View From Nowhere: …to Facebook or not to Facebook

facebookAn alien perspective on the human race
by Peter Huston


A few years ago, I joined Facebook. My plan was to network with other authors and learn the state of the publishing world—find the best path to get my work in print, in front of readers, and perhaps even make some money. We can all dream a bit, can’t we?

On the one hand, this was a fine plan. I did network with authors of all sorts. On the other hand, the plan was also deeply flawed. Alas, despite networking, it became obvious that none of these people understood the current publishing industry either. Alas! They were all asking the same questions I was, and although we had some fine conversations on the subject, little of substance was decided.

So, what exactly is it that many writers get out of FB? Aside from interesting online chats, they also build up an entourage and get to listen as their fans tell them how brilliant they are.

On the surface, there’s nothing wrong with this, but there are hidden dangers. Writers, perhaps science fiction writers in particular, tend to be opinionated and Facebook is not the best place for persons of diverging opinions to share views. Anyone familiar with FB has no doubt seen those irritating “Yes, they are”/“No, they aren’t” exchanges that constitute most online arguments. It is quite tempting to just de-friend people whose opinions irritate you—to simply cut people off—particularly if you don’t have any offline relationship with them. In fact, some would say it’s better than wasting valuable time arguing with them, particularly when FB friends might be watching. (I lost at least one date this way.)

The problem with cutting them off, however, is that it allows writers to inadvertently surround themselves with “yes-people”—in other words, a writer’s online fan base becomes a band of sycophants reminding them of their own brilliance. Where I’ve seen this frequently is in gun-control debates. Many science fiction writers support gun control. I do not. Why? I’ve been in situations where I’ve felt having a gun made me safer.

One author, I’ll call him John, has decided that there are too many big, scary guns in the USA. This is not an unusual position. However, John, while on Facebook, attempts to discuss the issue by citing questionable sources. For example, he shared a British study that claimed to prove that gun owners were racist. The study began with the premise that no rational person would own a gun, arguing that they were more likely to be used for suicide than home defense, and then based its conclusion on the premise that one could determine a racist by their tendency to vote against social welfare programs. Finding a correlation (surprise) between gun ownership and a tendency to vote for Conservative politicians, the study therefore “proved” gun owners were racist. (Editor’s note: I’ve seen this study, it’s riddled with logical fallacies.) In response, John’s followers—90% of them—responded with bland statements about how they did not like gun owners.

Now, my impression is that John, in addition to being a good writer is a pretty intelligent guy. However, by surrounding himself on FB with “yes-men” and clamoring sycophants, he’s not likely to consider an opposing viewpoint anytime soon.

Now, do all writers do this? No, of course, not. I’ll even name Theodora Goss, as a counter-example. Dora and I attended the Odyssey Writers Workshop together fourteen years ago although I’ve only seen her once since then so it would be a mistake to call us friends. Dora and I disagree on many things but she’s a smart cookie. And, unlike some science fiction writers, she does not delete people who disagree with her from her FB page; keeping open to opposing views.

Of course, Facebook has other uses. Some writers use it to seek publicity and build a following. Facebook, they say, will allow you to tell others about your projects and help sell books. Apparently, that’s a documented fact. Then again, if you actually check Facebook to see what its book marketing process looks like, you’ll see giant webs of inter-connected authors trying to sell books to one another. Think about that.