Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Authors: The Victims of Bullying?

I have to admit, the internet can be a scary place. Anybody who has ever dared had an opinion on anything - whether it's regarding the color of Angelina Jolie's dress or the competence of the latest presidential candidates - has probably experienced some sort of cyber bullying. You know what I'm talking about. Somebody leaves a hateful comment on your post, or someone says something mean to you on Twitter. Sound like a surface-level problem? In many cases, it is. But for public figures? Not so much. 

Any public figure, from author to athlete, has become a target for online harassment. I've been lucky because I haven't experienced too much negativity online (I have a big base of loyal and loving fans), but I have been the victim of some pretty cruel comments by people who probably live in their parents' basement, gleaning a meager sustenance from animal crackers and mountain dew.

Hmmm, did that sound a little harsh? It should. I often find myself irritated that anybody, anywhere in the world, can log into any site and start talking about anyone. They can start horrible rumors (twitter, anyone?), post fake pictures (hello, Photoshop), and send you cruel letters (thank your email inbox for that one). But perhaps the question is this: here in America, we have freedom of speech, so if people want to post something stupid online, it’s their right, correct? Unfortunately, I fear that we’ve cultivated a culture of narcissists who sit at home and pound out their opinions on a keyboard, post it online, and then go back to real life.

I’ve had people tell me that they couldn’t stand me. I’ve had people call me stupid. I’ve had people say that I really had no business writing survivalist fiction because I’m a young female (please tell me how that even makes sense?). Another insisted that I was a horrible writer who had no grasp of the English language – and how dare I call myself a writer! One fellow even went so far as to insinuate that I was no more intelligent than a monkey. I’ve been ripped up and beat up in the digital world by those few, morally unattractive souls known as the internet “trolls.”

Hmm. Does my old author photo make me look "too girly"
to write survivalist fiction? Don't think so!
The funny thing about negativity is that it usually comes down to just a few mean people. I have about ninety-nine percent positive feedback from my reading community and fan base – but then there are the mean people. And somehow the thousands of lovely comments from fans are drowned out because five unkind comments from random people with usernames like “Jaws of Death” or “EmoGirl999,” are still ringing in my head.

Authors, when they get to a certain point of notoriety, become targets for hateful comments. I have found that there is never any rhyme or reason for the meanness. Some people are just that: mean. They don’t have a reason. That’s just the way they are, and the internet just makes that part of human nature more personal – more public. People enjoy shock value. If they hurt someone along the way, they don’t care. They feel powerful. Unfortunately for them, they’re just hiding behind a keyboard. People like that aren’t brave…they’re just bullies.

So are authors the victims of bullying? To a degree, I’d say yes. But let’s remember that everybody, at some point in his or her life, has been a victim of bullying. Can you think of a time anyone has ever said something hurtful or manipulative to you? Of course you can! The problem has gotten incredibly out of hand because of the internet. People log in, spit out vitriolic behavior, and log out again. It has robbed our society of accountability. You wouldn’t stand in the middle of a bookstore and shout out a horrible, degrading commentary about a well-known author at the top of your lungs. But people do it all the time online. What makes it different? Like I said, there are no consequences, so it’s free game, and the trolls come out from under the bridge and stir up trouble.

I think it’s important for authors to remember that for every mean comment, there are five thousand pleasant ones. The negativity is always the minority. With my Collapse Series and Zero Trilogy, I’ve got a massive reader and fan base whom I adore. I’m very blessed. I’m just saying that it is a problem.

Just recently, well-known author Cassandra Clare left her twitter account because of hateful comments that were being tweeted to her when fans weren’t happy about the casting of the Mortal Instruments television show. It was so intense, she couldn’t take it anymore, and had to log out for good. I think that’s so sad! People don’t need to be mean. There is no reason for it. Opinions used to be something that you discussed with your family or friends over dinner – not an incendiary public announcement that circulates to millions of people.

So what is my point? First, people can be mean. That’s just a fact. (Insert Taylor Swift’s Mean here). Second, for authors like myself, the best way to deal with that is to ignore it. We have to stay the course. With the internet comes both good and bad, and learning to deal with the bad is the best way to enjoy the good. I encourage authors to turn their backs on negativity, to ignore it completely. Engaging with a troll is bad news. It just hurts your feelings and gives them attention. Keep it to yourself. Vent to your husband or wife or friends. But don’t respond online, because that brings you down to that level.

Most of all: KEEP WRITING.

It’s easy to get lost in the frenetic blur of online excitement, but it’s important to remember that staking your self-worth in the approval of others isn’t wise. It’s not wise in the real world, and it’s certainly not wise online. Value yourself. Believe in yourself. Keep your chin up, and never stop what you’re doing. Mean people are angry people, so don’t be that way. Be happy, and stay the course.  

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