Wednesday, December 03, 2014

Social media question: posting about troublesome topics

Can an author have a public opinion on a controversial matter? I posted about the Ferguson case on my private Facebook and a reader went over-the-top. While it cost me a reader, I stand by what I said (which was neither in favor or against the verdict). It got me thinking that if an author has a measure of renown, will they be forever constrained to keeping their mouth shut about issues that, while controversial, are important? That would seem like a waste of influence to me.

There is no right or wrong answer here. There's only the measure of how much you're willing to risk for posting your opinions. You have every right to say whatever you want on your blog, up to and including posts that are racist, sexist, xenophobic and poorly spelled.

In exercising that right, you also tacitly agree to the consequences: readers may unfollow, unlike, and/or respond strongly to your opinions. Whether they continue to buy your books may be a very real concern.

Frankly I'm not interested in what a rock star has to say about Africa (and honest to god, I wish that man would learn some facts before going all We're Here to Save You) and I'm also extremely uninterested in what a movie star has to say about political matters, but I fear I am the exception since people with a lot of profile tend to get attention for every issue they want to speak on.

Am I going to stop buying U2 albums or seeing George Clooney movies? Probably not. BUT, and here's the great exception: I can't avoid seeing the promotions for U2 albums or George Clooney movies. I can NOT see anything about your book if I've stopped following you on Facebook and Twitter because you said something I thought was racist, sexist, xenophobic or poorly spelled.

You say it's a waste of influence. I ask you: what do you want to spend your influence capital on? Comments on current events or getting people to buy your book? It's your choice. Just understand you ARE making a choice when you post opinions on divisive topics.

On the other hand, you also get to find out who's nuts among your Facebook friends and Twitter followers.  That's always an interesting byproduct of a post like that.

And I'm assuming that your posts are well-reasoned and articulate, that the writing is clean and cogent, that you are writing to explain your position or persuade others to join your position. If you are writing to be bombastic or for click-bait, well, even if I agree with everything you say, I'm still removing myself from your radar screen.

Short answer: sure, post away but be prepared to cough up the price of the fall out, if any.


Kitty said...

I'd rather know the writers by their books and characters, not their personal opinions of hot-button issues, which is why I don't bother with their social media. But I do pay attention when they spout off in public on these issues, and I'm rarely impressed.

french sojourn said...

Great post.

"That's all I'm going to say bout that."

Anonymous said...

What a coinkydink. I just, and I mean within the past week or so, discussed what my blog is and isn't with a post titled WHITE NOISE.

I wrote it because everywhere I went on social media, somebody was spouting off about Ferguson. When I started blogging back in 2011, I made a conscientious decision to never write about religious, political or ripped from the headlines viewpoints. I'm proud of the fact - even though it was REALLY hard sometimes - to have held fast to that rule I imposed on myself.

For me personally, it's a turn off when someone who is well renowned suddenly decides the rest of us need to hear their opinion about "whatever." And even for those who aren't so well known, I honestly don't care.

On my post, one blogger pointed out that b/c she's writing non-fiction, it's different for her. I can see that separation, if, for instance, she plans to try and use some of her content for an essay/publication.

When I go to sites and see a huge rant about a topic like Ferguson, I just shut down mentally. In my case, if I've taken the time to develop a certain persona I wouldn't want to ruin it with my need to blister the ears of readers with what some might perceive as inflammatory.

It's not worth it. I like writing about writing. I like posting pics, or talking about books I've read. The backyard antics of squirrels. Weather. Clouds. Sunrises. Sunsets. The moon.

I mean, honestly. Who needs yet another opinion at this point? Don't we get enough of that with TV and radio?

Unknown said...

The question features an interesting oxymoron - calling a Facebook page "private" while noting they have readers on it and asking about a "public" opinion.

Facebook pages are not private, they are public. Facebook profiles can be private, if you set it up as such. IMHO, never should the two meet. A page should be what you use for your public author presence and that's where you should be friendly, accessible, and talk reading, writing, and light topics.

I would never recommend using a regular FB profile as your main author social media. The regular profile should be private, seriously locked down private, and that's for your family and actual friends, not readers, and that's where you can throw out all the opinions you want because it isn't affecting your business.

Also keep in mind that if you use "Sign in with Facebook" on news sites, any comments you make on those sites are publicly linked to your FB profile as are any comments you make on pages. In that regard, you would need to police yourself more if your real name and your writing name are the same and/or publicly connected.

Anonymous said...

