by: Joelle Charbonneau
I’m an author. Which means this is perhaps a dangerous subject for me to write about, but it is also one I believe I need to speak to. So…here goes.
The Internet is a wonderful thing. It gives us access to information (although not always accurate information) at lightning fast speeds. It allows us to quickly communicate and send documents with a click of a button. Social media gives us the ability to with very little effort keep in touch with those we might have otherwise not taken the time to connect with. What’s not to love?
And yet, the Internet is also a terrible place. Because it is a world that is explored from the seemingly anonymous and safe place behind the computer screen, many people say things on the Internet that they would never say in real life. You see evidence every day of this on Facebook, Twitter, and in the comments of every political news article. Words that would never come out of someone’s mouth if they were having a discussion face to face rear their ugly heads.
Well, I can only guess. However, it seems to me that many people feel words typed on a screen and posted on the Internet have less meaning than those said aloud. And you know what, if that is the case those who believe that are wrong.
Words have power.
I believed that long before I became an author. Words have the power to lift people up, cause great joy, instill fear or inflict injury far greater than many weapons. And unlike a misplaced comment said at a cocktail party or on the phone, the words on the Internet live on and on and on, which gives them even greater power. Which is why I wish people would treat them with more care. The lack of care when attacking other people’s political, religious or social beliefs makes me want to scream. Especially when I know the people posting and know they would never choose the words they typed if they were speaking face to face.
The Internet and the screen we sit behind desensitizes people to the power of their words. And because of that those words do damage.
As an author, I see signs of this desensitization in the reviews that are posted online. (Yes…this is where the author in me treads dangerous ground. I know it. I’m walking it anyway because I believe in what I say.) Now…don’t get me wrong. I don’t believe book reviews should be universally wonderful. What would be the point? Not all people love all books. That is as it should be. Books that I love will be disliked by others. Good. We are all different. We should have different opinions. Reviews should state what the reader liked and disliked. Reviews should be critical of the storytelling moments that didn’t click for them and praise the writing that made them read into the early hours of the morning. That is what reviews are for. Critical reviews are just as important as wonderful reviews. Without one, we cannot have the other…at least not in any meaningful way.
But, over the years I’ve seen critical reviews turn personal. Reviewers not only stating that they hate the book, but make personal attacks on the author. I have more than one review of THE TESTING that not only hates the story, but goes on to say that they hate me and that they think I should die. I’ve seen reviews that attack me as a person. They tell me I was trying to rip off other books. They suggest I should be hurt or worse because of their beliefs.
Those reviews are scary. I stumbled across them in the days before THE TESTING came out. I haven’t read any reviews on Goodreads or searched out reviews on blogs since. So there could be worse out there.
Do I believe they really want me dead? No. Do I believe they would use those words to my face if they met me at a bookstore or on the street somewhere? Heck no. Yet, for whatever reason, they chose to type those words. They chose to share them with the world and sign their name (or online pseudonym) to them.
I wish I knew. Do they get more hits on their blog by publishing implied death threats? Do they want me to see those words?
Not long ago, ALLEGIANT by Veronica Roth was published to an enormous print run and great fanfare. Fans who disliked where the story went in that final installment of the trilogy took to the Internet and blasted the story. That is fair. If you don’t like the story, you can criticize the story. But it went so much farther than that. Lots of death threats. Lots of words of hate and feelings of betrayal were spewed directly at the author on social media. She was told she should drop dead more than once. Because she wrote a book and they chose to read it.
I’m sorry, but under no circumstances does an author deserve to be told they should die. Not me. Not Veronica Roth. Not anyone. I don’t care how invested you are in the story or how much you value your time and hate that you feel it was wasted. Telling an author they deserve to die or making personal attacks on them is just plain wrong. I don’t care how you justify the words…those words are wrong.
Can you criticize the story? Yes! Do it! Jump up and down on it. Throw the book against the wall if you’d like. Heck, I’ve done it. We all love different things. Different stories speak to different people. Criticize the story.
Now, I’ve seen lots of people say that they can’t leave the author out of the review because the author is active on social media or because the author wrote the book and therefore has put themselves out there to be reviewed right alongside their story. No. Just no. I’m sorry, but telling the author that writing a book has invited personal attack is akin to telling a girl that wearing a tight dress to a frat party is asking to be raped.
Both are wrong.
I am an author. I hope readers will like my stories, but I respect when they don’t and appreciate opinions that applaud my books just as much as I respect those who tear my books down.
But, I am a person. And I have a child who will someday search the Internet for posts on his mother and reviews of her work. And that child will see people’s posts that make threats on my life for writing a book.
Which is why I am asking - how can that possibly be okay?