Social Media Backlash

There was an article entitled “Authors Stifled by Fear of Social Media Backlash, Franzen Warns” which appeared in the 22 August edition of The Daily Telegraph.  Jonathan Franzen is an award-winning novel and author of Freedom and The Corrections.

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Jonathan Franzen

Franzen claims it is becoming more difficult for writers to produce great novels in the era of social media because they are too frightened of a public backlash to be truthful.  He says that the “firewalls” protecting authors from their readers have now disappeared, and there is now too much pressure to use social media to promote new works.

The article says that he has famously refused to go on Twitter, having labelled it “unspeakably irritating”.  Now he has spoken of his concern it its impact on novelists, telling The Guardian: “The ways in which self-censorship operates – the fear of being called a bad name – people become very careful.  And it becomes very hard to be creative, actually.  Because you’re worried  about what you might be called, and whether its true or not.  There used to be rather serious firewalls between the artist and the buying public – the gallery, the publisher.  And technology demolishes that wall and basically says: self-promote or die.  And that is a bad head for any sort of artist to be forced into.”

Yesterday he was derided on Twitter after revealing he had once considered adopting an Iraqi orphan, adding: “One of the things that had put me in mind of adoption was a sense of alienation from the younger generation.  They seemed politically not the way they should be as young people.”

I’m afraid I don’t agree with much of what Franzen says.  I congratulate him for wanting to adopt and Iraqi orphan; let’s hope it wasn’t critics who dissuaded him!  I grew up in an era where we used to say to bullies, “Sticks and stones will break my bones, but names will never hurt me!”

I believe that if an author takes a well-reasoned position on a subject which may be controversial, and he is derided by trolls, there will be plenty of people who agree with the author but don’t bother to say so.  This is what good authors have done for centuries, and this is no time, in an age of social media and terrorism, for authors to lose their courage to speak freely!

Franzen might well say to me, “Well, but you have never been attacked by trolls.”  True.  But I’m certainly not going to change my position if they do.  Besides, I live in a country where personal threats are illegal.  There are some things which my characters have said in my novels which may very well offend some sensitive people.  They’ll just have to get over it.

As to social media, I have this blog and several Facebook accounts.  I’m on Goodreads and Amazon.  I’m not on Twitter – mainly for the reason that I don’t have time to prepare daily tweets.  The world is changing: get on board!

Franzen bemoans the loss of “firewalls”.  I don’t think that firewalls are helpful to the author in the long run.  Any artist should have access to the public’s reactions to his/her work – good or bad.  Dickens had very few “firewalls” between himself and the public.  Why should we?

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