When I started blogging and doing The Social Media around 2007 (grandpa alert!), the conventional wisdom was that authors should steer clear of politics.
You don’t want to alienate half of your audience! Those are potential readers out there! Let’s all get along!
It’s interesting in a way that authors were ever cautious around politics, given the role that artists and writers have played throughout history in protest, satire, and thought leadership. But whatever caution existed in the early days has eroded.
Around five years ago, I began noticing a slow but steady change in the direction of open season for politics. Now there’s almost an expectation that authors will openly engage in advocacy.
I’ve been slow to go political on social media, but this election has shaken me up and loosened whatever restraints I was feeling. What’s happening, and what could happen if we’re not vigilant, is just too important.
I’ve also already noticed a steady stream of unfollowers on Twitter as I post more openly political thoughts. That’s obviously a tiny price to pay to stand up for what I believe is right, but it does speak to the potential for divisiveness.
How have you navigated this landscape? What do you think is the right approach? Have you unfollowed or given up reading an author because you didn’t like their politics?
Art: Painting of Battle at Soufflot barricades by Horace Vernet
Tracy Hahn-Burkett says
I have always spoken, carefully and in limited fashion, about politics. But I have not yet published a book, and politics and policy was my former career. It's an area of expertise and a part of who I am. I also wrote pieces and left comments with my eyes open: I have always known that speaking up politically might carry a price in terms of literary audience, so I've always made sure that when I spoke up, I thought the issue was worth it.
This is still true, but the playing field has changed. This country is in new political territory; we are, it seems, in an existential crisis. The actual fabric of our democracy–a tired phrase containing real meaning–is under attack, women and members of minority groups are already suffering pain from the results of this election. There's a time to speak up, a time when people who have the power of the pen need to use it on behalf of those who don't have that power.
We're the writers. We're the ones with the pens. If we don't write what we believe in a time of crisis, then how can we expect anyone else to use their hearts, minds, bodies and skills to stand up, either?
Other Lisa says
Hah, well, Nathan, you know me. I've pretty much made no secret of my politics since I started publishing, and I have gotten much more outspoken since then. I'm fortunate (?) in that my books have overt political themes, so it really shouldn't come as a shock that I have strong political views. I write in part because I DO have political views and I think it is important to get these things out there — not in a didactic way, but deeply embedded in stories and characters — I feel as though this can create empathy that bypasses some of the automatic barriers that people put up against beliefs that challenge theirs. The art has to come first, of course, but look at Dickens — he was an overtly political writer if ever there was one doing popular work.
Anyway. I'm with you. The political situation now is too dire not to speak out, IMO. At least for me. If that loses me some readers, so be it. But I probably would have lost them from my books anyway. It is a trickier thing to navigate when your books are NOT political. I have a friend who writes cozies who was telling me about another cozy writer on the NYT best seller list who is getting reams of hate mail because she had a lesbian couple in one of her books. I don't know WTF you do about that. My friend also has a lesbian couple in her new book but hasn't gotten the flak — she smiled and said probably because she isn't a NYT best seller. But even cozies have to reflect the world they exist in — are authors supposed to pretend that gay people don't exist? What about interracial relationships? Just don't write those because that might offend some peoples' sensibilities?
What I see happening is an even greater division of fiction into market segments. Here's some all-white romance with no gay people for those of you who don't like diversity!
What a timely post. I, too, in the past, kept my opinions to myself because…everyone's got one, right? At the same time, I never did, and never shall, keep my principles to myself, because a person *is* his or her principles. If one party disparages LGBTIQ, POC, the environment, kittens, puppies, baby seals and so forth..that's not my party. At the same time, "my" party has power-boated so far from its roots that I can hardly recognize it any more; this view, judging by the recent election, is shared by other Americans. But I digress. I do not lie to my readers, but when I do speak my personal truth, my posts include an attempt to be balanced and fair. (Note: To some readers, "balanced and fair" means I lean left; for them, the only possible "balance" is total agreement with them.) I am notorious for playing "devil's advocate" to the regular annoyance of friends who wish I'd just shut up and agree with them.
