Everyone Is Right OR Why I Don’t Debate Politics On Social Media

I bet that surprises you, that I don’t debate politics on social media. Given how outspoken I am about pretty much everything under the sun, it’s possible you presume I doIt might even seem like I do.

I don’t.

What I do is share articles that might express my views or cover something I believe or support. I write pieces that are frank and unvarnished, thereby revealing my opinions. I comment on posts that—in all sorts of ways —”out” my preferences. I’ll even stand up to those who imply I’m a fool for not agreeing with their positions or preferences. Sometimes I just block them, depending on how rude they are.

But I don’t actually debate. I won’t.

Why?

Debating politics on social media is a fool’s errand. In the decade or so in which I’ve been on social media, had a blog, or wrote for journalistic sites like HuffPost and others, experience has taught me the following:

  1. Everyone has an opinion. Everyone. All people. Everywhere.
  2. Everyone is right.
  3. My opinion is less valued/pertinent/correct than theirs.
  4.  They’re convinced they can convince me of their opinion.
  5. If they can’t, they’re convinced they can insult me, with varying degrees of insults, often on my own page, article, or social media thread.
  6. They presume insulting others on my page, article, social media thread is also acceptable behavior.
  7. They presume I haven’t done as much research/thinking/pondering as they have to arrive at their “more correct” opinion.
  8. They demand I defend my stated preference, presuming I am obligated to respond to that demand.
  9. If I don’t (which I won’t), they frame it as “cowardice,” or a lack of supporting rationale for my choice.
  10. Then they dismiss me as clueless, intractable, or locked in an echo chamber.

Sigh. So tiresome.

But no one—not troll, bot, friend, family, or foe—has ever caused me to change my mind about something by virtue of debating me on social media. No one. About anything. Accept maybe the “best donut.” I can go soft there.

The point is, there is no point. I can’t speak for others, but for me, attempting to debate politics—or religion, sex, vaccines, women’s issues, men’s issues, television shows, etc.—is nothing but wasted time, energy, and stress chemicals, none of which I choose to waste or trigger.

Because here’s the thing: I’m a decider. I don’t dwaddle when it comes to making decisions. I’ve learned to trust my gut on issues large and small. I read, watch, ponder, assess, research, talk, listen, learn, and then come to a decision. And, once I do, I’m good to go. You can share your opinion with me if you like, but your opinion is not going to sway mine. The only thing that will sway mine is if my own further research or experience leads to me to be swayed. No offense to you and your research, but it’s possible you and I travel to the beat of a different drum, so I just gotta go my own way (lots of 70s references there, I know).

Someone once asked me, “But don’t you think it’s important to hear other people’s views, so you understand how they think and what causes them to form their opinions? Isn’t it important to be open to listening to others, even those you might not agree with?”

Yes. It’s important. There’s value in it. Just not on social media.

When people are not face-to-face, either in the same room or looking at a shared Go-To-Meeting or Skype screen, they change. At least most people do. When most people are typing at a computer or tapping into a smartphone, they tend to detach from essential aspects of their personalities and decorum, their normal level of good manners, civility, and respect. They get more aggressive, they speak more tersely; they can more readily go to insults, get patronizing and condescending, usually in ways they would not do if you were sitting right across from them in a room. Over a dinner table. Even, likely, speaking on the phone.

Much research has been done on this, the way people act online. I was going to quote a few articles but there were so damn many, I decided to—yes… let you do your own research. Suffice it to say, it’s been scientifically proven that people are meaner online for a whole host of reasons, in most cases, meaner than they would be IRL (online code for “in real life”…see, I learned that!). I will leave this one article here; it’s from a science site and, in its detail, makes the case: Is there a psychological reason for people being mean on the Internet? The answer is: YES.

So, since it’s proven that people tend to be meaner and more hostile and aggressive online, why would I choose to debate controversial, provocative topics in that forum? I wouldn’t. And don’t.

I will “IRL.” And have. Sometimes it’s gotten testy, even heated. Sometimes people storm off or declare “this conversation is over.” And sometimes actual intelligent discourse occurs, and it’s all kind of stimulating and adult when that happens! But that rarely, if ever, happens while debating online.

