|Troll Hell panel: Nick Cross, SCBWI blog network editor; Nicole Burstein, author of Othergirl; and Liz de Jager, author of the Blackheart Legacy books|
You can read John Green's brilliant response here - it ends wisely too, warning his fans: "To be clear, sending hate to people who say this stuff is counter-productive and only continues the outrage cycle, so please don’t abuse anyone. Thanks."
You only have to Google cursorily to discover that despite benefiting from its promotional powers, exposure on social media can be toxic for some authors who find themselves targeted by haters. One of the most trolled authors, Cassandra Claire, has chronicled the hate she receives online and Kathleen Hale describes becoming so obsessed with her hater to the point of confrontation.
(Edit Note: Jim at the YA Yeah Yeah blog later objected to my use of the word "hater" when I was trailing the event on Facebook as well as here - pointing out that the Blythe Harris comments were more nuanced than mere hating. Thanks, Jim - I am leaving the word 'hater' in so that this note has context but I accept your point that the use of the word 'hater' will give the wrong, broad-brush impression. At the actual Troll Hell event, the discussion briefly touched on Hale's inappropriate response to a bad review - the main conclusion being: who turned out to be the troll? Thanks again for the comment.)
Mo and I quickly put together a panel of experienced SCBWI bloggers: Nick Cross (@whoatemybrain) is a winner of the Undiscovered Voices and editor of the SCBWI Blogging Network. He reads most member blogs, flagging up the best of the week in his regular column Ten Minute Blog Break. Liz de Jager (@LizUK) blogged on the successful review blog My Favourite Books before her Blackheart Legacy books were published. Nicole Burstein (@nicoleburstein) was a Waterstones bookseller before her debut novel Othergirl was published this year.
|Troll Hell panel. Photo: Mio Debnam @dogini|
The basement venue - the Walrus and the Carpenter pub in Monument - swiftly filled up. It was nice to see familiar faces, meet new members on their first SCBWI social, as well as welcome Mio Debnam, regional advisor of SCBWI Hong Kong.
It was a great discussion - asking many of the questions that perturb us about the dark side of the internet. Why do trolls do it? Who are they? What do they want? What should we do about it? GoodReads came up many times - with authors dreading the famously harsh reviews and ratings that the social network for readers dishes up.
|Peter, Chitra, Margaret, Nick|
We began the night with a chilling review of trolling experiences on social media including:
- One author's experience of a young stalker. In the end, the police had to be called and all credit to the police, the situation was handled with sensitivity and calm
- One illustrator being targeted by a hate campaign that continues to follow her even on unrelated sites
- A social site chief's attempt to close down hate and abuse groups resulting in a hate campaign and her subsequent resignation
- Nicole's own experience of intense trolling after she opposed the 'Is your body beach-ready?' campaign
|Liz and Mo|
The conversation ranged far and wide, the audience giving as good as it got. 'I don't think "ignore them" can be the right solution,' writer John Condon said. 'In the long term we need a better solution. Where does free speech and the right to have an opinion stop and the bullying begin? If it’s not clear, when will we know it has been crossed? If we don’t know, or don't define it, how can society act accordingly?'
So how does one survive social media nasties? Here are my top ten ideas from the night:
1. Do not feed the trolls - responding to trolls escalates the situation. On the internet, it only takes a spark to create a fire.
2. Your public persona must remain professional. Keep private, controversial and irrelevant opinions out of sight using privacy settings and private messaging.
3. Encourage and respond to positivity. Do not engage with negative reviews.
4. Many negative reviews and comments come from young people. Remember what it was like to be young person, stay cool.
5. Once you are a public person, readers will forget that you are an ordinary human being. Be prepared by keeping yourself informed about the ins and outs of social media.
6. Remember that you are nurturing a career in the industry and that strangers you meet, criticise, make fun of, etc on the Internet may someday turn out to be your colleagues, fellow authors, publishers, agents.
7. Sometimes a situation could be an opportunity to raise awareness, do good, make a statement.
8. Do not troll a troll! Ignore it!
9. Reviewing books is a minefield. Star ratings can alienate author friends.
10. There is protection ... trolls can face up to two years in jail under new laws (thanks to Caroline Hooton for this)
|Miriam, Sue, Michelle|
|Patrice and Matt|
In responding to his troll, John Green said:
Too often the Internet moves from jolt to jolt, from hatred to hatred, ever more convinced of our own righteousness and the world’s evil. And getting caught up in that is very painful.
I realize that will seem privileged to many of you (and it is), or like an excuse (maybe it’s that too), or lacking in empathy (maybe so), and I’m sure there is plenty here to deconstruct and reveal my various shortcomings (which are legion).
But this stops being a productive place for me to be in conversations if I’m not allowed to be wrong, if my apologies are not acknowledged alongside my misdeeds, and if I’m not treated like a person.
Read the whole blog post
He warned his fans that as a result of this, things will probably become more one-way on his Tumblr feed, that he might no longer engage as much with his followers for his own wellbeing. Which I think is a good bottom-line for any author on social media.
We must keep asking ourselves: is this still a productive place? Am I happy here?
It was a thought provoking evening of many good conversations. Thank you to the panel, and thank you to our vociferous guests.
Enjoyed @LizUK @NicoleBurstein @whoatemybrain @candygourlay 's talk on Troll Hell tonight. (Little scared to use the T word on here now)— Peter Bunzl (@peterbunzl) July 28, 2015
@LawrencePatrice @LizUK @NicoleBurstein @candygourlay I'm hoping it was the trolling stories that were scary and not the panel!— Nick Cross (@whoatemybrain) July 29, 2015
Mo O'Hara and I are part of the Pulse team - a small group of published SCBWI volunteers who are looking to create events that can serve the burgeoning numbers of published and other experienced members. Mo and I wanted to design events that acknowledge the audience's wisdom and experience while at the same time responding to current burning events in the industry. Our first attempt in June was Call Yourself an Author, with Sarah McIntyre. The impromptu appearance of Carnegie working committee chair Joy Court and Bookseller journalist Charlotte Eyre, deepened the discussion. You can read about it here. In a flash of inspiration on the night, Mo dubbed our Troll Hell event a 'Pop Up Pulse' ... and we're going to call it that from now on. Troll Hell was a juicy topic, and the Walrus and the Carpenter was a nice venue for our last social before the summer holidays. Watch out for more Pop Up Pulse events - everyone is welcome to not only attend but to share their thoughts!