Mary Kate says
I'm at the point where anyone NOT speaking out about what's going on is probably going to get an unfollow from me. I've stopped following a couple (lifestyle) bloggers I used to like because they said not a single word during this election cycle. Fortunately (for me, because I like these people!), all my favorite author bloggers have been outspoken about standing on the right side of history. Perhaps because in order to write fiction, we need a tremendous amount of empathy, something that so many people these days seem to lack?
With great power comes great responsibility. If you have the power to reach lots of people, not using it for good to me is inexcusable. I have no such power as I haven't (yet) published any books, but if I someday have that power I will do everything I can to fight for what is right.
Thank you for speaking out!
Personally, I would like to see political posting as a whole slow down. I don't mind a few posts about facts or a person's beliefs, even up to one a day if it's interspersed with other topics. But there's too much National Enquirer type of news going around. And way too many posts calling the other side uneducated, unchristian, racists, etc. (Democrats can be Christian and Republicans aren't necessarily racists – the majority of both sides are good people).
I've stopped following family members because they posted way too much. So, yeah, I'll stop following artists if they cross the line.
Now, if your platform is political, then that's another story.
Everyone has a right to an opinion. And you shouldn't have to hide your opinion. Stand up for what you believe in. But don't piss people off either. Remember, more than likely, I didn't follow an artist on facebook to be bombarded with their political views.
The way I look at it is, if you had a group of friends over, some agreeing with you politically and some not, would you still post what you're about to? And would you say it in the same way? This is a good philosophy for people in general.
Rachel Eliason says
I think it depends a lot on your genre and your audience. As a transgender woman and science fiction writer, there are many political issues that are closely tied to my personal identity and to my readership as well. I might lose some followers on social media by being open about my views on things, but the remaining following becomes more engaged. So it's a mixed bag.
Even if it does cost sales, I agree. It's worth it to feel honest about my views.
It's always a great idea to shove your political wang down the throats of others and cut your potential audience in half.
Over the last several years, the online writing community has become champions of diversity… but only when it comes to certain *acceptable* demographics. There is absolutely no room for diverse *thought* amongst writers, especially on Twitter, where we must all be like-minded, or risk being ostracized. Somewhere along the way, we've created a dangerously exclusive environment, silencing any minority point of view or thought with a gang-like mentality, refusing to be challenged. Because we are more interested in being *right*, and less interested in effecting change in those who disagree with us. And we are so proud of ourselves for this accomplishment. We are so diverse in appearance. But we all think the same, we all sound the same, and that is a very comfortable, safe place to be. Safe and sound in the Twitter echo chamber we've created. Imagine all the ideas that will come out of this safe and stagnant place!
Then Trump is elected. Everyone is shocked, angry, terrified. No time for self-reflection. We've already agreed we're right, right? The only people to blame are other people, right? The ones we've already silenced. So we pin safety pins on our shirts, and change our profile pictures, so all of our like-minded friends will know where we stand! It's a powerful sentiment. The safety pin is an ingenious symbol. Not just to show solidarity with those who feel unsafe after this election, but to show how closed we are to any other view or thought that challenges what we already know to be true. And in doing so, others will remain closed to us in return. But that's ok, because we are right. We are wholly ineffective, but we are right. And that's all that matters to us.
If we cared about being effective, we would unpin those safety pins, use them to pop the bubble that we've been living in for the last few years, and we would begin to assimilate with people who have different views than us again. We would take our own advice on inclusivity, and we would stop talking and start listening. We would create an open community where it's safe to share ideas that differ from our own. You know, safe but open. Rather than safe, but closed.
So, you're right. These are terrifying times. You'd think a community of writers would recognize a cliche dystopian novel when they're living one.
Nathan Bransford says
I wonder if one of you could articulate why you decided to comment anonymously. I don't mean that in an accusatory way, just would like to hear your perspective on that.
