Calling Them Out
IRL, in real life, if you were mad at someone for something, would you walk into the village square, face the buildings, and start yelling that person’s name and your complaints about them? You’d be calling them out, physically, demanding that they change their ways and accusing them of wrongdoing in front of passersby and traffic. Sound like a plan to you?
We’re going to come back to that nightmarish scenario. It has the feel of something from The Twilight Zone, doesn’t it? Hold onto that.
Today, as my Provocation in Publishing for you, I want to ask you to consider just that: our provocations in publishing, and the shared space in which we conduct them online, a pretty glassy house.
How do we disagree with each other? And why do we provoke each other in the ways we do?
In recent weeks, this topic has been gaining attention. The level of concern is rising. Three examples.
(1) Howling at Howey. As Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) Select put its new per-page payout scheme into place early this month, the author Hugh Howey completed a full year of weighing whether to participate fully and to accept the exclusivity required. While he originally was given a limited-time special arrangement to try Kindle Unlimited (KU) without the exclusivity requirement a year ago, he has made it clear that he enjoys no such exemption now. And Amazon’s change to the per-page payout structure — he calls this “KU 2.0” — has persuaded him to go in:
All of my novels and stories are now in Kindle Unlimited  (KU).
[pullquote]When did ‘winning’ every argument become the goal? Why do so many seem to feel they need to (a) ‘succeed’ by changing minds and (b) put down all dissent?[/pullquote]
I wrote about this at The Bookseller’s The FutureBook , which I manage as its associate editor. (Our weekly live #FutureChat  on Twitter is today at 11 a.m. New York / 4 p.m. London time, you’re always welcome to join us if you like.) And I noted then that Howey was taking some powerful flak from followers, some of them castigating him as a turncoat for making a decision they didn’t like. He suggested at one point that the new plan would base payments on reader satisfaction. “If your income goes down, someone more deserving is seeing their income go up.” As it turns out, one of his readers had no interest in hearing this:
Did you really just say that? I used to have respect for you… that’s gone now. How dare you say that authors who have been busting their balls to make a living at this career that they are not deserving! I write romance, have been making a decent income since 2014, not spectacular by any means but my readers love what I write and yet because my income is set to go down in KU 2.0 I am not worth shit?
“The quickest way to get a thread blocked at KBoards these days,” Howey wrote to fellow author Alan Tucker, “seems to be to mention me, have me start a thread, or have me butt into a thread.” Howey wrote that he was leaving the Kindle Boards forums. He’d had enough. And Howey hardly needs those forums as much as they’ve needed him, of course. Not only is Wool  being re-scripted by Nicole Perlman for 20th Century Fox, but his novel Sand  has been optioned for development as a TV series by Imperative Entertainment.
(2) Reforming Reddit. Just this week, following Ellen Pao’s departure, the newly returned co-founding CEO of Reddit, Steve Huffman, is proposing a slate of reforms meant to change the hate-ridden reputation of the long-running platform and its “subreddit” communities. This is from Matt Weinberger’s report at Business Insider , quoting Huffman:
“There is…a dark side, communities whose purpose is reprehensible, and we don’t have any obligation to support them. And we also believe that some communities currently on the platform should not be here at all.”
As Mike Isaac writes in The New York Times , no one can tell if a new content policy for Reddit can change its perception with a plan to “effectively ban spam, illegal activity and harassment, as well as the posting of ‘private or confidential information’ and sexual content involving minors,” nor make it a platform that can attract needed advertising.
(3) #AskELJames How It Went. One of the most-read articles I’ve published at Thought Catalog  has turned out to be my June 30 piece Is Online Life Real Life? Ask E.L. James. No, ask Chuck Wendig . In it, I went over the firestorm of criticism that the Fifty Shades of Grey author E.L. James took when Twitter’s London offices hosted a live chat with her for the release of Grey: Fifty Shades of Grey as Told by Christian. As I wrote there:
Misgivings about the material [in James’ books] — in terms of misogyny, BDSM, abusive relationships, and James’ woefully bad writing (seemingly the one thing no one disagrees about) — rose quickly to the moment. A storm of invective overwhelmed the event.
[pullquote]If you don’t offer someone the chance to respond first, how seriously can anyone take your complaints?[/pullquote]
But what made the event even more compelling happened when the author Chuck Wendig, widely known for his supportive stance on women’s rights, tried to counsel civil discussion. “One tweet called James the lady-c-word,” he wrote, “while chastising the abuse found in the book — which sounds like abuse about abuse.”
