A cautionary social media tale

[TL/DR: social media delights in distracting you and wasting your time. Minutes/hours spent tweeting or posting are minutes/hours not spent writing. Is that how you want to be spending your time? Also, commenting on a trending hashtag brings out the crazies like you wouldn’t believe. Don’t feed them, whatever you do. Their appetite is bottomless.]

Hashtags on Twitter can be great, right? You can find a lot of information and links about a particular topic or event pretty quickly. Some of my favorites are #FridayReads, where people tell you about the books they’re reading as of (you guessed it) Friday. I also liked #SAS16 when I was at the Saints & SInners Literary Festival in New Orleans. And stumbling across #PitchWars got me some really useful feedback on a work in progress. (Thanks, Michael Mammay and Dan Kobold.)

So when I saw a hashtag that said #BoycottHawaii, I thought, “What’s that about?” and clicked on it.

That was, well, a mistake.

I won’t bore you with the details except to say Muslim ban, court block, reactionary tweets, and use of the word “racist” (which I still stand by). My response was basically, “Guys, that sounds kinda racist, especially assuming that colonized native populations will have a problem with y’all staying away.”

Tweet sent, I turned off my phone, put it aside, and got back to important things, like catching up on DVR’d episodes of Supergirl. Because priorities, people.

When I looked at my phone the next day, lordy.

I don’t remember how many retweets it got, but it was a lot. Like, more than anything else I’ve ever tweeted. I also got a lot of replies and wow, a lot of people weren’t happy being called out for their prejudices. And I replied to a few of them.

That was mistake #2.

And then I got angry.

Mistake #3.

“OK, Jeff,” you say, “but what does any of this have to do with writing?”

Ding ding ding! You get a prize! (Well, the prize is just being right, so…)

You might recall I teach a workshop called Social Media for Writers. I’m fond of not-so-jokingly referring to my approach to the class as less best practices and more cautionary tale, as in “for heaven’s sake don’t do what I did!” The exchanges that took place over this topic would be a textbook example of what not to do:

Don’t feed the trolls. Let’s face it, no one ever convinced someone else to change their minds because of an exchange they had on Twitter.

Don’t tweet when you’re angry. As I’ve also mentioned, my father is a Marine and as a result I have a predilection for, as Spock might say, colorful metaphor. And while I’m not opposed to the occasional salty phrase, getting so mad that you’re willing to tell someone to go frak themselves is probably not good for your blood pressure. And let’s face it, it doesn’t make you (that is, me) look very good.

Stay focused. I do tell my students to be themselves, but they don’t necessarily have to put every aspect of themselves out there on their social media. Indeed, you should share your perspective, your background, your love of Hello Kitty kitchen appliances (I’m speaking purely hypothetically, now), but remember to ask yourself, why are you here? (As in, here being “on social media,” not the larger question of existence—although that might be an interesting focus, too.) Me, I want to talk about books, I want to talk about writing, and my own books and writing, and the things that influence them (and maybe sell a couple books, if I’m lucky). If I can make them laugh a little in the process, I call that winning.

Getting dragged into a politically motivated shouting match may be an aspect of you, but is that why you’re here? Are those the people you want paying attention to and interacting with you?

Time is finite. Don’t waste it. Keep on track.

Mute, block, move on. This circles back to not feeding trolls and not wasting your time. You don’t have to give anyone your time if you don’t want to. You don’t owe them any explanations.

But you might owe people a photo of your Hello Kitty kitchen.