Do you really not know, Nathan? As if I could express such dissenting thoughts openly to the writing community. Even ask Mary Kate up there.
6:30 anon commenter
Nathan Bransford says
If I knew for sure I wouldn't be asking! Wanted to hear one of you articulate what you fear happening w/out anonymity.
This is more than a fear. This is a fact. There is a singular acceptable point of view in the writing community. Those who have a different point of view have learned to stop talking a long time ago. Maybe I shouldn't be surprised that you didn't know this, but I kind of thought everyone was aware on some level.
You know in Mockingjay, when Katniss suddenly realizes that it's not President Snow who has become dangerous, but President Coin? We're not *quite* there, but we're getting close.
My general rule is that I'll mention politics on my facebook account, but I try to avoid them on my blog and twitter account. On Twitter, I will respond to friends' political posts, but I don't speak first. Maybe I've gotten cynical in my "old" age (mid-twenties) but I feel there's no way my voice will be heard enough to make a real difference, at least not on Twitter or my blog. (My writing may get a bit more political. Maybe I still have hope my fiction can change minds, even if my nonfiction won't.)
The exception to this rule is politics related to writing. I have blogged about diversity a little, and I'm not going to refuse to blog about hot button book topics.
I have too noticed an intolerance of other beliefs, which comes from both sides of the spectrum. I have quit following people, or even buying books, due to their political posts, not because I think they're stupid or evil, but I don't have time for certain things. I'm not going to try to stop others from reading their books, or start some kind of hateful twitter attacks against them.
Nathan Bransford says
I've been pretty disconnected from social media the past year and a half. I guess I'm asking for more specificity – what points of view do you feel aren't supported and what penalties do you see that leads you to comment anonymously? I swear I'm not being intentionally obtuse.
I am posting anonymously for the same reason (I assume) as the person who did so above. Politically, I fall somewhere between Libertarian and Conservative. Among the YA writing community (which I aspire to join–I have an agent and hope to be on submission soon!), the only political opinions I see discussed are liberal ones.
I honestly fear that if I gave my real opinions about anything, I would either be verbally attacked or–depending on an editor's personal political POV– less likely to be published.
I spent most of this election cycle frustrated. I had intense disdain for both Trump and Clinton, and didn't vote for either of them (I did vote!). But I am concerned about what the overlap between LGTBQ rights and religious freedom will look like in the next few decades, and believe the appointment of the next few Supreme Court Justices is crucial. I am tired of being called a racist because I disagree with liberal economic (and sometimes social) policies. I hate that being pro-life means being labeled "anti-feminist." I don't feel like I can say any of that openly on social media.
And yes, I am unfollowing authors in droves right now. I stay off Facebook because I hated the constant political posts there. I joined Twitter and Instagram partially to find "my" people on the internet–people who talked about writing and books and certain aspects of their personal lives. People who focused on what brings them joy and unites us, not on what drives us all apart.
I'm interested in politics. But I want to hear what political commentators–on both sides of the aisle–have to say, not YA authors. I want YA authors to talk about books.
Nathan Bransford says
Thanks, Anon @8:32.
A lot to chew on here, I'm giving it some thought.
Rachel Capps says
I'm Australian so don't know enough to comment on American politics but I'd reserve any political views to a ''friends only" Facebook and Twitter for information on writing.
I'd be inclined to drop anyone if they post anything too much- doesn't need to be political oriented. Just gets boring but my tolerance level is high before that happens – everyone is entitled to an opinion and I don't mind them sharing reasonably.
Like this is an interesting topic to see how everyone's thinking.
BYW, I followed you way back in 2007! And bought Jacob's wonderbar for my 10 year old son…
First off, welcome back to the blogosphere (is it still called that?)… I missed your insightful and entertaining posts.
I think authors can and should say what they want… I would never unfollow anyone based on their political views. If that's the only thing they talk about though, I might stop paying attention to them.
