by Holly West
Regular readers of this blog might know that for a long time now I've made it a policy not to post about politics or controversial subjects on social media. It's not about hiding anything about myself: I'm open about my political leanings (liberal) and the fact that I'm an atheist. I have other reasons for avoiding controversial subjects and that works for me. For some writers, however, posting about politics and such is a part of their author platform, and while they may alienate potential readers, friends, or family now and then, it seems to work for them.
I'll cite an example. I have an author friend on Facebook who posts quite often about politics. We've only met a couple of times in person but have had a good conversation or two--I think he's a pretty cool guy. That said, I disagree with most of his opinions with regard to politics (and he posts A LOT of them). When we first became Facebook friends, it got tedious and I contemplated "silencing" him (sounds so ominous, doesn't it), but in the end I decided that his opinions are welcome in my feed.
Why? Because his arguments, in the main, are well thought out and foster meaningful discussion. I often learn something from his posts, even when I disagree with his positions. If you're going to post about politics, people, this is how you do it.
I have another author friend whose political leanings are much closer to my own who also posts frequently about politics. Like Friend One, cited above, she doesn't just post provocative links and move on--she actually engages in conversation and provides informed commentary. The comments such posts receive run the ideology gamut but the conversation is usually lively and mostly intelligent. Not surprisingly, her novels have strong components of liberal politics and quests for social justice. Her posts on social media reflect that.
Conversely, I recently "friended" an author on Facebook whose political posts have drastically lowered my opinion of her. Previously, I'd had friendly conversations with her in person and online, and I regarded her as an intelligent and thoughtful woman. Unfortunately, she frequently posts shallow, even ignorant, political rants that have pretty ruined her credibility with me. By all accounts, she's an accomplished member of her non-writing profession, so kudos to her, but her Facebook posts make me cringe.
Obviously, I don't expect every conversation on Facebook or Twitter to have substance. Clearly, not--most of you've probably seen my own posts. I don't even expect every political discussion to be inoffensive or well thought out. But the fact is that when a "friend" continuously shares idiotic memes, forwards simplistic and factually questionable anecdotes of dubious authorship, and posts links to "news" stories that are hopelessly partisan and divisive, I can't help but form a negative opinion of the person, or at the very least, question their capacity for critical thinking.
I'm not saying an author (or anyone else) shouldn't share opinions or challenge people with controversial subjects on social media and elsewhere. However, when you're tempted to post about such things, I would simply suggest that you consider A) whether whatever it is adds anything meaningful to the conversation and B) whether it's worth alienating or offending one or all of the three "Effs:" Friends, Family, and Fans. Because whether they comment or not, they're probably sitting at their computer screens, quietly passing judgement (or is it only me that does that)?
Maybe that doesn't matter to you, but as George Costanza so aptly put, "we're trying to live in a civilization here, people." Pursuant to that quest, I try to resist being offensive even if I'm not always successful. What I'm really saying is that I have no wish to offend just to offend, and I tend to think twice before I post about something controversial.
I'm curious. If you post controversial or political posts on social media, do you think of it as part of your author platform? Or are you just being yourself?
For me, it's the latter.
When I got my first publishing deal, I took a step back from writing about political and social issues for a while. But, those things are in my books, and I soon started to realise I'd just placed a gag on an important part of who I was.
Plus, for the second book I got a couple of reviews where people where clearly put off by what they saw as my politics in the book. (They read it wrong, actually, but that's fine, that's part of art.)
So I figured, since it's who I am, and since it's a theme That follows through into my books, speaking up again about these issues online would actually help. Not only would it let me be me, but it would also let certain readers know what they're in for if they pick up one of my books.
My political posts reached their height last summer with what was going on in Scotland. I probably won't do that many again, but it was good to have a platform to engage and debate.
But it isn't something that comes without cost. And it can be done badly; I've unfollowed a few writers lately because of posts that were just so ill-thought out, and reactionary.
My only real rule is; can I back this up with an argument. And if it's a link to a news story or a meme, I'll take the time to do the old-fashioned thing of looking it up first.
My blog is wholly author-focused. I rarely, if ever, post anything political there, though I may rant about publishing matters.
I'm more open on my Facebook personal page, though I'm more like;y to contribute comments to a discussion someone else has started. When I do lob the occasional incendiary post, I make every effort to back it up with facts, or at least display the logic I used to get there. I don't mind a little controversy.
My Facebook author page is for writing matters only.
Saves me all sorts of conflicts and allows me to focus on my core subjects: crime, deceit, murder, and their consequences.
I revel in the unreliable moral compass.
No one should endure any political commentary from such an unconventional perspective.
No one should take Henry Rollins' spoken word lyrics as policy guidance for good government. No one should expect a crime writer to offer social solutions that don't involve bullets and bodies.
My serious opinion in the guise of my writer self does not add a meaningful contribution to the social contract. I avoid it.
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