For a few reasons, some of which I’ll articulate here, I’ve been thinking a lot about my usage of social media, both as a writer and fan of SFFH (science or speculative fiction, fantasy and horror). But, please note that this article captures my main thoughts on the matter, and isn’t a screed about what you should do. These matters are complex.
To understand the present I need to return to my past.
I started out in fandom during the late 1970s in Australia. I was ten or eleven when I went to my first fan event, which was about Dr Who. Dr Who fandom in Australia had its unique features, but it still looked a lot like the broader SFFH communities at the time. Fans gathered at conventions and meetings, and a few fans wrote, drew, edited, and produced fanzines. My Masters thesis, which I finished in 2000, was all about that, and I also wrote a fair bit about it in my essay published in Queers Dig Time Lords.
You did need to have a certain amount of privilege to produce your own fanzine. I came from a solidly middle class family and my father was an academic. That meant I had access to cheap printing and knowledge about copyright and budgeting. In my teenaged to young adult years, I produced or co-produced two Dr Who fanzines (one also covering Blake’s 7), a V fanzine, and a cyberpunk fanzine.
My journey online was comparatively slow and didn’t follow the trajectory of many fans of my generation. Mostly, that was because my family didn’t get a home computer that could access the internet until after I left home. Shared housing back in the days of dial-up internet connection restricted my time online. I dipped my toe into bulletin boards, but I missed MySpace completely and joined LiveJournal long after its hey-day.
I joined Facebook relatively early, and it proved to be a useful way to keep in contact with fannish friends in the USA and Australia after I moved to the UK. But, for reasons to do with the way Facebook’s business model diverged with what I wanted and needed from a social media platform, I killed my account in 2011. (If you see an account there in my name, it’s not me.)
Back then, ethics and political morality played only a small part in my decision. However, they played a much larger role in keeping me away from Facebook. I’m not going into all the examples of it because there are too many. I will link to one story by Erin Kissane because it questions the explanations and links to multiple sources. Be aware that it is about the genocide of Rohingya people in Myanmar (Burma), so it’s a tough read in parts.
Which brings me to Twitter, which rebranded as X during 2023.
I joined Twitter in July 2009. It didn’t take long for me to discover the great access to news globally, as well as friends, and the SFFH communities. For my writing career, I learned about several markets and projects that I successfully pitched for and got commissioned.
Twitter was never nirvana. The decline in what made it immensely useful for me on several fronts set in before the present owners took over. Since the rebranding, that decline is accelerating, and dangerously so. I’ve locked my account, and only sporadically post or look there anymore. I’ve set myself the deadline of 31 October 2023 to kill my account completely. Putting people on notice now: if you see an X account in my name beyond November 2023, it’s not me.
This time, ethics and morality have played a huge role in my decision. The enabling of disinformation is what disturbs me primarily. Obviously, I’ve written and spoken a fair bit about disinformation so my views on that should be fairly well known. As imperfect as liberal democracies are, they are better than many alternatives. But, liberal democracies rely on a standard of truth for voters to make sound decisions. I suspect that those in the past who argued for freedom of expression didn’t think that would mean protecting the right for those in or seeking power to brazenly lie. Those lies destabilise the fragile checks and balances on power, and all too many of them dehumanise groups of people and encourage violence.
I’m also on Substack, where I’ve been laying groundwork to earn some money from writing. I followed a few LGBTQIA inclusive feminists and US-based BIPOC feminists who aren’t bigoted against LGBTQIA people there, along with a few white UK writers who aren’t bigots.
And then I saw passionate pleas to not use Substack because of racism and anti-trans hatred. I couldn’t very well give up X and not join Meta platforms for ethical and moral reasons and then start up on Substack.
I checked it out.
It does seem that the owners of Substack are so-called free speech absolutists who won’t prohibit hate speech of any kind. There are reports that they paid a few bigots to set up on Substack when they were ‘cancelled’ elsewhere. Neither of those sit well with me.
However, Substack isn’t full of hate-driven accounts, or even ‘trolls’. In the six months or so I’ve been reading it regularly, I’ve blocked or muted about five accounts. On other platforms I learned to not hold back on blocking, reporting or muting accounts that are trolling or hate-mongering. I will do the same on Substack, but to date I haven’t found all that many. That’s not to say they aren’t there, but I don’t think they gain the traction they want.
Regardless of platform, I am keeping ethics and morality to the fore of my decisions on whether to join or not.
© 23 October 2023