I'm not American so I can't say too much about American politics, but echoing some of the previous comments here, it certainly does seem like most people in this industry are fiercely in the Democrat camp. I can understand why new writers are afraid to openly express Republican views, as I don't doubt it would negatively impact their odds in a game that already has terrible odds.
Sophie Ahn says
Nathan, I think that what you're doing is tremendously brave. Both words and silence have their own kind of power, but speaking out is a whole lot harder than keeping quiet. If going on the offensive means offending (intentionally or otherwise)–so be it. Writing is never done in a vacuum (unless you're a hilarious botanist astronaut stranded on Mars). If you feel passionately about something, if you feel compelled to present yourself as a safe place for Muslims, Hispanics, blacks, the LGBQT community, immigrants, anyone different from yourself, then you need to lean (in) toward one side of the fence.
I sincerely hope you don't get discouraged or feel abandoned by your readership. I just want to thank you for your words and for struggling with them. It only proves that things are never simple, that people are complicated, and that honesty and goodness can be costly. (Maybe there's some sort of loophole in the tax code for that kind of thing though.)
P.S. For the people out there who prefer to stay utterly neutral, the trick is to do it face down with the post in your mouth à la Dwight Schrute.
Nathan, I doubt this is news to you, but the writing community is largely liberal. Somewhere along the way, we have decided that any view that differs from the liberal point of view is not only uneducated, but abhorrent. Whether intentional or not, we have effectively silenced all opposing points of view. And we now spend all of our time agreeing with each other and patting each other on the back for being so open minded and accepting. After all, there is no one left to really challenge us, no one left to "tone police" us.
Since you asked, these are some things off the top of my head that I'd like to challenge in the writing community, but cannot without risking my career and/or being verbally attacked with a gang-like mentality:
1) The validity of the "tone policing" argument
2) That discrimination against conservative views in the writer community is not only acceptable, but encouraged
3) The use of the acronym WHAM and what it means
4) The collective reaction to this election in the writing community, and the idea that this somehow proves what we've known all along: conservatives are racist/sexist/bigots/etc
5) That there are people in the writing community who we regularly silence through group intimidation
6) That we sometimes use labels like racist, sexist, bigot, etc irresponsibly, and that admitting this does not negate that racism, sexism, bigotry, etc exists
7) That we ignore all demographics that aren't related to race, gender, sexual orientation, disability, and a few select religions
8) That when we talk about politics, it's only in relation to social issues
9) How we refuse to accept that this election was about anything other than what we hold dear (social issues) when there were multiple important issues that we may have chosen to ignore
10) That whole safety pin thing and what it unintentionally symbolizes
11) That we are more focused on being right, and less focused on effecting change.
12) That we are frustrated, baffled, angry, scared, etc by the outcome of this election, but refuse to self-reflect on this, when we spent the last year weeding out any dissenting view or opinion in the writing community and surrounding ourselves with like-minded people who won't challenge us on some of these positions
13) How insulting and painful this collective reaction must be to an entire demographic (you know, conservatives, who we pretend don't exist in the writing community)
14) That we are starting to all sound the same, recycling the same thoughts and vocabulary, and our work will reflect this
I'll stop there I guess.
You said in your post that there is an expectation that authors openly engage in advocacy. Advocacy for *what* exactly? Are saying there is an expectation that we all advocate for the same things? Because we all agree, right? Even Mary Kate said it. Now, if you don't agree, you can't even remain silent to avoid scorn. If you are on the "right side" and aren't "brave" enough to speak out about it (amongst all of us safe, like-minded writers), you will be unfollowed. It's a great way to weed out the undesirables. Speak up, or we can assume you don't agree with us. Brave, indeed. (And maybe vaguely creepy, a la President Coin)
Anyway, thank you for asking, Nathan. I appreciate it.
Anon @ 6:30
It's ok to have and express your opinions. The problem begins when you think that they count more than those of "regular" people just because you are a writer (our some kind of celebrity.) If you feel the urge to express yourself BECAUSE you think that's your role as a writer, then you may be in the wrong business.
