“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:
- Most writers are online primarily to sell books.
- 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.
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?
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?