I admit it. Social media and I have a love-hate relationship. Sites like Facebook and Twitter (and all those sites trying to be them) serve a purpose. But does that purpose outweigh the potential harm? No, I’m not talking about the cries of disinformation. I’m talking about all the time that can be easily wasted on those sites. More than that, I’m talking about how a few folks can band together on sites like Twitter to create what are nothing but bullying campaigns to force authors and/or publishers to change a word or a phrase in a book or even withdraw the book from circulation. Then there’s the whole question of who creates the apps we use and what information can they access about us in the process.
I guess what started me down this path was something that happened last night. I readily admit I have accounts on more social media sites than I can count. Enough of them that I occasionally forget about one–or more–until I get an email notice from the site about one thing or another. Last night, I received an email notice of a message on one of those sites. It’s a site I check about once a week. Since I wanted to respond to this particular notice, I immediately logged in and did so.
But it reminded me, I simply don’t have enough time to keep an eye on all the social media sites I’m subscribed to. So why, you ask, did I sign up?
The answer is simple and complex all at the same time. The simple reason is social media is an integral part of promotion for any author. The less simple is I don’t trust any of these sites to be around tomorrow. That means we need back-up sites for those friends or groups we want to keep track of. The more complex answer goes down to how much oversight (or Big Brother) and corporate censorship happens on those sites. There are other reasons as well, but you get my drift.
I’ve managed to set up automated posting on some of those sites from things like this blog. With a simple click of a button, the blog will post to those sites without me having to do anything else about it. Hence why I have the accounts but forget about them.
The upside is I also have those accounts set up to send me an email notice if anyone posts on my “wall” on those sites or comments on one of my sites.
That means the potential of losing more of my day to yet another social media site is cut down dramatically. And that, my friends, is very important because it is so easy to lose a few minutes to a few hours on sites like Facebook or Twitter or any of the others by simply looking to see what other people have posted or starting up a “chat” with one or more friends.
But there are other downsides to it as well, as I noted in the opening paragraph. Too many of us simply sign up for these sites, install the apps on our phones and never give a thought to what sort of security holes we are opening up. The first indication we might notice that our information is being gathered and shared is after we go to a site like Amazon and search for something and then sign into FB only to find the ads there magically mirror what we just searched for.
How many of us think about those lesser known chat or other social media apps we install on our phones. Do we really look at who designed them? All too many of us don’t and we’ve fallen victim to them. The latest–and this one will probably show up one day in one of those “Crooks too stupid” videos–is an app the FBI helped develop. It was a chat app and it was monitored by law enforcement officials around the world. Yesterday, the media reported more than 800 people have been arrested around the world as a result of them using the app to coordinate their illegal dealings.
Sort of makes you wonder who else might be monitoring what we say online, doesn’t it? (Writers tend to tease about what would happen if the authorities checked our search histories. After all, we look up thinks like poisons, firearms, explosives, ways to kill people, ways to build things, etc.)
Then there’s the Twitter bully squad. Honestly, there’s no other way to describe them. These are the self-appointed censors of books and other printed media. They read until they find offense and then take to Twitter to try to stir up controversy and force authors and/or publishers to not only apologize and fall on their pens but to either rewrite, remove or withdraw the offending article or book.
The latest in what is becoming an all too familiar occurrences is Elin Hilderbrand’s The Golden Girl.
As described in an article in Publishers Weekly, readers on Instagram criticized Hilderbrand’s summer 2021 book, The Golden Girl, for a passage in which two teens, Vivi and Savannah, discuss plans for Vivi to hide out in the attic of Savannah’s house without Savannah’s parents’ knowledge: “You’re suggesting I hide here all summer?” Vivi asks. “Like … like Anne Frank?” The two friends laugh at this, but Vivi thinks to herself, “Is it really funny, and is Vivi so far off base?”
This one short passage was decried on social media as being anti-Semitic and insensitive. Honestly, I can see why some folks could feel that way. But as both an author and as a reader, I have to ask if the passage is true to the character. If it is, if the character is careless with how she speaks or thinks and doesn’t consider the impact of words on people, should that impact be softened by making sure she doesn’t think or say things like the above? And, if you do so, wouldn’t that change the character? Then there’s the question of whether or not Vivi revisits this comment/incident later in the book and, if so, how she views it.
In other words, sometimes you have to read on and see if there has been growth and/or redemption of a character. You don’t demand the removal of some part of her character early in the book if that growth or redemption is part of the character development.
But this isn’t the only instance lately Slate cites in its article. It seems a few days after the Twitter mob went after The Golden Girl, they went after a book published in 2019. Yes, just like the media scours ancient twitter feeds of those they don’t agree with, this particular bully mob does the same with books. In this case, they attacked Casey McQuiston’s Red, White & Royal Blue. Here’s the “offending” excerpt (a bit of dialog by the fictional US president in the book):
“Well, my UN ambassador fucked up his one job and said something idiotic about Israel, and now I have to call Netanyahu and personally apologize.”
Can you guess why the Twitter mob got upset? Read it again. Now think hard. . . Yes! You got it! McQuiston made the damning mistake of mentioning Israel and, in doing so, she “normalizes the genocide & war crimes done by Israel that will always be backed up & unashamedly supported by America.”
That sound you hear is me banging my head against the wall.
And you wonder why so many authors are now paying for “sensitivity” readers. It is easier to do so than it is to deal with this sort of BS–except you can’t win. I’ve seen too many of these attacks followed by comments from the author of the book in question saying they had a sensitivity reader check the manuscript and oops! this slipped by. Mea Culpa.
Is it any reason why I dislike most forms of social media? The authors and publishers who pay attention to these internet harpies need to ask themselves if these people actually buy their books? How much impact do their cries of outrage really have on the book’s sales? Honestly, in the vast majority of these situations, if the author and/or publisher would simply ignore the outrage, it would drum up more sales than it would drive off. They need to remember the adage usually attributed to P. T. Barnum: There’s no such thing as bad publicity.
And I need to bring this to a close before I dive any deeper into politics. Besides, I have a deadline the end of this week I need to meet. Until later!