independent student newspaper, established in 1973.

Washington Square News

New York University's independent student newspaper, established in 1973.

Washington Square News

Beyond NYU: Writing to help women combat social media’s toxic impact

Kara Alaimo used her interest in gender studies to help create sustainability goals within the United Nations, write articles for CNN Opinion and publish books.
CAS alum Kara Alaimo. (Courtesy of Tattered Cover Book Store)

CAS alum Kara Alaimo is encouraging women to overcome the problematic nature of social media through her new book, “Over the Influence: Why Social Media is Toxic for Women and Girls — And How We Can Take It Back.” 

Alaimo always planned to study journalism in the College of Arts & Science, but became interested in women’s studies while taking a Gender and Sexuality Studies elective class. She has previously worked as the head of communications for a United Nations panel and as a spokesperson for international affairs in the U.S. Treasury Department during the Obama administration. Now, she writes about women’s issues for CNN Opinion and teaches communications at Fairleigh Dickinson University.

In an interview with WSN, Alaimo spoke about her new book, career as a journalist and goals for the future. 

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

WSN: How did you develop a passion for journalism? 

Alaimo: My mother had been a journalist and so I had heard about it from her. In high school, I got to write a couple of pieces for local newspapers and I absolutely loved it. The thing that was especially attractive was that I got to pick my topics and keep learning about topics and issues that interested me. Every day was something different and I found it to be incredibly fascinating and glamorous but also gritty and hard work and a way to make an impact in the world. I just knew early on that this is absolutely what I wanted to be doing.

Alaimo grew up in New Jersey, and came to know New York City as the “media capital of the country” during frequent trips to the city. After graduating from NYU in 2005, she stayed in the city and earned a Doctor of Philosophy, Master of Philosophy and Master of Arts from the City University of New York. She published her first book, “Pitch, Tweet, or Engage on the Street: How to Practice Global Public Relations and Strategic Communication,” in 2016, which is about adapting communication strategies to different cultures.

She began to write “Over the Influence” in April 2021, following mass online discourse around First Lady Jill Biden’s choice of tights as she walked off an airplane, which users on the social media platform X, called “trashy.” Alaimo said the discourse encapsulated how “society judges women unfairly,” along with the role of social media in perpetuating misogyny. Alaimo is currently on a national tour for her book, which details the impact social media has on women with regard to body image, mental health and widespread misinformation about parenting. 

WSN: What inspired you to write ‘Over the Influence?’

Alaimo: I was motivated to write this book because I was grappling with how I was going to handle my own daughters’ use of social media. There’s that old saying that people write the books that they need to read. But, having finished the book, I now realize how naive I was to think that my biggest problem would be figuring out how to handle my own daughters’ use of social media — the shocking realization that I came to throughout my research is that what is happening online is spilling over into the offline world and, in some cases, making the offline world more dangerous for women and girls. 

Alaimo said she has received positive reviews from her audience, which motivated her to research how parents, educators and therapists can teach online safety and respect.

Before writing her books, Alaimo was appointed as an international affairs spokesperson in the U.S. Department of the Treasury in 2011, a role that allowed her to travel worldwide with Jim Yong Kim as he built his campaign for president of the World Bank Group. For the next couple of years, she served as the head of communications for the United Nations Secretary-General’s High Level Panel on the Post-2015 Development Agenda, a group that advised future global innovation under the priority of creating Sustainable Development Goals, which include gender equality and quality education. 

In 2016, Alaimo began to write for CNN Opinion in addition to publishing journalistic work in The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Atlantic and more. She said that her work for CNN Opinion, which often focuses on social media and women’s issues, became the foundation of “Over the Influence.” Many of her CNN readers reached out to her because of her work, with some eventually becoming sources in her book.

WSN: How did you begin writing for CNN Opinion and what has that experience been like? 

Alaimo: I wrote to the managing editor of CNN Opinion and I said, ‘Hi, my name is Kara. I’m a communication professor. Would you like to run this piece?’ It was a matter of sending a really great piece on a very timely topic — discussing how Donald Trump managed to win the presidency using social media. The managing editor published it, and very soon thereafter, I got a call from one of his editors. I remember it being late at night and she said to me, ‘Donald Trump is meeting with tech leaders tomorrow morning. Could you write a piece about this?’ I said sure I would do it, and that’s really how I developed my relationship with CNN Opinion. Sometimes, news breaks and they know I’m a good person to write on the topic because of my expertise in social media and issues affecting women. I write for them because I very much need to say something about what I’m reading in the news. For me, it’s been an extraordinary way of trying to be involved in public conversations about issues that I care deeply about.

Alaimo taught communications at Hofstra University for eight years before transitioning to Fairleigh Dickinson University in January 2023. In her role, she created an academic program that allows for students to learn how to manage a technology company while avoiding prejudice and hate speech online and simultaneously maintaining freedom of expression. 

WSN: How does your role as a mother to two daughters inspire your work? 

Alaimo: Given everything I’ve seen in the world, from all of my travels during the Obama administration and at the United Nations, I’ve long cared about making the world a better place. However, something about becoming a mother has made it absolutely intolerable for me to witness other mothers losing children or having children suffering. We’re in a very dangerous place right now in this country in the sense that social networks are really dangerous for all of us — particularly for women and children — yet there’s practically no education on these topics. It really does mean the world to me to be in a position to give people information about how they can protect and empower themselves.

Contact Aashna Miharia at [email protected].

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About the Contributor
Aashna Miharia
Aashna Miharia, Deputy News Editor
Aashna Miharia is a first-year studying journalism and public policy with a minor in business studies. She’s from the Boston area and a novelist, coffee enthusiast and lover of independent bookstores. You can usually find her listening to an audiobook while wandering around New York City or on Instagram @aashnamiharia.

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