This month I got to see another author flame out on social media, annihilating their career in essentially seconds by failing to understand one, simple rule: social media is incompatible with professional life. Facebook was designed for college kids looking for dates. Twitter was designed for… actually, I don’t know who it’s for, but it’s turned out to be a receptacle for the absolute worst of the online worst. These are not venues for professionals to discuss anything of substance, and that goes doubly for anything beyond the most superficial.
In the interest of full disclosure, I’ll admit I fell into all the online traps, like flame wars and political posts and all that, though I was self-aware enough to know when enough was enough. In at least a couple of cases over the last few years, I’ve seen authors who really ought to know better put their whole head in front of the social media shotgun and pull both triggers. An ugly image, but not much less so than the offending online behavior in question.
Want to post pictures of your dog? Your food? Sunsets in Tahiti? Go nuts. Want to present yourself as a person who knows what’s appropriate to share with strangers and what isn’t? Stay away from social media. The temptation is far, far too great to step over the line of propriety, and once that line is crossed, there really is no coming back. Maybe some of the biggest and most powerful figures can put their foot in it repeatedly, but not you, dear reader. You are going to burn in Internet Hell.
It’s important to remember that the online world consists of millions of people you don’t know and will never know. If you wouldn’t stand directly in front of every single one of those people and say the exact same things you write, you are asking for trouble. Don’t share your politics. Don’t share your personal travails. Do yourself a favor and don’t even name your favorite Beatle. Not only does no one care about any of that stuff, but it’s really none of their business, anyway. Every person’s heartfelt opinion is another person’s outrage, so keep yours to yourself if you want to keep working.
There’s a school of thought which insists social media is an essential tool for writers. As advertising budgets at publishers have shrunk, the attitude has been that authors should pick up more and more of the slack, constantly entertaining the world via clever tweets, perfectly filtered Instagram photos and pithy Facebook updates. I could not care less about any of that, and I respectfully suggest you consider taking this stance.
At best social media is a time-wasting distraction. Every minute you spend reading tweets, looking at posts or perusing images is a minute lost. No work has been done. And if you’re not working, then by definition you’re goofing off. For someone like me, who depends on a steady income from producing fiction, goofing off is literally something I can’t afford.
This isn’t to say entertainment must fall by the wayside, or that one must work all the time. However, I’ll ask you this: would you rather spend your time scrolling through a feed (of whatever kind) that’s been shown by objective study to cause depression (link), or is it better spent reading a book, taking a walk, playing a game, talking to someone close to you, or simply watching television? I know my answer.
If you’re a writer and your publisher says you have to use social media to sell books, tell them no thanks. If your friends or family or coworkers insist you get a social media account to “keep up with everything,” don’t do it. There is no good to come of being on these services that outweighs their negatives. You are better off doing almost anything else. Your Twitter feed isn’t going to sell books. Your friends can send you a text if they want to go out. Your relatives can pick up the phone. You don’t need to see pictures of someone’s vacation, party or food.
And that’s why I don’t use social media.