And, yes, I do know some people actually enjoy social media “fisticuffs.” They get a kick out of taking on a troll, getting down with hardcore opposition, going after people who state idiocies or share ignorance. More power to ’em. That ain’t me. I might do one-or-two rounds for a quick minute, but if the conversation devolves, doesn’t reach detente, or starts spewing like Chernobyl, I’m out. Life is too short and I’d rather watch Netflix.

So, to summarize: if I state an opinion that differs from yours, or share an article that reveals that my lean leans in a different direction than yours… and you think there’s merit in letting me know where you sit on these various things I state or share, feel free. You’re welcome to. As long as you’re civil and respectful, I have no problem with you offering your opinion, choice, preference, or proclivity even in counterpoint to my own. But only do it because you are so moved, we’re colleagues, friends, relatives, etc., and you want me to know where you stand. That’s fine.

Don’t do it with the intent of changing my mind. You won’t. Don’t do it with the idea of belittling or insulting me or my choices. I’ll likely just block you. Don’t do it to try to start a debate. It will never happen… for all the reasons expressed. And certainly don’t do it to pontificate, proselytize, patronize, condescend, man-splain, woman-splain, or otherwise act superior. I can call that Scientology guy back if I want to get into all that.

Now, if we meet for coffee, take a walk on the beach, end up sitting in a room together and those hot topics come up, sure… let’s debate. Kindly. Quietly. With intelligence. And you get the drinks.


Visit www.lorrainedevonwilke.com for details and links to LDW’s books, music, photography, and articles.

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OK, Let’s Discuss This Whole Book Review Thing… Please

read your novel
“Oh, yes… 5-STARS GUARANTEED!!”

I spent some time chatting with a group of writers today, discussing a topic that seems to not only be tripping up indie authors in a variety of ways, but contributing to the persistence of stigmas and attitudes about the self-publishing “brand” in general:

REVIEWS.

Coveted, powerful, manipulated; misguided reviews.

It was a spirited debate — though, in truth, everyone was in agreement — focused squarely on the corrosive effect of what some in the discussion called the “5-Star Circle” and the “Review Swap Gang.”

For those unaware, the 5-Star Circle is that loose contingent of indie author who will automatically award 5-star reviews to colleagues regardless of the quantifiable merits of their books. This is done, purportedly, to show support for fellow self-pubbers, but there’s also an unspoken quid quo pro element at work, assuring that the 5-star-wielding reviewer will be gifted in kind. The Review Swap Gang is essentially an off-shoot, a more organized venture whereby authors agree to write reviews for each other and I don’t think anyone need guess how rife with corruptible possibilities that deal might be!

I expect a holler at this point, an insistence by some in the self-publishing world that they will and do and always give honest, authentic reviews regardless of how swappers review their own books, and, hey, it’s possible. But what’s also possible (and likely probable) is an inherent awkwardness to the set-up, the politics involved if, say, they give you a good review and you don’t return the favor. In fact, I spoke to one author who confessed that he often gives weak, inept books much higher than deserved ratings for the sake of group politics. Another spoke of feeling pressured within professional friendships to do the same; someone else mentioned not wanting to spark trollish behavior from disgruntled authors unhappy with their “swap.”

And the result of all this? Far too many poorly executed and amateurishly written books sporting a raft of undeserved 5-star reviews from gushing (or, perhaps, intimidated) “friends” who apparently don’t see the value of creative accountability; a fact that has the long-term effect of misguiding readers and perpetuating negative attitudes about all self-published writers, even those whose work is worthy of the accolades.

There’s a book blogger I happen to like, Tara Sparling, who regularly offers sharp (and very funny) analysis of the self-publishing world on her blog, Tara Sparling Writes (check out her posts about book covers, fonts, and what compels readers to choose — or not choose — self-published novels). She recently wrote a piece on the topic of reviews, Why 5-Star Book Reviews Are Utter Rubbish, that triggered a strong reaction from readers on the title alone (my response is in the comment section). Tara offered seven reasons in support of her thesis, some of which echoed my own points; for example:

“One 5-star review is ok. But, if there are only 7 reviews in total and all of them are all 5 stars, I don’t believe a single one of them.”