Jaimie Teekell says
Thanks Anon for your comments. I think these things should be said more, and I'm sad that you can't say them openly for fear of monetary loss. The threat is real.
Nathan, don't you remember all those witch hunts that happened in 2011? Ha, I guessed this date and looks like I was right, because you posted about it that year. (https://nbrans.wpengine.com/2011/04/virtual-witch-hunts.html) And there I am in the comments, worrying about it. That post wasn't about witch hunts around social issues… but it was about behavior policing. And I'm sure you remember the several lynchings that DID involve social issues.
I think it was around this time that authors realized that they all pretty much agreed on social issues, or "politics" as Anon has [I think correctly] represented what this is viewed as in his/her point 8. Even when you are talking about politics in this post, don't you just mean social issues? Of course social issues ARE politics, but gosh, you'd think that was the beginning and end of it. Maybe that's why everyone was alarmed that the election of Trump reflected people's views on social issues when it's entirely possible none of them give a rat's ass about the rhetoric of social issues when they're in debt up to their eyeballs for lack of income and sick of government doing nothing to help. And/or they were scared of Clinton after the GOP pervasively painted her as a crook and a liar.
I voted 3rd party, incidentally. I don't think Trump was the solution, but I can empathize with those who do. And being in Texas, I have the luxury of voting 3rd party and not being conflicted about the "lesser of two evils" conundrum. (Although as Dan Carlin says, if everyone keeps voting for the lesser of two evils, eventually you're going to get to the same place anyway.)
The writing community likes talking about politics in so much as they all get warm fuzzies over collectively telling people who don't agree with them to shove off. Usually not to their faces. To repeat my thesis, the witch hunts revealed that.
Thank you again, Anon, and thank you, Nathan, for hosting this conversation.
Now to talk politics: I'm keeping a hard eye on Trump in relation to our 1st amendment rights. He's possibly just hired his Goebbels. This feels more destructive to American society than our social worries, although those are important too. (I contain multitudes; I can worry about both.) And I'm still mourning the almost total erosion of our 4th amendment rights.
Jaimie Teekell says
Reading through that post again, I think you're making some astute political observations about the liberal mob mentality, Nathan. Is your middle name Nostradamus? 😉
Just substitute "author" for "racist," and so forth.
What are the motives of the people trashing this author? Does anyone really think that a virtual mob scene is going to prevent authors from behaving unprofessionally in the future? Authors have been lashing out over bad reviews for several millenia, methinks an Internet freakout will not bring peace in our time.
In truth, the actions of a mob say a lot more about the people participating in them than the person being scorned. And I think in the dark heart of a mob you'll find a quiet sense of relief. People are secretly and ardently glad that they're not the ones being targeted.
You can feel the relief and sense of superiority in numbers behind the mocking: Well, at least I'm not that bad off. And a hundred strangers agree with me.
This is how we debate:
Undecided voter #1: “So, I’ve got this problem. I can’t afford my healthcare…”
Our response: “If you vote for Trump, you’re racist.”
Our friend’s response to us: “You are so brave for saying that.”
Undecided voter #2: “Everyone keeps saying unemployment has gone down, but I have to work two jobs just to keep up with my bills and put food on my table…”
Our response: “If you vote for Trump, you’re sexist.”
Our friend’s response to us: “Yep. These people claim they aren’t sexist, but if they vote for someone who is a sexist, they are enabling sexism. Which is the same thing.”
Undecided voter #3: “The company I’ve worked for my whole life is moving overseas, I’m about to lose my job…”
Our response: “What you are describing is called xenophobia.”
Our friend’s response: “Yep. When are these people going to get it? Keep fighting for what’s right!”
Undecided voters months leading up to the election: total silence.
Our response: “What the hell happened?!? The whole country is made up of uneducated white male racists!! We’ve got to save the country!”
Our friend’s response: “WHAT THE ACTUAL F*&%!!!!!! I am ashamed of my country right now.”
