Internet: all things good, bad, and ugly

If only internet trolls were this cute
If only internet trolls were this cute

Back in high school when I spent hours on the floor of the blue room in Powell’s reading anything and everything that caught my fancy, I never would have imagined contacting any of the authors I loved. How would I find them? Surely they were too busy and important to talk to me. They wrote books not socialized! My interactions with the authors were mediated through the page. Whether I loved their books or hated them, the authors never knew about it.

Now I write books but everything has changed.

Technology has dismantled the barriers between reader and author. Mostly this is a beautiful thing. When I love a book, I tweet or email the author and tell them so. Often they respond and it feels great to have made a personal connection with someone who made something that touched me. On the flip side, when someone reaches out to me to say they like something I have written-Wow! Zing! Amazing! That feels great too.

Thanks to Twitter, Facebook, Goodreads, Google+, Tumblr and the rest, lots and lots of readers and writers are talking about books. It’s a great way to find delicious new titles and to explore literature in community. I’m learning all the time from the smart people I am now privileged to connect with thanks to ye old internet. I love that.

But these past few week… oh man… I’ve been wanting to go back to the good old days where I read a book, liked it or hated it, and that was it. Instead I’ve followed the train wreck that is the case of author Kathleen Hale responding to negative reviews by stalking the blogger at her home. (I’m not going to link to the article in the Guardian. Sorry click counters.) This, writ large and very ugly, is the situation in these “good” new days of the Internet.

Many people review and blog about the books they read. It is easy for any author to find and read all these opinions-love it, hate it, fell asleep reading it, would rather clean toilets than read it. It is hard for us to hear the bad reviews. (It hurts.) But is, in fact, our job to take the bad with the good because, after all, we write books so actual people will actual read them. (It still hurts.)

On the reader, and especially the book blogger, side of things, we get to love or hate those books. We really do. And we we get to talk about them online if we want to. Free speech, people. And I rely on the critical reviews (i.e. well-rounded, literary criticism like that of @catagator, @chasingray, and @tlt16) of knowledgeable, thoughtful bloggers to guide both my reading choices and my pursuit of better craft in my own writing.

This should, in the brave new world of interconnected authors and readers, be civil discourse on ideas and craft and story and emotions and the whole messy business of narrative. When it works, it’s beautiful. When it fails, I want to decapitate the internet.

The personal fails go both ways. From the aforementioned author stalking a blogger and making other bloggers fear for their safety to the reader who has cyberstalked author Melissa Anelli with a multi-year avalanche of violent threats.

And then there are the anonymous multitudes who shower feminist writers, gamers, cosplayers, critics and vloggers with threat after threat after threat-rape, murder, rape then murder-for exercising their right of free expression.

Who are these people?
Who does this?

What reader is so infuriated by a piece of writer that he or she rushes to the computer, types I am going to rape and murder you, and then hits send?

This is a question that keeps me up at night. It’s a fear that niggles at me when I write something that I know will trigger someone. It’s a fear that is prompting some book bloggers to question whether they want to keep doing what they are doing.

What sickens me more is that this is not something that just happens to authors and bloggers. Children are susceptible to disgusting messages that undoubtedly come under cyberbullying. 87% of kids have seen cyberbullying taking place online, which is worrying.

What do we do?

Like blogger Liz B, we talk about it. There’s no sense pretending this stuff doesn’t happen. We can follow blogger Kelly J’s excellent privacy steps, and for writers dealing with reviews, there’s the Carrie Mesrobian approach-complain to our trusted in circles and let it go (plus Norman Reedus). We can recognize the way we make ourselves vulnerable online (good piece here).

For me as a writer, I can’t let fears about how someone will judge my work get in the way of the process and so I will always return to the story. Reading and writing books have saved my life. I want connections with authors and readers. Let’s make those connections a force for good in the universe.


7 thoughts on “Internet: all things good, bad, and ugly

  1. We are, it seems, in the Age of Opinion. We now have so many means to share our voice that we’ve tossed away humility, kindness and careful consideration.

    I like artist-writer Austin Kleon’s take on book reviews, in which he (an avid reader across many genres) has chosen to simply say, “It wasn’t for me.”

  2. I don’t think those over-the-top violent or hate-filled posts are about the books at all. I think they’re more like road rage and bullying and probably happen for the same reasons.

    I’m also old enough to remember book reviews before the age of the Internet. At times, those reviews, while way more articulate, could be cruel and personal too. There just weren’t as many of them.

    That said, it’s still sad and disheartening and makes me grateful for a strong supportive community like SCBWI and chocolate.

  3. It makes me wonder what these people did before electronic media. Were these the gossips that poisoned rumors and discredited themselves in the process? Now the gossipers and hatemongers can hide behind an electronic screen. How awful. No one wanted to be the town gossip. Now, one can only imagine who these people are. Fill in the blank_____________. How do we expose these few whose cowardice and vitriol makes them E-invincible?

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