When do problems become your business?

“It’s none of my business” is a phrase I hear and read a lot. Especially as a writer online, spending time with other writers on social media. Because… two reasons:

  1. Most writers are online primarily to sell books.
  2. Some writers, in trying to sell books, act like assholes.

So what happens is we have some people acting like assholes (lying, manipulating, spreading negativity, bullying, etc.) and other people just sitting by, biting their tongues for fear of offending the wrong group or losing friends or becoming the worst thing ever: unpopular.

As you might expect, this leads to an absolute infestation of assholes.flies_honey

It’s taken me a while to understand that this is just how things are online. (I’m not sure if every writing genre community is similar to m/m, of course I can only speak about my own experiences.) It was a painful and slow realization. But now my online interactions are easier, if a bit colder.

You know what hurts more than being teased or bullied? Being teased or bullied while your friends sit by, silently. Knowing that no one cares enough to speak up for you is the most hurtful thing. But it is a good lesson.

So, what I’m wondering about today is: when do we have a responsibility to speak up? When does it become our business? I guess I could also ask: What kind of a community do we want?

Because that is what we are doing, when we decide whether or not to speak up: we are molding our community. The things we will tolerate, the things we won’t, all that comes together to form the standards to which we hold each other.

In the m/m Romance genre, it has become acceptable to create an online persona and to aggressively role-play that persona. It has happened four times (at least) since I joined the m/m online community three years ago. The first time I didn’t notice. It didn’t involve anyone in my (then tiny) circle of friends. The next time, I noticed. (To be clear, I wasn’t truly “catfished” in the financial or romantic sense, but I was deeply hurt in the aftermath of the whole debacle. See, at the time I could not believe such a thing had occurred, and I was shocked at the willing acceptance of the community for those who had lied. Many people even called the liars “brave” and said what they’d done was understandable and should have been expected, and that I was the foolish one for believing.) Then there was another catfishing drama, which again involved those outside of my circle.

Now, there is another episode, and there are more people speaking up. Maybe because this time money changed hands. (Just to note: money ALWAYS changes hands in these things. It doesn’t have to be a donation or a gift. When you share someone’s post promoting their book, you are putting money in their pocket. When you give a friend a positive review, they profit from it. So even those catfishers who never asked for money outright have profited from their fake personas.) Maybe because some of those hurt were more popular than the catfisher. I don’t know. I’m glad to see people speaking up, though.

Because I like the m/m genre. I love writing and reading m/m Romances. And in order to do that, I have to have at least a minimal online presence. I have to promote my books, and I need to form connections with people for my own sanity. Writing is a solitary thing, and authors need to rely on each other. I also need to be online in order to find editors, beta readers, cover artists, and reviewers.

I’ve heard people saying “you shouldn’t trust anyone online” and I guess that makes sense. If all I have to go on is your word, I suppose it is wise to remember there is a possibility you are lying to me. But what choice do I have?

When I give my work to another author for beta reading, I am trusting that they will not pirate my work. I am also trusting they will give me honest feedback. Further, I’m trusting that if they make a comment like: “As an ER nurse, this scene is not accurate,” they actually are an ER nurse and not someone who just really likes ER nurses or who always wanted to be an ER nurse or who feels like an ER nurse on the inside and so pretends to be one online.

When I hire an editor, formatter, or cover artist, I am trusting they will do the promised work and not disappear with my money. I am trusting they will behave in a professional manner, and not share my work with others without my permission. I am trusting their credentials are accurately represented.

According to the “you shouldn’t trust anyone online” mantra, I would never be able to hire anyone that I haven’t met personally. I should never form a critique partnership with anyone. Never believe anyone when they tell me of their life experiences. Never donate to a gofundme. Never offer sympathy or support. Never make friends.

That isn’t the kind of “online” I want. That isn’t the kind of person I want to be, either.

I think there is another way. I think if we all speak up when we witness bad behavior, it would make our community a better place.  How about if we don’t wait for the “big names” to voice an opinion before we state our own? Instead of blindly siding with the more popular author in a conflict, what if we looked at the issue and followed our own moral compass, regardless of author rank or social media popularity of those involved?do_nothing

In this latest scandal, lots of people have expressed “outrage” and have wondered at how such a thing could happen. I will tell you: it happens because we let it. Because all the times when it happened before, no one spoke up, no one cared. We made this behavior acceptable when we decided it wasn’t our business to call it out.