Previously undecided voter, turned Trump voter: “I’m actually not racist, it’s just that…”
Our response: “If anyone out there feels suicidal, please call this hotline…”
Our friend’s response: “I can’t believe this is happening! We need safe places!”
Previously undecided voter, turned Trump voter: “Wait you guys, the good news is I’m not racist. It’s just that…”
Our response: “If one more person claims they aren’t racist, I swear…”
Our friend’s response: “Why are you even following these racists?? This election is different. These are dangerous times. We HAVE to start speaking up.”
Previously undecided voter, turn Trump voter: total silence.
Just FYI, there's another election in four years. I'm not trying to insult anyone here. Just saying we might want to stop using shame and insults to silence anyone who has opposing views, and start listening. And this is a big problem in the writing community in particular, where we only want to address social issues, and we're quick to silence anyone who challenges that. We have a serious case of tunnel vision. We want to talk about kids and teens from marginalized families who are scared as a result of this election, and how important it is that we write for them. We don't want to talk about what's happening to kids and teens living in the rust belt. Because it's uninspiring.
C M Barrett says
John Grisham, who has taken on many political issues and who has never hesitated to write about racism, wrote a novel, Gray Mountain, about the lives of people in Appalachia. Yes, they're white. Yes, they're poor, and they are dying of black lung disease and cancer.
Maybe they voted for Trump. After reading this book, I can understand why someone who pretends to care about their lives might give them hope.
I'm not interested in any kind of liberalism that makes someone the enemy. I'm interested in compassion and in seeking to understand the truth of people's lives. I will write that truth as I see it.
Anita Rodgers says
I've posted political things but primarily try to stick to satire where politics is concerned. IN my humble opinion, the world already has plenty of opinions about everything coming from everywhere – mine, the world can live without.
The problem with politics is that each side (regardless of the side) thinks they're right and tend to condemn those who disagree with them, if not directly then by virtue of how they state their opinion.
I have stopped following authors (and others) who got too political for me. Not for what they said but the way in which they said it. One author in particular essentially said that anyone who didn't agree with his view was pond scum. Honestly, I don't need to hear that from someone whom I'm supporting as a reader.
My job is to write stories, not to tell people what they should believe in or that they should agree with my political views. I'm sticking to that.
I don't particularly want to read authors' political statements, esp. when they have nothing new or different to say. I do read some blogs where the author spends some time writing thoughtful discussion rather than venting about the evils of the opposite party or ex-candidate. Now that Trump's the president-elect, I'm not interested in hearing about what someone thinks he's going to do; I'd rather wait and see what he does before deciding whether I oppose it. I've seen many elections come and go, and campaign promises rarely get carried out. The Washington Post ran a story a few days ago about how many of Obama's campaign promises were accomplished… almost none. (I'm not going to check on that, by the way, so if anyone objects, go argue with the Post.)
I have sometimes unfollowed someone if his/her opinions is not the same as mine, or stopped reading some blogs, but not many — not because of their opinions so much as behavior. When I read online abuse of others for their views and political opinions, and misrepresentations of what they've said, or emotional ranting, I go elsewhere.
Many people online seem to want to do combat for their cause. Unfortunately, most lack the motivation or ability to make good arguments, and end up just sending nasty tweets. I guess it makes them feel good.
Of course you can flavor your writing blog with a little political discourse. It’s your blog, after all, and your right to do so.
However, don’t pretend we all share that kind of freedom. It’s no secret that the politics of publishing only leans in one direction.
But it’s quite right for the lady in front of me at the copy machine to look me up and down with disdain as I wait, in uniform, to make a copy of my will as part of my deployment checklist.
It’s quite right to have to roll up my bible in my underwear to escape the attention of the inspectors when I arrive in country.
It’s quite right to walk to the cadence of the jingle around my neck, dog tags against crucifix, mortality vying for immortality.
Don’t worry about your freedom to express your views openly. I’m willing to bleed to protect them.
And don’t chide me for being anonymous. I’m really not quite. I’m the Latina sitting quietly in the back of the room, applauding you at the Writer’s Digest conference.
