• Jane O'Reilly

Writers should quit social media pt. 2

Updated: Jul 13

It's over a year since I ditched twitter and blogged about it. That post has had more traffic than any other I have written, especially over the past couple of weeks, for reasons I'm sure you will all be aware of unless you live under a rock (in which case, lucky you). 'Stupid things that people said on twitter' has become what passes for news in 2020, juxtaposed with articles about advertisers pulling money from Facebook because it happily allows content that has no place in a civilised society (as long as it drives clicks, of course).


Social media is changing the way we understand the world. What could have been a marvellous gift to humankind, the equivalent to the biggest library of ideas ever built, has become a dark and murky pool. We are drowning in misinformation. 'Educate yourself' has become the go-to catchphrase for the online bully. Things which have always been simple have suddenly become complicated, and when this is challenged, we're told that they were always complicated and we were too ignorant to understand. Truth is a lie and a lie is the truth. How many lights are there, Winston? If the number you see is incorrect, you will be punished with emails to your place of employment, to your customers, with online petitions, with unsolicited pornography.


This is particularly the case if you are female and using an account which shares this fact with other online users. It was one of the things that drove me to delete my accounts. We're coming out of the biggest conversation about consent we've had in years (otherwise known as #MeToo) and yet women are bombarded with unwanted penis and threats of violence involving said penis for expressing their opinions online. Men lost their conjugal rights in 1991, in Britain at least (and if you want to know more about that, have a look here. If you want to know about the legal rights of women to refuse sex with their husbands worldwide, have a look here). Online spaces have yet to catch up.


But they will.


And this is why social media is not for writers. Not because I think that you're all out there sharing photos of your penis. At least half of you won't have one to share. But because the rules about what is and is not acceptable on social media are ever-changing. We behave as if the rules are rigid, carved in stone, but they're not. Something you tweet or share which you consider acceptable today may be the thing that ends your career five years from now. A forgotten argument that you had on a bored Sunday afternoon could provide killer screenshots for someone wanting to have you removed from an event. It doesn't matter if you believe that what you are saying is right, or if you think that you are defending the weak and oppressed, or how convinced you are that you are on the right side of history.


What is right today may well be wrong tomorrow.


Even likes and retweets are considered evidence of heresy. How long until likes and retweets are used as evidence of sedition and someone is imprisoned for them? The news coming out of China this week suggests that we're already there. We're not far off social media use being used to deny access to visas or insurance or bank accounts or universities as well as jobs.


Social media is not for writers because we need to protect our careers as well as our time and our inner worlds and we don't know the route that discourse is going to take. Things that are considered unspeakable now were everyday truths taken for granted ten years ago. In another ten years, it is entirely possible that the pendulum will have swung the other way and what is acceptable will again have shifted, in which case a lot of twitter users are going to find themselves having to panic delete a lot of tweets.


Writers need to watch but not participate. We need to be aware but not involved.


All of us need to be careful.










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