Wendig? Ended up beating a hasty retreat of his own. He was waved off by people who clearly felt that their right to speak was more equal than others’. Someone, as I wrote, seems to have seen him as “a hegemonic male stepping, unwanted, into a women’s debate.” Wendig, who is rarely a man to withdraw easily, wrote, “I think of myself as feminist, but maybe I’m not a particularly good one.”
And what I found myself writing was this:
The question our sociologists need to study is not why people feel free to be so boorish online but why they’re so angry in the first place. There’s so much negative energy “out there” in our cyberspace — which is really “in here,” the small space of our hearts. And that means, finally, that there is precisely such pain, such anguish, such seething disregard, right here IRL. In real life.
Let’s get back to our village square.
Skipping The Discovery Step
When we stand in the virtual marketplace and shout our displeasure at one another without first checking to see if our objections are warranted, we risk damaging reputations, defaming colleagues, smearing people and efforts that deserve no such treatment.
[pullquote]It’s possible to disagree with someone without demonizing her or him…Tolerance and respect are at such a premium in real life. Why do we allow people to trash these values online?[/pullquote]
And I’ve come to believe that this is a systemic problem in online discourse directly related to the convenience of knee-jerk complaint there.
In real life, it’s not particularly easy to get yourself into the town square and stand hollering at the buildings about someone you dislike. At best, you’ll get funny looks and sharp requests to keep it down. At worst, you might get yourself arrested for disturbing the peace. If you’re really willing to go through so much, maybe it’s worth more to you to look into what you’re complaining about.
Online? It’s incredibly easy to throw around your displeasure. Ironically, it’s also incredibly easy online to contact someone before opening up the scream-fest.
I recommend using Twitter for this: try asking someone if they could follow you so that you can Direct-Message them, exchange email addresses, be in touch about what looks askew.
One of our Writer Unboxed authors did this earlier this year with me. We had a great exchange, and I was so glad she’d taken the step to come to me with her concerns directly, rather than shoving them around the Net without checking. I learned a lot from the issues she raised about a new author service. And we both were able to put together a better understanding of its implications.
I’ve never had a single person turn me down when I asked for this kind of contact, either. People appreciate a chance to be able to explain something before being publicly upbraided.
It’s just that easy online to at least give someone a chance to respond before condemning them. Needless to say, you may not be satisfied with the answer you get when you ask. If that’s the case, fair enough, at least you’ve done your due diligence and can make an informed decision as to whether you want to go farther. And:
- It’s possible to disagree with someone without demonizing her or him.
- When did “winning” every argument become the goal? Why do so many seem to feel they need to (a) “succeed” by changing minds and (b) put down all dissent?
- If you don’t offer someone the chance to respond first, how seriously can anyone take your complaints?
- Tolerance and respect are at a premium in real life today, even if Donald Trump thinks we’re too concerned with tone. Why do we allow people to trash these values online?
- Which brings us to the hardest part: Isn’t it our responsibility to demand that the bullies online stand down?
When someone fails to take the easy, prudent step of asking privately if something is amiss before lobbing social-media grenades at us, I’m not sure that person has any interest whatever in fair play or healthy public discussion. I think this is a product of an anger that may be caused by something unrelated to the matter at hand. And whatever this anger is, there’s a lot of it online.
A Way Forward
I believe that it’s time we strand these people.
I regret the anger that seizes them, I realize that they must suffer with it. But we cannot cede the collegial grace of intelligent discourse to them. If they have a valid point to make, let them come to us with calm questions, open minds, and measured responses. To echo Reddit’s Steve Huffman, we have no obligation to respond to hostile palaver.
[pullquote]Isn’t it our responsibility to demand that the bullies online stand down?[/pullquote]
Non-engagement is our best weapon. It’s not always easy. But refusing to be drawn out into the square by these holier-than-thou loudmouths is the key. In many parts of our community today, a sense of entitlement has overrun decent boundaries. I say we don’t participate in this. We starve it out.
Mute, block, delete these people. Refuse them your attention.
We have better things to do.
Why do you think we’re seeing so much obstreperous behavior online? I’d like your input. Thanks.
Now, thanks to tinyCoffee and PayPal, you can!