Interesting. If I'm following a writer/actor/musician on FB or Twitter, it's because I do want to get a sense of them as a person. If I only want to know about their art or appearances, I'll check their official website. When it comes to blogs, I guess it depends on what the focus of their blog is or isn't. I post occasional (ok, semi-regular) rants on my blog, and those are among my most popular posts. Of course, I'm not on anybody's radar for fiction, non-fiction, or politics, so maybe my view would change with publication and/or popularity.

John "Ol' Chumbucket" Baur said...

I became a much more pleasant person about 20 years ago when I realized I didn't know everything.
I don't have a problem with anyone voicing an opinion. (You know the saying about what opinions are like.) What I insist on is that the opinion be voiced civilly, coherently, politely. I can respect an opinion counter to my own if it's expressed reasonably. When someone starts ranting, hurling invective at anyone who dares to disagrees, or making up their own set of facts, I tune out immediately. Sadly, there is so much more heat than light these days, and public discussion has gotten so coarse, that it's easier to stay out of the fray. But that leaves the debate in the hands of – for want of a better term I'll call them the lunatic fringe.
I'm a writer, but I'm also a citizen and feel it's not only my right but my duty to be part of the discussion.
It's important to pick your spots – don't go off on every headline and controversy. And spare us the outrage over minor issues. That only turns people off.
Be polite, be reasonable. Don't rise to the bait when the trolls are out. And be open to the possibility that you just might be wrong.

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

Okay, I will say it. I will step up and speak out, and I think this forum is SO SO HUGE, it will influence forever what you, your readers and commenters think of me. Okay, here goes, consequences be damned.
I hate lima beans. They are green pithy moles of the devil. There, I said it. Actually I feel better.
Regarding everything else I am a fence sitter, probably because I am a Libra.

Sam Mills said...

I think it also depends on your author persona. Sometimes social justice (or lack thereof) are an integral part of an author's work and creative intention, and when you follow that author you kind of expect the same in their blogging. Those authors will still get crazy flack from passersby because they become known supporters of a cause, but their readership isn't necessarily turned off by it (it might actually gain readership in your intended audience).

On the other hand, if I love somebody's cozy mystery series about cats and baking, and their blog suddenly explodes with a debate about a hot button political/social issue, it is REALLY going to take me aback. If I discover that we are polar opposites on an issue, it will make it harder for me to read their work untainted by my huffy reaction to their blog. Even if I agree with their position, I might be annoyed anyway because I went there for recipes and cat jokes and got something else.

Craig F said...

EEK, I was starting to like Carolynn with two nns. Now I can't anymore.

Lima beans are boss and if more people ate them there would be peace on earth.

Of course the canned people have screwed them up. If everyone grew speckled Lima Beans it would even cure Atmospheric Carbon Buildup(what the uninitiated call Global Warming).

Stephsco said...

I like finding new authors to follow on twitter so I can support them. Yesterday I stumbled upon a multi-published author's twitter that read like an illiterate high schooler. That plus vulgar language, name calling, and general WTF-ery, I was really surprised the author used their book cover as their image. This was not a personal only account. I'm all for expressing opinions, but expressing them poorly reflects poorly on the author and their books.

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

Well Craig, sometimes we have to just agree to disagree. Actually there would be peace on earth if there were no lima beans.

Anonymous said...

Hey, Carolynn!! I *like* lima beans! I've been known to mix them with Brussel sprouts and bring them to work to eat cold for lunch! And...and...and...I'm a Libra, too!!

oops...I guess that means we balance the issue out...

Lisa Bodenheim said...

I like Janet's question 'what do you want to spend your influence capital on?'

In certain arenas, I am out there with my political/theological opinions and beliefs. On my facebook page, not so much as family and friends are quite diverse.

IMO, influence works better through relationships of trust and in face-to-face conversations. OR, through a good story that sinks me inside a particular character's skin.

Stephen G Parks said...

Janet, I agree with your sentiment that being famous doesn’t automatically infuse one with any special level of knowledge about world issues, but I need to disagree with your example.

I spent five years working in various African countries (Mostly Namibia, South Africa, and Uganda) for various educational charities and of the celebrities I encountered, Bono was one of the most informed, intelligent, and in his own way, humble. His charity (, while being bombastic, did something so simple and yet powerful - it connected social and community activists on the continent and gave them space to meet and help each other. Yes, others are doing this also, including people I’ve worked for, but they don’t have his name to lend to it. And that name does have power. For these charities that he works with, getting to tell their donors that they’ve worked with Bono can greatly increase credibility and donor support. And he carefully vets these selected few.

