Over the years I’ve had quite a few interactions with more established authors on social media, standouts being Brandon Sanderson and Philip Reeve, both of whom made my day with just a few moments of their time. In contrast, some other encounters were odious enough to leave me scratching my head at best, and negatively colouring my view of the author’s work at worst (no one likes being called an asshole by someone whose work you enjoy, and equally, having their followers put words in your mouth so they can mob you is never a fun time).
I’ve been asking myself lately: why did these encounters go awry? Why does any attempt at discourse devolve into an angry exchange? Why are differences of opinion so quickly twisted into strawmen to be attacked?
Maybe the problem is the effect of social media. Platforms like Twitter devolve into more of an echo-chamber each day, with any attempt at conversation being shut down by the loudest, most popular voice. Spend long enough among masses who agree with every opinion you post (see Stephen King who could roll his face across the keyboard and people would love him for it) and it’s sure to have an effect on your mentality, your willingness to listen, and your ability to change an opinion based on new information.
I wonder, when did discussion become to be regarded as so toxic? Social media these days looks nothing like the forums that the internet was created on, where the exchange of ideas was welcomed and even encouraged. As social media connects more people than ever, communication seems to die a little more every day under the oppressive flags of politics and identity. Strangely, I’ve found that it’s usually shut down by the same people that are the first to virtue signal themselves as progressive — those happy to wallow in their self-righteousness while being unable to recognise their own hypocrisy.
I’d laugh at the irony if it wasn’t so depressing.
Saying that, maybe it’s not the fault of social media. Social media is just a tool after all. Maybe certain people are just… unpleasant. I’ve certainly known more than a few in day to day life that act in ways that make my skin crawl. Logically, someone having a measure of fame doesn’t vaccinate them having a toxic personality, and giving them a platform to speak on — or just a blanket of like-minded people to surround themselves with — doesn’t mean they suddenly grow principles. There’s the old saying:
Never meet your heroes.
Some days, I think meeting your heroes should be avoided to skip the inevitable ugliness being exposed, but then other times I remember fondly the small gems that spurred me on and helped restore a little of my faith in humanity. I believe the saying is best taken as a warning rather than a doctrine — so if you do take the plunge into those murky waters with anything but praise, be prepared to come face to face with a few monsters, as well as their trailing shoal of piranhas just waiting for something to misrepresent and attack.
In truth, I’m sorry to say that I don’t have anything by way of an answer to these questions; all I can say is that my experiences have left me wary of social media, and I struggle to find the positive in these feeds that people spend hours scrolling through every day. Certainly, if I wasn’t an author who is expected to have an online presence, I wouldn’t go anywhere near these platforms. So I’ll just leave you with one of my favourite quotes from the writer of The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable which I believe too many out-of-touch authors and their fans have forgotten in the age of social media.
“Literature comes alive with covering up vices, defects, weaknesses, and confusions; it dies with every trace of preaching.”Nassim Nicholas Taleb