Leah McClellan says
Great point about writers, poets, etc. having historically been involved in politics. Dante, Jonathan Swift, Hawthorne, Mary Wollstonecraft and so many others. With the current issue, I'm speaking out, though not to debate since that's not my business interest. But I'm not holding back from re-tweeting or sharing stuff I think is well-written or important.
I have a novel coming out and I'm a long-time blogger, but I don't care anymore who I alienate because, if they unfollow, they aren't my tribe. I don't need them. Related to this is how I've refrained, in the past, from flinging F-bombs and the like. (I speak both educatese and street slang fluently 🙂 I've changed that too in the last year or so. I don't need people who sit on a perch, miffed nose in the air, over language choices. They won't like my novel, anyway, or anything else I write. So why cultivate them if it means I have to hold back? You know that overused blogger buzzword "authentic?" Well, it seems to apply here.
And yes, I've unfollowed people for a lot of reasons including their politics but also their attitude and so many other things I just don't need to hear or see. Par for the course, seems to me. It's all in how it's presented, though. I don't unfollow/unfriend someone just because they have a different opinion.
G. B. Miller says
I've had to unfollow (but not unfriend) a few people on FB 'cause they simply could tone the rhetoric down a few hundred degrees. Beyond that, you can say what you want. Just don't expect me to pay attention to it.
It's our responsibility to stand up for what we believe in. In my case, that means those marginalized by our current climate, and the well-being of our country's legacy on freedom. Losing followers and book sales is a very small price to pay. I don't want my future generation to wonder why I didn't stand up to autocracy while I had the chance.
Andrea Rand says
Thank you, Nathan, for opening this discussion, and thanks to all of the respectful comments – I've enjoyed reading them. Thanks also to Anonymous, who is voicing a different perspective than what you many times see in writer circles, and it's a needed voice. I think it's really up to the author of how far you want to delve into politics publicly. It may turn some people off or it may create a more loyal following, but in the end I think we all need to do what we think in our heart is right. Now I will admit, I am a children's book author who leans politically conservative, and I can identify with Anon in some of his feelings. What really gets to me these days (and the whole election increased the rhetoric a thousand-fold) is the constant labeling of people and putting them into groups. I try very hard to teach my kids that skin color is just a color, and it doesn't matter your religion, gender, ethnicity, etc. – you see people as people – unique individuals who have had their own life experiences that have shaped them into who they are. But then you hear the media and all the politicians talking about this group or that class, and assuming because someone looks a certain way they must think a certain way. It's exhausting. To quote Bob, my wise, drooling unicorn in my Kibblestan stories, his advice for a country to stay free: "Value freedom. Treat each other as equals. And never forget history. Some of the worst evils come about when people start throwin' out labels, putting each other in some kind of group or class, instead of seein' people for what they really are. Just people."
Terin Miller says
Interesting question again. I try my best to remain neutral, and objective. That said, Social Media is designed to appeal to emotions far more than logic or objective facts. It's essentially its purpose.
I have lost some friends–not just "readers"–posting my personal opinions regarding particularly the current political environment.
I am beginning to think a writer's job is to write, perhaps to be a social observer like a journalist, but with the strength of voice and conviction of a critic. People for the past several years have all talked about "speaking truth to power," but have rarely, certainly in our country, had to do that at the risk of much more than losing a few readers.
I believe were I a "famous" writer, the fame would provide me a forum–and at least initially an audience–for my opinions with much greater effect than the somewhat hermetic Social Media.
The fact is, Social Media has done the same thing we suggested (grandpa alert!) the internet itself was going to do: it lets people who think they can write, write, whether they really can or not; Social Media lets people share their opinions, whether anyone else really cares or wants to know it or not.
I admit I use Facebook and Twitter essentially to promote myself–my writing, my friends, etc. It is at its heart a narcissistic medium, far more than "normal" writing.
I think narcissism is fine, as long as people are aware that is what it is: "look at/listen to me! I have an opinion!"