There *are* examples of destructive celebrity “charitable activity” through-out the world, and everyone has their own examples (Yours apparently including Bono).

I have three examples, starting with Oprah’s school in South Africa, which poisoned the donor well for better-organized, but not-as-well-funded non-profit schools. Every time her school has a scandal or some obvious and easily avoidable problem, educational charities throughout Africa have to spend resources proving to their donors that they aren’t linked to it. So many people associate “charitable school” in “Africa” with Oprah that you have to continually disassociate yourself from her. Seriously, it can chew up a lot of your time and budget.

Madonna’s attempt at building a school in Malawi, which truly was a farce, almost ruined the reputations of some good African educators. In a nutshell, her naïveté slammed head first into entrenched nepotism and corruption, and the money was gone before construction of the school even began. She had done her due diligence in giving the school qualified educators as its board of governors, but she (and they) didn’t control the money.

And I guess I worry about Bill Gates. His sledgehammer approach to complex problems could end up doing more damage than good in the long run. As an example, mosquito nets won’t stop malaria, because the bread of mosquito that spread malaria are active when rural people are awake - sunrise and sunset. Also, malaria nets get used by children as fishing nets, which introduces poison into human diets. And before someone reading this says “Well, at least Gates is doing something. What about Steve Jobs?” There’s a lot of Jobs’ money in small, local educational charities in both the US and Africa. Most of it was done anonymously, the rest was given in his wife’s name. I know recipients.

As I said at the top, I agree with your point, but not your examples. It all depends on perspective.

Upon re-reading this, I realize that it’s off topic from the main point of your post, but I guess you touched a nerve. I was going to end with something pithy like “So it’s OK to keep buying U2 albums.” But I’m in Malaysia now, and it’s almost midnight. Pithy needs sleep.

Colin Smith said...

Janet, you're not alone. I too try to keep celebrities' opinions about hot-button issues separate from whether I buy their books/music or see their movies. I can enjoy their art without having to subscribe to (or enjoy) their opinions.

Donna's "White Noise" post was good, so good I commented on it. :) In my comment, I mentioned how I discuss theology on my blog partly because it's a topic I enjoy, and partly because I have two degrees in the subject and so I feel somewhat qualified to spout on theological issues. However, my aim is always to be interesting, educational, and winsome (as they used to say). Never to be insulting or rude.

I can understand celebs wanting to use their status to promote their pet causes. However, I think it's arrogant to assume that because millions buy your product, those same millions will buy your point-of-view. And often, these celebs are not the most articulate or persuasive spokespeople for that viewpoint. Why not leave the pontificating and arguing for the politicians and activists--at least when it comes to the public arena?

As for lima beans, I'm all for them. Yay for lima beans! But since I'm a vegetarian, you'd expect me to say that. ;)

I will grant you this, Carolynn: there probably would be more peas on earth without lima beans. :D

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

OMG Colin, how did I miss "peas on earth". You one upped me man.

Janet Reid said...

Stephen Parks comment above is an excellent example of how to post well on issues of the day. It's thoughtful, well-written, gives good examples and does not rely on opinion to make a his point.

The readers of this blog really are a good group.

Not to mention, hilarious.

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

I deleted my 11:57 comment.
For those who read it, yes I got the date wrong and can't believe I did. For those that didn't read it, I thank the almighty for the delete option.
I'm with you "Ol Chumbucket". I don't know everything.
But I do know corn 'beets' lima beans every day.

S.D.King said...

When I first signed up for facebook, one of the hardest things was feeling such disappointment with people that I thought I knew. I hope I am never a disappointment to those who count me as a friend.
Having said that, there are things that are worth risking a career over - things worth giving our lives for. "And the wisdom to know the difference."

Anonymous said...

Thank you, Colin. :)

Carolynn. For shame. It's obvious I'm not prejudiced like you. I love ALL vegetables. Yes, even poor rutabaga, who tries so hard to fit in.

Colin Smith said...

Donna: You're welcome. And like you, I have an unprejudiced love of vegetables. Indeed, as a vegetarian, you could say my love of veggies is ALL-CONSUMING... :D

Elissa M said...

I love to spout my opinions and I frequently go off on rants about various hot-button issues. But only in person, and only to my husband. He's usually got his nose in a book, and I'm not even sure he listens. Actually, I'm certain he knows I'm talking, but I don't know if his strategically timed grunts are affirmation or dissension.

When it comes to speaking with other people (or airing my thoughts in any public forum) I've found that most people would rather I listen to what they have to say than hear what I think. So I do my best to oblige them.

