On Friday I posted my weekly video for Bookish Brits talking about the occasions when authors react badly to negative reviews of their books. As it went live, coincidentally a whole host of articles and posts went up around the interwebs from authors around the globe talking about the flipside - when readers react badly to authors. I'm going to be talking about this again in my video on Friday, but I cannot stay silent on the subject until then.
The first post to go up was on MTV - an interview with Cassandra Clare and Maggie Stiefvater about social media, fandom and the terrifying liberties that can happen from the 5% of crazy out there among fans.
Just last week Maggie Stiefvater had a fan show up at her house, uninvited.
Cassandra Clare is frequently abused online, and with the rising popularity of her books thanks to the Mortal Instruments film and the new Shadowhunters TV show, more and more fans are becoming aggressively polarized in their views and demanding that Clare step in and arbitrate.
Then yesterday evening Buzzfeed documented John Green's reaction post regarding the accusations that some users on Tumblr had decided to create about sexual abuse. Bored Tumblr users decided to accuse John Green of being "a creep who panders to teenage girls so he can amass a weird cult like following", among other things. And then tagged him so that he would see it. That's not just spewing hate and being an idiot in their own corner of the internet, they have actively shoved these accusations in his face and then laughed about it.
Maureen Johnson has responded to all of this in a wonderful eloquent post, which I'm just gonna leave for you here as well as Entertainment Weekly then handily clumping all of these things together, plus a few more and some reaction tweets from other authors.
Right, now I've got all the links out the way, let's talk about it.
Bullying and abuse is not ok, and on the whole people seem to grasp that in day to day situations. You don't go up to your boss and spew terrible things at them (unless you really want to get fired). You don't try and break your grandma's hand because she drank the last of the milk. (Well, some people may do, but let's focus on the majority of the population right now because otherwise I will give up my faith in humanity entirely and sit in a corner and rock.)
But whilst most people would behave perfectly civilly in day to day interactions, there is something about the anonymity of the internet that makes some people think they can do and say what they like. That they are not really doing anything wrong, that there isn't a person at the other end of the screen being hurt by the things being said. It gives a shield behind which some people think it's fine to sit behind and say awful things to other people, because they do not have to face consequences for their actions.
It happens to far too many people, all the time, every day. Campaigning for a woman on the ten pound note? Horrific abuse. Women gamers? Horrific abuse. Posting a bikini picture when you have curves? Horrific abuse. Posting a bikini picture when you're particularly skinny? Horrific abuse. It happens to everyone. There do appear to be more cases of women receiving these threats - death threats, rape threats, demeaning comments, sexual comments - the list is endless. But as you can see from the above links, it isn't just women, it is everyone.
More than any other corner of the internet I have been witness to the fandom corner. Spend enough time on Tumblr and you can see a lot of different fandoms. And there are so many wonderful aspects to fandom - creative, fun, social, fantastic aspects. But unfortunately that gets lost in the horror that some people create making it an awful space to be. People become impassioned with the things that they love. When life isn't great in other ways people tend to find other escape routes in things that they love to counterbalance that - believe me I know, I have used fandom to escape life at numerous points. But that passion can turn into this terrifying self righteousness.
Love of a particular character or ship can go from something small like watching a show, reading a book, fanfic and fan art, to something big - threatening the creators with death threats unless they do what you want.
With the rise of social media this whole new world opened up. Suddenly we weren't able to just read a book and talk to our friends about it. We could connect with people all over the world about it, and even more exciting?... The author themselves. It is incredible to be able to communicate in a small way with someone who has created something that you love.
And so many authors are so accommodating and welcoming to their fans. People like Cassie and John Green have made themselves so available to talk to people, to help people, to share their joy and excitement over these things, which is incredibly generous and wonderful.
But the more available they are the more entitled some people become until suddenly they're smashing a book down on an authors hand at a signing because she killed a character they loved.
This rise to celebratory status that some authors now reach with the added social media presence, means that some people stop seeing them as people. Result? These awful things happen, that if you took a step back and thought 'hey, would I do this to a friend? Or even someone I know?' the answer would be a resounding no.
I realise that most fans are supportive and respectful and downright loving of the authors whose work they cherish, and that these things only happen through a small percentage of people, but that in no way lessens the terror and awful impact of the things these people are doing. It doesn't stop these authors who are sharing their incredible imaginations and stories with us, wanting to stop. To take a step back and protect themselves from the vitriolic hate and abuse that these 'fans' are throwing at them. And these are only the bits that we're hearing about through the authors talking about them and standing up for themselves. Stop for a minute and imagine all the things that we don't ever hear about. Try and imagine how soul destroying that would be to deal with that on a daily basis. Would you still want to interact with people? Hell, would you even want to keep writing and sharing the stories that are ultimately bringing this abuse in the first place? Probably not.
Some readers and fans have become so 'entitled' that they're angry and aggressive when they don't get their way. They have come to feel so protective of these characters and stories that they forget that they were always the authors to begin with, resulting in the angry and entitled attempts to engage. In some cases, like Cassie mentions, loving the characters but viciously hating the author. Authors are stepping back and away from social media more and more to protect themselves from this, and it's so, so sad that we aren't able to communicate and interact with them in the same way as before, but given all of the above, can you really blame them? I'm amazed some of them even stay on social media a tiny bit given the things that they have gone through and continue to go through.
So in this wonderful modern age where we can communicate with almost anyone at the click of a button, I beg you to take a moment before clicking tweet, post or publish. Think about what you're about to say. Would you honestly be happy saying that to your mother? Your best friend? The postman? If the answer to any of those is no, chances are good you probably shouldn't be saying it to the person you're sending it to. I can guarantee that when you look back in five or ten years time you will never regret not sending hurtful stuff to someone. Because you are not entitled to anything from these people. They share their stories with us because they want to, not because they have to. And if you keep pushing the buttons that spew out hate and abuse, chances are good that they won't just come off social media, they'll stop publishing entirely.
Rule Number 1: Be a decent human being.