But I think writers should write–books and short stories, poems, screenplays, essays, whathaveyou–not spend too much time throwing their voices into what has shown itself largely to be an echo chamber, where everyone you know agrees with you, or, if they don't, either you or they end the relationship.
Chris Bailey says
It's important for writers and artists to take a stand. With social media, I've chosen to express my views using words that I hope address issues without naming or blaming candidates. We the people need to take responsibility. We need to understand our hopes and fears–and where they came from. We need to listen, but we should not fail to speak. I believe we will find common ground, even in this stew of anxiety. All people deserve to be treated with dignity and respect. It's just harder to remember that when they're loud, indecent, and threatening.
Nathan Bransford says
Deleting both Dr. Bloom's comment and Anon's retort. There are plenty of places to name-call on the Internet, I'd rather this not be one of them.
Nora Lester Murad, Palestine says
Human being first, author second. We have a responsibility as global citizens. These are hard times. No personal interest relieves us of our obligation to save humanity and the earth in the best ways we know how.
Edward Trimnell says
Interesting post, Nathan. I've struggled with this, too. I don't necessarily think you're wrong (as I said, I've struggled with this!), but here are a few potential counterpoints.
In 2007 (the date you use as a reference point), political commentary on the Internet was growing, but it was still reasonably small in scale. Now politics is everywhere: YouTube, Twitter, and our personal Facebook feeds. We literally can't get away from it.
The result is that most of the available pro-/anti-Trump arguments have already been made, somewhere on the Internet. And if you want more, on a given day, you can always visit DailyKos or Breitbart (depending on your political orientation).
In such an environment, it becomes increasingly difficult not to repeat what has already been said. I've tried to ask myself, "Is what I want to say about issue X truly original, or I am I merely restating arguments that have already been made elsewhere?"
In most cases, I come up with the latter answer–so I don't delve into politics on my social media accounts.
Then there is the bandwagon effect–where fiction writers (and other creative types) are concerned. Most fiction writers hold more or less the same set of fashionably leftwing views. This means that when fiction writers talk about politics, they tend to repeat and parrot each other: Lots of (largely repetitious) paeans to (undefined) diversity, and virtue-signalling condemnations of Donald Trump. If you've read two or three of those posts, you've read them all.
Finally, I try to see things from the perspective of a reader. When I visit Stephen King's Twitter feed of late, all the guy does is yammer about Donald Trump, and the Republican Governor of Maine. I don't mind that Stephen King is a left-leaning Democrat; but I don't go to Stephen King for political analysis. (I don't think that most people do.) As a reader, King's political posturing strikes me as self-indulgent.
For the sake of balance, I'll mention Brad Thor as well. Thor writes war-on-terror-espionage novels. His books make his right-leaning political views fairly clear. Once again, no problem with an author being right- or left-leaning. But Thor's Twitter feed is as overtly political as King's is–only in the opposite direction.
To speak to one of your observations, Nathan: In the last ten years, our society has gone from "avoid political controversy" to "everything and everyone must invoke the latest political controversy". I have to wonder: Do fiction writers really serve themselves or their readers by joining in, unless they truly have something original to say? Or are we better to focus on stories? As one character in Stephen King's 1986 novel 'It' remarked, “Politics always change. Stories never do.”
Too bad Stephen King has forgotten his own advice….
Cory Putman Oakes says
I used to be one of those authors who was very careful to remain politically neutral on social media. This election changed that for me – in the past few months I have obliterated all traces of that neutrality and I have some angst about it. I don't know whether it will impact my career positively, negatively, or at all. But for me, the angst at remaining silent when I truly had things I wanted to say was worse. I don't judge anybody (writers or non-writers) for not wanting to engage politically on social media – it's scary and trolls are real and it very well might come back to bite me. But for me personally, I got to a point where I felt like remaining silent was contributing to the negativity I was seeing all around me. I think the important thing for the writing community is that we all realize that speaking out comes with consequences and we all need to respect each other's decisions on this issue.