Anonymous said...

Colin - ALL CONSUMING. You funny man, you.

Elissa. Brace yourself. We are married to the very same man. What to do, what to do.

Carolynnwith2Ns said...

Elissa and Donna, I'm married to him too.

Alex said...

You buy U2 albums?!?!

Seriously though, depends how you go about it. You can be classy like Emma Watson and DiCaprio, or you can be a self-parody like Russell Brand.

Deep River said...

I always thought that if an author had a burning desire to address some issue in society, that he or she should do it in a novel. More has been accomplished by authors speaking through plot and character than by authors speaking themselves. "Uncle Tom's Cabin" and "The Jungle" are examples that spring to mind. And aren't we always looking for good material that fuels our passion?

Deep River said...

Carolynn, I understand your feeling about Lima beans. They fall in the category of food known to children as 'crud'. But the Lima bean is the unsung hero of beans. Put him with his friends - the red bean, the black bean, the pinto and the chick pea - along with stewed tomato and seasoning, and you'll have a delicious vegan chili full of legume goodness. And forget not his heroic role in paellas from Valencia. That crud we kids hid under our mashed potatoes has hidden depths in his soul, yearning for love.

Unknown said...

Yep. There's a reason this blog shows up in my favorites.

I feel as if I've had intelligent friends over for the evening and enjoyed a good, thoughtful discussion spiced with humor and good cigars.

Bravo, you guys. People don't suck nearly so much as the news would have us believe.

Lilac said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Lilac said...

Deep River, "Uncle Tom's Cabin" and "The Jungle" are beautiful examples.

The thing is, sometimes terrible things take place in the world which call for immediate attention/action. By the time I write a novel about this, edit it, query it, publish it – let's say I'm lucky, everything speeds up especially for me. Still, it might be too late.

On a happier note, the vegan dish with the Lima beans sounds delicious.

Carolynnwith2Ns and catjenkins, 3 is a charm. I'm a Libra too. And a fence sitter on various issues: I have witnesses. ;)

T. D. Hart, I couldn't agree with you more.

Susan Bonifant said...

Dear Universe: I promise, no matter what happens, no matter how taken I become with myself, even if my next novel is a work of crime fiction so dizzying that Janet Reid herself represents it, no matter what wonderful luck shines on me, I will never, ever thank you with behavior like this on social media:

Love, Susan

Stephanie said...

An actor with a large following popular with the teen crowd, posted something similar on his public facebook page and it was not of the popular opinion. He lost a lot of followers and subsequently a lot of fans. As soon as I saw the post I thought, "well, that was inappropriate. And awkward."
Something as strong and controversial a topic as that, IMO, should be left to personal forums, where your family and real friends won't judge you and stop buying your books. It's not worth skewing your readers opinions of the person you are just to make a political statement. There is a professional forum and a private one. This of course is my opinion.

Anonymous said...

Personally, I wish entertainers would keep their mouths shut about political opinions. I have a large list of them I will never spend money on and it makes me sad, but sometimes you also express your opinion with your wallet. I especially despise the idea of going to a concert and having the performer stop it to do a political ad for a candidate. If I paid $50-400 to see you sing, don't you danged dare pelt me with a campaign ad. Support the troops, support America all you want, but leave your political campaigns to the campaign trail.

Sadly, I've also crossed some agents off my list due to remarks. I understand prevailing popular opinions, but my Iraq vet son has earned more respect than some remarks generated. The remarks weren't, of course, against him personally, but against him as a certain class.

Then another posted, "If you support this, then just unfollow me right now and don't contact me." It wouldn't have mattered what or who I supported, I don't want someone in the publishing industry dictating how people should vote or believe.

I know this is going to cause a crap storm, but unless you have fairly liberal opinions keep your mouth shut for your own good. Conservative actors have already said their work suffers by their stances.

Janet, I know this will be a controversial post. If you think it's too much so, don't post it. You know I adore you. I don't want to cause trouble.

Anonymous said...

"what do you want to spend your influence capital on?" That's really the question. I've heard of authors who just want to be book-making machines, and others who want to have a voice that makes a difference in social settings. Whichever you prefer, it's still best to stop caring TOO much what people think. There will always be haters.

Anonymous said...

My two cents: Whenever I feel the need to shout my opinion about a hot button issue, I first take a look around at what other people are saying. 99.99999% of the time someone else who is better informed has already blogged/tweeted/Facebooked about it in a more intelligent and eloquent manner than I could have. So I just give them a like or a retweet or a thumbs up and keep my mouth shut because I have nothing of value to add to the conversation.