OK, I’m not sure I wouldn’t believe a one… maybe, but she lost me a bit on the next sentence:

“So I disregard the lot and vow never to read the book instead. Which rather defeats the purpose.”

I got her point, but took umbrage with the resolution. Since I am not a swapper, nor a review solicitor, I can’t control what reviewers end up saying about my work and certainly don’t want to be discounted out-of-hand — by Tara or anyone else — if the lot of them happen to honestly like my book! I made this rebuttal in my comment; she graciously took the point, as well as similar points made, allowing that, yes, if a book truly deserves 5-stars, wonderful. But the more salient issue is that, like me, like others, she finds solid reason to raise a ruckus on the topic, a shared impulse that indicates just how transparently corrupt this reviewing thing has become.

Look, the value of reviews to anyone selling anything — whether a toaster, movie, restaurant, or book — is indisputable. But the politics of reviews has turned the process into a sort of creepy, virtual-payola scenario that’s about as manipulative as A&R thugs dropping cash-packs and trip tickets into the laps of slick fingered radio programmers. And when we’ve got countless threads on Goodreads hawking “swap requests,” Yelp choked with either phony take-downs or BFF gush-fests, and Amazon battling some version of the same on all kinds of products (including books), we’ve lost the point of the endeavor… for honest people to leave honest responses to just how much they did or didn’t like something. Period.

Here’s my personal stance: I do not want ONE, not one, review on my author page that is not authentic or honestly felt. Whatever “star” rating or review comments you think my work warrants based on your truthful, visceral response to my book, that’s what I want you to leave. Don’t troll, don’t be irrational or other-agenda’d; but don’t feel obligated, under any circumstances, to leave a puffed-up, bullshit review. If you’re uncomfortable about what you might honestly have to say, I’d rather you not leave anything than an unauthentically positive review. And I mean that. An unearned “star” should mean nothing to any of us.

To my indie author colleagues: Please understand that I will not leave a 4- or 5-star review on work that does not warrant it based on my experience and perceptions as a writer and my response as a reader. It doesn’t matter how famous you are, how much I support your efforts, how well I like you, or how much you’ve done for me. But, taking into account the shared obstacles and challenges of being in this self-publishing game together, the best I can agree to is that I won’t leave a decidedly negative review on your page (which, in this world, appears to be anything below 4- or 5-stars!). If you know I’ve read your book and want my response privately, I will be happy to share it with you.

And one more thing: PLEASE, please, indie authors, do not rant on social media about your negative reviews and do not ask fellow writers to go to your Amazon page to make any response to them. Both the rant and the request are not only distasteful, but utterly unprofessional. As is presuming a negative review is automatically undeserved, unauthentic, or written by a troll. Let’s please, for God’s sake, have some grace and dignity and take our hits where they come. Every reader has the right to their honest response no matter how many reviews they’ve written. And if you truly believe a troll is having his/her way with you, handle it privately. Don’t play creative-victim in an effort to engage fellow writers to circle the wagons; we all have to stand by our work, good, bad or in-between.

The impact of all these shenanigans is that readers — the very people we’re hoping to engage — can no longer count on reviews to guide them to what they might enjoy or find excellent.  Personally, I’ve now downloaded far too many books by self-published authors — abundant in stellar reviews — that were, ultimately, poorly written. I’ve spent my money and my time only to either not finish a book, or to put it aside with a shake of my head and a growing uneasiness about what all of this is doing to the self-publishing world at large.

For now, though I’m being much more selective about the books I buy, I still believe in the movement and will continue to support my indie colleagues, particularly those who’ve earned my reader loyalty, as I hope they will support me. But I will continue to candidly address the issues we face, holding out hope that we as a group learn from our mistakes and honestly strive to be better. More professional. More demanding. Of ourselves… and our fellow authors.

Related articles: 

• Who Do We Have To _____ To Get a Little Respect Around Here? 
• The Persistence of Self-Publishing Stigmas and How To Transcend Them

Cartoon by Kudelka

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Visit www.lorrainedevonwilke.com for details and links to LDW’s books, music, photography, and articles.