One blogger’s opinion on the ups and downs of social networking, Part 1
I’ve been intrigued by – and passionate about – the cultural impact of social media for nearly two years now, since I was stuck at home recovering from major surgery, feeling isolated and bored. I ‘caught the social media bug’ the day I discovered that many of the authors I love – those whom I thought I had no hope of meeting in person – have a well-established social presence on Twitter and Facebook. Most are very open, approachable, polite, and some of them regularly engage with current and future readers, sharing news, asking questions, and exchanging ideas. All are using social media as a platform to inform, to introduce themselves to current and future readers, and to interactively connect with their audience. This is what makes social media such a powerful tool for spreading the word – and a dose of good will – about you as a “brand,” whatever your profession may be.
I also discovered the personal side – and the power – of social networking. I found people from across the country and all over the globe who connected with me, becoming new friends literally overnight. Brought together by common interests, kept together by the power of a personal connection – going on to share each other’s joys, triumphs, losses and life lessons – these friendships are vastly different than those we experience in real life, but are still amazingly powerful and deeply meaningful. Some are now over – sadly living in the “lessons learned” file – while others are as close, nurturing and loyal as family. I’m grateful for all of them.
In a matter of weeks I went from a woman alone in her home surrounded by books to a welcome member of a community of like-minded, passionate people (in my case, other readers, writers and would-be writers) with whom I could connect, share my thoughts, discover new ideas, develop new skills, consider other viewpoints, have a good laugh, post crazy photos, share favorite music, and talk about wonderful books (and book boyfriends) 24/7/365. Despite some harsh and painful experiences, and in spite of some epic fumbles of my own, it’s truly opened the world to me. I no longer merely live in a rural valley off Hwy 101 in Northern California, I am fully engaged in a global community that keeps me informed, entertained and engaged, bringing spice to my life and meaning to my relationships.
But (you were expecting a ‘but’ weren’t you?), looking back, this was what I believed then…
…and this is what I know now.
Wherever human beings gather, physically or virtually, they make a conscious choice to bring their best – or their very worst – behavior. Their biases, assumptions and judgments, once displayed only in the presence of friends, family, schoolmates or co-workers, are now unleashed on the rest of us, very publicly and most often anonymously, with a healthy dose of self-righteous impunity.
Bullying on social media is not only common, it’s rampant. People hurt one another, regularly and intentionally, preying on each other’s vulnerabilities, insecurities, and personal demons. Whether driven by a need for attention, recognition or control, their tactics are shocking, reminiscent of the kind of emotional terrorism that harkens back to middle school, with the same devastating results.
I have come to believe that not unlike families, schools and workplaces, there are those who engage in social media to indulge a darker passion: cultivating drama, paranoia, and ill-will, pitting one “clique” against another, ‘taking people down’ whom they perceive to be a threat, and worse. Colleagues have received death threats for expressing a opinion –albeit not in the most constructive way, but certainly not one that should provoke such viral hatred. Campaigns have been launched to destroy reputations, plant false and demeaning book reviews, and worse. In only two years I’ve witnessed that – and more – among people who claim to be professionals in the literary community.
Unlike what you might say in the heat of an argument – the words that fly out of your mouth before your brain can engage – typing a post, creating a tweet, sending a message, or writing a blog article takes at least some deliberation, and is immediately followed by another choice: a willful decision to click (or not to click) the “post” button and publish your words. There is plenty of time for a filter to kick in – a sense of reason, an opportunity for cooler heads to prevail, a sense of common courtesy to emerge. Or time to step back, take a deep breath and choose the high road – ignore, unfollow, block, reach out and try find common ground – or respectfully agree to disagree. Unfortunately, all too often it doesn’t.
This week, the “front-page news” on Facebook and other platforms is the “Blogger Blackout of 2014.” The blackout is intended as a show of solidarity by a group of book bloggers who took offense to an article published in The Guardian by an author who became obsessed with tracking down the source of a bad review. The source was a blogger, and the saga that follows reads like a crazy crime novel. Is it true? I have no idea. Is the blogger’s version true? There is no way to be certain. Was the review objectively honest, or abusive? I haven’t read it – only the author’s description of it. But it certainly created a firestorm (for lack of another socially-acceptable word). The incident itself happened long ago, and in any other time might be all but forgotten, displaced by real news about real tragedies and issues of much greater substance. But it has been brought back to life through the lightening-fast network of social media, leading to a virtual stand-off between two groups that need each other – all over an isolated, extraordinarily unusual dispute between ONE author and ONE blogger. Now, some bloggers are refusing – either for a specific period of time, or forever – to review for any author, using that article as a platform to justify their decision. Likewise, some authors have decided they will no longer engage with any blogger who joins the blackout. Emotions are running amuck…and so is the damage.
What’s my point in bringing all of this to light today? It’s simple. This isn’t professional behavior – it’s playground behavior. And social media isn’t a playground – it’s a powerful, universal platform where your words and deeds live forever, defining you and what you stand for. It’s your reputation, your brand, your character, your integrity that’s on public display, 24/7/365. Whether an author or a blogger, if you espouse yourself to be a professional, act like one. Take the gloves off, move your disputes off-line, and hash them out like the adults you claim to be, not the bullies you appear to be. And, please – leave the rest of us out of your drama.
Each one of us has an inherent right and the freedom to do what we feel we must to express our view on an issue or respond to a professional or personal affront. But to penalize all authors for the actions of one, to drive a wedge between authors and bloggers — who are by nature interdependent — is knee-jerk at best, and cyber-bullying at worst. In any event, it’s unprofessional, and I cannot support it. There is too much to lose. And as for the rest of this playground behavior — back-biting, demeaning, demoralizing, bullying, conspiring and competing — nobody wins in that kind of game.
It’s time to change the rules.
In my next post…new rules.
Note: The referenced article can be viewed here ~ please read responsibly and remember that I am the messenger ~ I choose not to engage in this debate, but will reply to all comments from my own – hopefully objective and professional – perspective.