Wednesday, March 28, 2012

When Internet posts come back to bite you in the ass

First off, I did a guest post over at Paper Mountain, where blogger Brooke asked me to write about being a young author. Hop on over if you're interested.


Today, I'm going to talk about the Internet and what's appropriate to post in a public forum. This is a very subjective topic; what's appropriate to one agent or editor might offend another, and as a teenager with lots of teenaged friends I'm not necessarily used to censoring myself. A few months ago, my agent told me to go through all my blog posts, tweets, etc, just to make sure I hadn't posted anything that could possibly alienate an editor. Bad book reviews fall into this category....I know many of us love reviewing, but if an editor navigates to your page and the first thing they see is a one-star review for a book they acquired, you're not going to make a good first impression. With me, this isn't an issue. I only ever post reviews for books that I love. But what about swearing? Information that might be too personal? And how does Facebook fit into the mix? My Facebook started out as a place where I connected with school friends, but it has grown to include other YA writers, agents, and book sellers. It's still set to private (so only friends can view my profile), but my business and social lives have begun to mix.

But first, an anecdote. Last year I won Utah's Sterling Scholar award for accomplishments in English, earning a full-ride scholarship to the University of Utah as well as $2,000 cash. Three other kids from my high school won in their respective categories (Math, Science, and Trade and Technical Education). We went out for ice cream afterwards, and ended up joking about taking a road trip to Vegas and blowing all our winnings. I tweeted about it (I was new to Twitter at the time, with only a few followers who were close friends). The next morning, when I woke up, a woman had tweeted multiple times about "English Sterling Scholar wasting winnings on Vegas trip, implicating four other winners in the process, English Sterling Scholar possibly condoning alcohol consumption for underage minors..."

Needless to say, I was mortified. Anyone who knows me (or Raiyan or Delian or Chris, for that matter) knows that I'm not about to go spend $2,000 on alcohol in Vegas. To win a Sterling Scholar award, you have to have pretty impeccable grades (Raiyan and Delian were actually our two valedictorians), and good grades indicate we have at least some measure of self control. To me, the joke seemed obvious. But to this woman, who I'd never met in my life, such a joke was quite offensive.

I pulled the tweet and apologized for offending her. At the time I thought it was rather silly, but Internet fights are never productive, so I let it go. Looking back, this illustrates one of the core issues with posting on the Internet: it's very easy to misinterpret what someone means. Sarcasm and humor often don't translate well into the written word. Without important body language/vocal cues, you don't get the whole picture.

I try to keep things professional on this blog. I talk about writing, for the most part, and when I do share a personal story it's a story I don't mind other people reading. Facebook is where things get tricky, because it's where I "hang out" with my friends, and there's a different set of social rules that govern my behavior around college kids than rules for a professional setting. For instance, my photos. Obviously I don't have anything risque or illegal on there, but what about summer pictures where my friends and I are wearing bikinis? Perfectly appropriate for a normal person's Facebook, but if I decide to use it as a platform to connect with readers, I'll probably have to go through and delete a few.

I suppose it's a moot point right now, since I'm not actually a real author. But if/when I do get published, there are decisions I'll have to make, such as whether or not to make my social networking profiles open to the public. My Facebook is currently semi-private. I only add people I recognize, but those people include writing industry professionals, so I try to censor what I say and the opinions I express. Even with the private setting, I've become more and more aware of what I post. A swearword here or there is fine. But am I going to rant about something like I might've in high school? Probably not.

My point is, when it comes to the Internet, always err on the side of caution. It's easy to misinterpret someone's intentions online, and one misread post can have lasting repercussions on your career.

11 comments:

  1. Facebook, for me, is strictly for people whom I know in real life or have a friendship with, like the Write On girls with whom I talk every week. Twitter is strictly for writing, and I block my real-life friends if they try to follow me. My blog is about writing with bits of life, but I do try to stay professional. It's tough, yeah. But I think ultimately (barring negative book reviews) you have to have very little integrity to do things that will get you black-listed.

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  2. I have often wished, when communicating through only textual means (meaning where it's just words and people can't see you, not just texting XD), that there was a "tone" button. As you said, "without important body/language vocal cues" it is way too easy for things to be misunderstood. It's why I always think twice, and then think again, before posting something that I mean sarcastically.

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  3. Great post Kate. Right now I'm with you, facebook is where I 'hangout' with friends. I won't worry about that until if/when I'm published.

    I do agree that as writers, and future authors, we shouldn't be sharing books we dislike. I don't usually review books on my blog but I have done a few. Only ones I had good things to say for though.

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  4. Since realizing this about a year ago, I only do positive book reviews on my blog, but I know there are a couple of old blogposts I'll need to delete. I should probably just do it now. Nice guest post, btw.

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  5. Well said. I've seen a professional friend or two go on rants before. The backlash is painful! I'm going to have to check out things I've said and make sure I don't have anything offensive! (And I don't do book reviews for that very reason. Bad idea!)

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  6. I agree that once you put something out into the online world, it's often difficult to take it back. This is why being positive is important.
    I'm a fairly sarcastic person, but I realize not everyone understands my sense of humor. I try to pull back in the blogging world and focus my sarcasm on my writing. My characters can get away with things I can't. :)

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  7. I agree. I started "friending" writer friends on FB and I thought, oh wait, now they see all the tiny little things about me. EEK. But I think if I get an agent/book deal that I will create an author page and keep my personal FB just that. Private. Twitter, I'm always aware that any agent or Tom, Dick, and Jane might read it, so I pay attention to what I say.

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  8. Totally agree. You really can't be too careful with this, and some authors have learned this lesson the hard way. Some conversations are really better/more appropriate for private, in-person discussion. I'd also say that Goodreads is a particular place for authors to be careful. You really have to think about the possible repercussions of posting ratings and reviews, and also reading and responding to reviews of your own books.

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  9. All great things to consider. The Internet, while an amazing and useful tool, can be unforgiving. Once people put something out there, it is difficult to take it back (although, you seem to have been successful with the woman who misunderstood your tweet). I've heard several published authors and agents talk about this very subject--in particular that authors should avoid giving negative book reviews.

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  10. definitely an interesting post :) i've worked as an editor on the web for the last eight years, so i've been extra cautious - especially in social media. it's pretty much taken facebook away from me (as i'm friends with many of my colleagues and writers)... but maybe that's a good thing ;)

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  11. It sounds like the person who retweeted you was purposefully trying to spin your words the worst way possible to puff up her own online presence. As you say, there is no point to most internet fights, but I doubt she was actually offended at you, anymore than a school bully is offended at people she pushes out of the lunch line.

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