Now, I’m not saying we should all turn into busybodies who police each other’s online behavior. But when we see someone doing wrong, hurting people, or making our genre look bad, maybe we could speak up?


4 thoughts on “When do problems become your business?

  1. https://www.google.co.uk/webhp?sourceid=chrome-instant&ion=1&espv=2&ie=UTF-8#q=monica+lewinsky+ted+talk+youtube

    This is the recent Lewinksy Lecture.

    I’ve always spoke up against abuse online or off it. What happens a lot of the time is that when you speak up you, yourself, are publicly shamed and attacked. This happened as recently as one month ago when I openly protested at the toleration of homophobia and sexist trolling while moderate, intelligent discussions are shut down. Nothing was done about the troll. Yesterday, the troll made a series of vitrolic anti-semitic remarkes. He’s still there. You can’t actually stop asshattery by limiting the freedoms of non-asshats, but it seems to be easier to do this than deal with the asshats.

    I’ll be posting on my other blog shortly (I’m signed in as quarterday today) about how to spot and deal with a Cyberbully in online discussions (how they operate, warning signs) but I thin Monica has it right: we now live in a culture of shame: where humiliation is commoditised. Writers are under increasing pressure to market their work with themselves, and that doesnt bode well. The poet and cultural historical Richard Barnett (whose book I reviewed for Quarterday) writes “tomorrow…we will keep bees for the wrong reasons. Tomrorow there will be no more words said in private.” Monica was the first victim of that cultural shift. Bill is now a charming old rogue. Monica was nearly humiliated to death.

    Online is not really separate from IRL. It’s a place where IRL is lived. I have many personal connections and people I count as close friends — who would be round at my house every weekend if we live closer. Speaking as someone who CANNOT remain silent when there’s online douchebaggery (essentially no different than I am off;-line) I can tell you the first thing a cyberbully does is target anyone who stands between them and the person they are bullying. This has happened quite a lot. Last year a friend of mine was bullied out of a Romance writers group. I stood up for her, and pointed out the discussion had been bullying. I was immediately rounded on. My posts across the entire community were reported to the moderators. The speed and viciousness of these attacks was phenomenal.

    All it actually takes is a for a view people sensitized to a problem to say “enough.”

    Those folks are few and far between.

    • I agree. People need to speak up. And online is “real life” for all of us.
      There is power in online communities. And wherever there is power, there will be people who abuse it.
      I’m sorry that happened to you. I’m not surprised, though. I know (I think) who you are talking about (the leader of that group) and that person does seem to enjoy her power quite a bit. I left her group along time ago.
      If I’d seen any bullying going on I’d have spoken up, too.

  2. There has to be trust, or our lives would be sharply curtailed. That makes it even more distressing when that trust is betrayed. Those who have been betrayed have every right to be hurt or angry. They don’t have the right to threaten the person, post their personal information on the internet, or do any of that sort of bullying in response. But by all means they have every right to say they are angry and say in detail why they are angry, and they ought not be shamed for doing so.

    I’ve withdrawn from people who created online personas that turned out to not be real. I had become emotionally invested in their fictional personas thinking it was the real them. Finding out I had been lied to hurt. While I can understand their reasons for creating those personas, that doesn’t mean I ought to trust they are telling the truth about who they really are. After all, if they lied about that, how do I know their “confession” wasn’t also a lie?

    When I was in search of online community and did not want to reveal my true identity, I created an anonymous blog. I didn’t pass off that anonymous person as a real one. I simply chose not to share my photo, real name, or location. I prefer that practice to creating elaborate false personas and then hurting people with a reveal later on down the road.

    • I totally agree. There is no excuse for bullying, and revealing personal info/doxxing is never ok.
      But I also have zero interest in befriending or following those with fake personas. As you said, there are a lot of ways to be anonymous, and lying is never necessary. (Basically, I am against hurting people, period! lol)
      I don’t share my real name, or my family member’s names or photos, and yet I’ve never had to outright lie or pretend to be anything other than what I am: a completely boring person who sometimes writes books 🙂

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