“Well, it’s going to be a long road back.”
- Captain Henry Gloval, Robotech
I find myself once again contemplating cutting ties with my social media accounts. It’s never been a secret that I don’t particularly enjoy social media. Ever since I started my website back in the halcyon days of 2003, I found the act of dealing with the internet to be a very bitter-sweet thing. For every fan letter, there was plenty of hate mail. For every encouragement, there were attacks both personal and professional. Heck, when Teach The Sky first started, my forums were summarily hijacked by people trying to get private information from and about me. It was disconcerting to say the least.
Since then, I’ve been deliberately slow to tackle social media. I was exceptionally late to the Twitter party and I’ve only recently been dealing with optimizing my Facebook account (in thanks primarily to Tee Morris and Pip Ballantine’s excellent book). Instagram, Tumblr, etc. These are all on my radar. Or they were.
2016 was a real shakeup for a lot in the world. It’s been increasingly scary since then and the role social media has played – or rather the exploitation of social media – still isn’t well understood. I suppose as someone who doesn’t enjoy what is essentially a job requirement as an independent author, it’s little surprise that I’ve been following the explorations and exposes on the role social media has played.
Allegations are a dime a dozen these days and for many people, learning that an algorithm was exploited to increase visibility and drive traffic towards disruptive content might as well be told that the flux capacitor was overloaded and that magic was invoked. Technophobe that I am, I don’t understand a lot of what gets thrown around. But understanding the physics of an internal combustion engine isn’t necessary to know how to drive.
I’ve been watching from the sidelines as forces have weaponized ignorance and misinformation. In some cases, there are some very clear questions still to be answered. Russian forces influenced social media with advertisements, comments, and likes leading into the 2016 Election. Were votes changed? I haven’t seen any such evidence. As near as I can tell, the most anyone is certain of is that essentially ad space was purchased and very judiciously distributed to sow discontent, distrust, what have you. Was this illegal? I’m not sure. I’m not sure we have laws yet to cover this kind of thing. Was it immoral? Was it wrong? Anyone who says ‘no’ must have a strong case that isn’t evident. Should have been allowed? Objectively no.
This wasn’t isolated to the United States, however. And while we know that Russians were the ones who perpetrated the attack, I’m aware of little evidence connecting the Russian government itself. It would be folly to think such a coordinated attack could only be the result of a government. Proof of that can be found in other social media hijackings.
Mike Cernovich orchestrated an elaborate and concerted attack on director James Gunn in an effort to get him removed from Guardians of the Galaxy 3. I’ve seen the theory floated around online that going after James Gunn was a dry run, a practice run, for others in the entertainment spectrum and maybe beyond. Far-fetched? Maybe, maybe not. Certainly not impossible.
And all of that is the active issues with social media. There’s the more passive issue that is rarely appreciated, which is that by engaging on a given platform (Facebook, Twitter, etc), one is creating content for free for that platform. When I post on Facebook, Facebook is using that post to generate ad revenue. I am making content for Facebook to charge advertisers to take up space next to. Now, fair is fair, Facebook has a potentially global reach and I can benefit from that too. But it’s an exchange that not everyone appreciates and is mindful of.
And this goes further into discussing the role of social media in business. For every platform one engages in (Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, etc), that’s additional content one has to generate. Yes, you can cross-post and compartmentalize to maximize your effectiveness and whatnot, but you still have to exert effort and take time to monitor all this stuff. Even if you’ve got it on auto-pilot, you need to check it occasionally.
The difference between being a writer (a literary artist) and an author (a professional writer) is really just including merchandising and marketing into your routine. The responsibility and occasional (if you’re lucky) prioritization of advertising is the difference at the end of the day. Creating content for these other platforms is how you advertise through them (or you can just pay to get an ad placed).
You know, I hadn’t really appreciated the similarities to free-to-play video games until now. I’m gonna have to think on THAT.
Anyway. I’m not saying this is an unfair trade, but it’s one to make without really thinking through the implications. One can be so determined to maximize social media output that you cease to be a writer and become instead a promoter who dabbles in literary creation.
And then there’s the risk. Ire from angry fans. Becoming the target of one of these concerted harassment campaigns. Everybody thinks it unlikely that they’ll ever be doxed. Well, ask someone who ever has been. I watched my forums get hijacked with harmless questions and speculation and that was terrifying. I can’t imagine getting death threats, late-night phone calls, and identify theft would be like. I wouldn’t wish that on anyone.
And beyond that, there’s the role of strengthening this platform. If I create content for Facebook in the form of posts and whatnot, and Facebook is key in sowing the seeds of distrust and anger that disrupts the balance of power in the world? I had a hand in that. A small, miniscule hand but a hand all the same. It’s something to weigh.
I don’t currently have any plans to do anything, drastic or otherwise, but this is what I’m weighing these days. I wouldn’t be surprised if I purged one or more social media platforms from my personal and/or professional life. The potential for abuse seems as potent as it is unchecked. I’m not sure I’ll trust social media again anytime soon.
And while I’m sure I could, in order to get to that point will be a long road back.
Next weekend, I’ll be at Anime USA! If you haven’t gotten your tickets, reserve them now!