I broke up with a follower after less than 24 hours. The breakup was quiet, yet it has its place in the queue for this week’s blog. First, some other loosely connected items.
According to The Bookseller, Jonathan Franzen feels writers are being 'coerced' into social media, and that new writers are told they won't be considered without 250 Twitter followers.
Some people find this overstated, but I did hear an agent tell an audience that if he couldn’t find a link to a new writer through Google, he didn’t bother reading their submission.
I later had a private meeting with him and, if there’s a word for people who hate writers, (mis-scribonist?), I suspect that’s what he is. Hopefully, he's not standard agent material. Regardless of his psychopathy (sorry, had the wrong hat on for a moment), he’s the reason I started blogging and Tweeting.
Writers in the 21st century aren’t in Kansas anymore and I, for one, am glad. Electronic cut and paste alone make it all worthwhile for me. However, virtual social engagement sometimes is devoid of virtual social graces. If we’re truly coerced into social media, we need to consider the impact of a place without niceties. In descending order from horrific to my experience, let’s discuss bad examples.
Lauren Mayberry (Chuvches) wrote a Guardian Music Blog about cyber abuse directed at her solely for being a woman. In response to her previous posting, one of the trolls said he knew where she lived and would come rape her anally so she knew what rape culture really was.
Then there’s Writer One who went into vocabulary meltdown on Twitter, fuck being spread fairly thick. Why? Because a journalist used a negative word about Writer One, a descriptor not nearly as bad as the meltdown proved to be. The journalist had to block the writer.
Writer Two also challenged a negative comment made by a journalist, and they had a short exchange. The journalist stayed rational yet unwavering in the face of Writer Two’s slightly aggressive but civilised comments. Two sane adults, right?
Although Writer Two didn’t disembowel the journalist, Writer Two RTed every one of the journalist’s comments and 60,000 followers did the job instead. One of them reported the journalist to an employer. In the end, Writer Two got a Tweeted apology. I imagine it was heartfelt.
Okay, so what about my Twitter bust up? Not quite so sensational. One of those situations when someone who follows someone you follow, ends up following you. Ray, let’s call him, was unusually witty, so I followed him back. He happened to be caught up in trans-Atlantic travel that day and kept me smiling with his funny Tweets. And then he wrote this:
'And I'm not all that keen on Americans in America, but put 'em in an airport and I'm all like Tina, bring me the axe.'
The difference in these examples is the degree. Each of them is an assault on the recipient's sense of inviolate well-being, and certainly out of proportion. They come from a deadening of empathy, which is the only thing that separates you from bullies and trolls. Once you stop feeling it, then you're on your way.
The internet, and social media especially, really let us off the empathy hook. We live in a world that no longer gives you three chances. You have a bad day, I have a bad day, I don’t think before I type, you don’t think before you hit ‘send’ . . . the next thing you know, what you are thinking about is an axe. When you say it out loud, you convince yourself it’s a joke. Because we all know how American (Black, Asian, female, disabled, poor, LGBT) people are. They ask for it.
I have to admit that I do a very good impression of an asshole myself from time to time. When I do, I hope to be forgiven and because of that, because Ray has good traits, I wanted to turn the other cheek. But the thing about using aggression, even if that aggression is garbed in humour, is that people stop listening to you. All they can think of is how to stay safe. When we are sexist or racist or use celebrity to squash the small fry, we silence not only the other person; we silence ourselves as well.
There are people on the other side of our cyber actions. There are consequences. Be kind. When you’re not, say you’re sorry. It isn’t rocket science, guys. Just play nice.