Monday, June 2, 2014

The Politics of Silence (Redux)

by Holly West

Note: A previous version of this post appeared on my blog in May 2012. I've updated it here to reflect my current feelings on the matter.

About two years ago, I made a decision to stop posting on social media about most controversial issues. I'm a lot happier because of it, mostly because now I'm much more likely to think before I speak (or post, as the case may be).

I'm kind of a hot head, you see. I'm quick to anger, and while I'm also quick to forgive, many times the damage is done before I've taken the time really think about whatever it was that got me riled up in the first place. Social media just makes it so easy to tweet, retweet, follow, unfollow, friend, unfriend, post, share... you get the picture.

With one simple click, I've said something I'll likely regret.

The problem is that it's difficult to engage in meaningful dialogue on social media. This is especially true of Twitter--140 characters isn't enough to delve into any issue, even if you post a link. Sure, there are great conversations that happen there--I've had them myself--but it's easy to take things out of context because it's impossible to follow every thread of every conversation. At some point someone is going to assume you're a jerk based on a snippet of conversation that might not have much bearing on how you actually feel about a subject. How could it when the original conversation originated 24 hours ago, took place between ten people (some of which you don't follow), and began with a link to a relevant blog post or news story, now long buried in a barrage of tweets? This only fosters anger and misunderstanding, and it's ultimately not productive.

Unless, of course, your aim is to provoke, and then you become just another asshole on the Internet.

Facebook isn't much better. It's often a place that furthers the culture of ugly sound bites and noise that we've become increasingly comfortable with. Oh, if I see one more silly graphic with a BS quote attributed to Abraham Lincoln or the Rev. Billy Graham, I'm gonna pull the damned plug. Okay, not really. I love the Internet too much for that. But please, before you share something, at least look at, m'kay?

Let's take this current Amazon vs. Hachette controversy as an example. The hyperpole and name-calling I've heard from both sides makes me uncomfortable. Once you've resorted to impoliteness, you've lost your argument, as far as I'm concerned. But the Internet loves rude behavior, indeed, it thrives on it.

Here's the deal: unless I'm willing to truly engage, and this means making sure I know exactly what the hell I'm talking about on any social/political issue I post about it, I'm better off keeping my mouth shut. Otherwise, I'm just another asshole on the Internet. There are times when I feel like my choice to be silent is a copout, the result of my cowardice and dislike of confrontation. But the fact is that I'm not a journalist--I don't have time to research even my most heart felt opinions to the degree I feel comfortable shooting off my mouth about them. This might change. I'm a passionate person whose equally passionate about my views. But for now, I'm keeping quiet.

This isn't meant to be a judgement of my friends and colleagues who do post about political and other controversial matters. What one does with one's Internet space is up to them and I'm free to follow or friend accordingly. Some people just have stronger stomachs than I do, or are adequately informed and worthy of my attention. Most are not. Most are just blindly forwarding shit that for whatever reason resonates with them in the moment and don't give much thought to the message they're conveying and how it reverberates across the Internet.

Don't be that person, and I'll do my best not to be that person either. Do we have a deal?

But hey, enough about me. What are your thoughts on the subject? Hit me up in the comments.

Holly West is a crime fiction author based in Los Angeles. She’s the author of the Mistress of Fortune series, set in late 17th London and featuring amateur sleuth Isabel Wilde, a mistress to King Charles II who secretly makes her living as a fortuneteller. The first in the series, Mistress of Fortune, was published by Harlequin’s Carina Press in February 2014 and its sequel, Mistress of Lies, is forthcoming in Fall 2014.


Sue Coletta said...

This happened to me on FB during the last presidential election. It wasn't pretty. When it was over there were a lot of hurt feelings-- my including. It's just not worth it.

Holly West said...

Yup. This is just what I'm talking about. I've actually lost respect for a few people because of the way they conduct themselves online. I'm sure the same could be said of me sometimes, too. But why make it worse than it has to be?