Erica Eliza said...

I don't mind when authors talk about relevant issues. If your book is about The Issue, it will attract readers who share your passion. The ones who care enough to track down your blog will agree with what you have to say. But if your normal writing has nothing to do with The Issue, then readers don't want to hear it. If you want to use your influence for good, don't write a post, write a book.

Panda in Chief said...

I usually don't get involved in social media comment wars. I agree that one can alienate readers that way. But I have had the situation where my creative work itself is what gets people riled up. I write a cartoon that I publish several times a week, and as I do have political views, sometimes they into my cartoons.
I recently had an interaction with a reader who was offended that I would insert my point of view (which obviously she disagreed with) into the mouth of an adorable panda.
I thought about how and if I should respond, and in a change from my normal mode, was kind and thoughtful in my response. We ended up having a thoughtful conversation about the role of art in regard to an artists personal beliefs, and in the end she apologized to me. So while I think that uncontrolled spouting off on Facebook or twitter is not generally a good idea, I think that if you really believe something, it does belong in your work. Just be prepared not to rip someone a new blowhole if they disagree with you. I'm sure I did not convert my reader to my point of view, but I think I demonstrated that even if we differ on somethings, we can agree on others.

Janet Reid said...

I like what you said Miz B.

DLM said...

I love what our Ol' Chumbucket and Carolynnwith2Ns had to say.

My blog is primarily intended to be the major (har) part of my authorial, and therefore professional, presence. The only censorial standard I apply is that anything I post must be something my mom, my coworkers, and my nieces can read. Agree or disagree, that's the only line I draw, apart from abstaining from PII (personally identifiable information) of any kind about any person or job or situation, ever. In fact, a number of my readers are current and former colleagues, which makes me hope it's working.

My genre is histfic, and sometimes gender roles and even diversity-guilt ("all I write about is white royalty"/"the gay character is demonized in this novel, I feel bad about that") have played into my writing posts. These are always kept intellectual, though it's not at all tricky to figure out my politics, for anyone reading my blog more than once. There are a handful of highly honest posts about what it is like to live as a woman (or a teenage girl, or a LITTLE girl) in our culture, which have never gotten anything but positive responses; interestingly, mostly from men. That's probably the most sensitive series I've ever allowed myself to publish.

I avoid profanity, anything but philosophical/historical/social commentary about sex, and invective ... but I don't actually *prohibit* myself anything other than discussing the sensitive particulars of my family, friends, or job. Some things are not "mine" to broadcast, and some things are outright dangerous to share. I'm highly protective in that way.

My blog doesn't get tons of comment, but I can see it gets traffic, and I know for a fact my traffic from our little community here has been very steady of late, with at least one very kindly compliment (not there, heh). If the people HERE are okay with it, I am gratified! :)

It's less a matter of avoidance than it is of choosing the mode of expression. I'm old enough that balance seems to be easier than it might have been once-uponna-time.

Wendy Qualls said...

I guess I may be looking at this from a different angle, but I love when authors (and agents) post/retweet opinions on important things, when those opinions match mine :-P That may sound flippant, but I think it's good to remember that "popular opinion" and "popular opinion among your readers may be completely different things. If your books feature characters who are strongly socially liberal, you can probably post liberal things without losing any readers you wouldn't have lost already. Same with if you write super-conservative inspirational romance - you can pretty safely share your conservative views without surprising anyone.

And - this is just me - I can name a dozen authors whom I support that much more because I know they think like I do. It's the difference between "I'll buy your book if I happen to run across it" and "I'm preordering and also I'll be on your street team and I'm giving the prequel to twelve people for Christmas."

Unknown said...

Each to his own, I say. If a celebrity or author feels strongly about something and wants to use their voice for this, it's up to them, and good on them, I say. Some of these people, like Bono and in Australia, Cate Blanchett, have intelligent and thoughtful opinions and I applaud their courage for speaking out.

Recently in Australia, a group of about 30 celebrities from all areas of life—actors, musicians, Australians of the Year, retired cricketers, and a writer (Tom Keneally who wrote Schindler's List)—got together and recorded a song, titled 'We're better than this'. It's about releasing the children of asylum seekers who our government currently holds in detention. In my opinion, this was a great use of the power of their celebrity to highlight abuse of children at the hands of our government.

You also seem to have forgotten one major point: although a writer might 'lose' some readers if they voice their opinion, they will gain others, and because these readers agree with the writer and are more likely to think along the same lines, they're more likely to enjoy that authors writing and themes anyway.