Saturday, March 8, 2014

The First Time I Screwed Up on Social Media

I've been trying to really think about what to post for my first Fall Fourteeners post. We were supposed to write something about a first. I was really racking my brain about what to say that would be different than what I've already said, and I was having a lot of trouble coming up with anything.

And then Twitter erupted this past week when @LifeNPublishing posted a gif about Veronica Roth and the whole Dystopian YA genre. It was not a kind gif. It was probably not a well thought-out post. It was, to be blunt, a misstep. And the Twitterverse reacted, as the Twitterverse is wont to do.

I wasn't smart enough to screencap any of the posts or tweets, so I don't have any to show here, but it seemed to boil down to this: many authors were angry about the post, because it called out another author by name. One author threatened to get the person behind Life in Publishing fired for the post. Some book bloggers responded in outrage at the threat. Life in Publishing took down his/her entire site and begged the author threatening to unmask him/her, not to do so. For most of the day, the YA book-centered part of Twitter was all, well, atwitter about this.

And it got me thinking...about the first time I screwed up on social media...and what that's taught me as a professional and as an author who lives a (now) public life.

It happened about five years ago, when Facebook was The Thing. I was about to have my youngest, and had to take a short, 6-week maternity leave from teaching. I'd meticulously set up everything for my substitute, and at the time, I felt that the person substituting was basically ignoring the plans. So, I posted my frustration on Facebook. I never called the person by name, but even though I'm pretty picky about who I friended, there were enough people who knew the person I was posting about.

This was, admittedly, a stupid and very unprofessional thing to do. And one of those Facebook friends (who I'd imagined were actual friends) thought so too. The person told my supervisor, who called me into his office and called me out on it.

It was not a pleasant experience. To say the least.

At the time I was ridiculously angry. I was angry at the sub for making it difficult for me to complete the planned semester. I was angry at the anonymous person who had gone above my head instead of pulling me aside and letting me know that what I was doing was wrong. I was angry at my supervisor for making me feel so embarrassed and so very small. And I was really angry at myself for making the decision to post those things in the first place.

I cut my "friends" in half when I got home that night. I locked down my Facebook to family and only close friends I didn't work with. I was careful after that... for a while, at least.

So what does that have to do with anything about me and writing and being an author?

The thing is, even as careful as that event has made me, I know I'm going to screw up again. I know it. Because social media is social. We get online and we tweet or tumbl or post on Facebook, and the same people respond to us, and we feel like we have a community.

So we start to feel safe.

And, inevitably, we misstep.

And because we never have to look these people in the eye, because we never really have to see the look of pain or hurt or anger flash across their faces, it's so easy to type that 140 character response. To post that snarky gif. To rally the troops and attack.

Because even though social media is social, there's a good, solid distance between us and people we're interacting with. That distance is where missteps happen.

So the recent kerfuffle about Life in Publishing's misstep of a post, struck a nerve with me.

Did the blogger make a mistake? Sure. It wasn't kind or even wise to call out an author or genre by name with the kind of acerbic post that was posted. It certainly wasn't wise to think that there wouldn't be people upset by it. And since the blogger is, supposedly, a person working in publishing, it definitely verged on unprofessional.

But (and this but is probably going to irritate people)...

What alarmed me more than the original blogger's post (which was bad, to be sure) was the way authors reacted. Especially the author who threatened to get the blogger fired.

As an author myself now, I cringe at the thought of someone hating my book. I am not looking forward to the day when someone calls it a Twilight knockoff or says something that rips my little heart out and stomps it to pieces, but aren't readers and reviewers allowed to have opinions? Aren't people who work in publishing allowed to have feelings or opinions? Do they always have to toe the company line?

I hope not. Because literature cannot grow and develop and get better if the literary establishment is just filled with yes-men. I hope not.

Look, I'm not a special snowflake. I know my book is going to get its share of negative reviews. All books do, because reading is about taste, and not all taste runs the same.

Do I hope that people are respectful? Sure. Do I think they all will be? Absolutely not.

Should they have to be? I honestly don't know.

In a perfect world, we'd all be civil and decorous and delightful to one another, but you and I both know this world's far from perfect. In a perfect world, people would always make the right decisions and never make embarrassing or hurtful public mis-steps. In a perfect world...

But this isn't a perfect world. The internet isn't a perfect or even a safe space, for anyone.

I understand that the pushback from authors was just an attempt to help make the internet a safe space for one of their own. But it didn't work. It escalated the issue. It heightened tempers and created a space where people were angry and ragey, and where a lot of people weighed in.

And then 24 hours later... it was like it never happened.

Except... one person is still probably quaking, waiting for the other shoe to drop. Everyone else went on their way, but I'm guessing that Life in Publishing hasn't yet.

S/he lost the blog, the followers...possible his/her job. All because of a post.

Perhaps s/he deserves it. Perhaps that's the price one pays for living publicly online... For making unwise and unkind choices. Perhaps...but I hope not.

This worries me as an author. It worries me as a person who really enjoys social media. And I'm not sure what the fix is for these sorts of situations, but here is what I am sure of:

We are ALL going to screw up, publicly, at one point or another. If you haven't yet, you will. You'll get too comfortable. You'll think that your audience has your back. And you'll mis-step. It happens.

We could all use a reminder that there are real people on the other side of the screen. People aren't perfect. People are going to make mistakes.

So I hope that when I make my next mistake (and it will happen), someone will be kind enough to take me aside and whisper in my ear so that I can fix it and make amends--before the entire world seems to explode around me. Instead of taking sides or picking up arms, I hope that people will step back and let it die down, so that things don't have to escalate or turn into a giant flamewar.

I hope that for all of us.

Because 24 hours later, it doesn't even matter.

Except to the person that it does. And that person is more than just a screen name.

1 comment:

  1. Great story, Lisa. I missed the whole Roth/LifeNPublishing flap, so I don't know the specifics of the story (and trying to look it up now is hopeless, inasmuch as everything's been removed from the web). But I agree with you that we need to be understanding--that though people should be careful about what they put into public circulation, we have to recognize that human beings will make mistakes, and we should we willing to forgive when they do.

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