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Social Media Agita

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For authors, it’s pretty much de rigueur to promote our work, and engage with our readers, using social media tools such as Facebook and Twitter. But for many people in the information technology field, willingly supplying personal information to any third party unless it’s absolutely required is…unthinkable. Anathema. Gets you sprinkled with loser dust.

Being both an author and a technologist, social media is a subject of massive personal agita for me.

My native mindset is that of the technologist: security and risk focused.  I have an innate personal desire for silence and privacy, near-zero socialization needs, am massively introverted, and have an ongoing challenge with digital overload…add growing up Scandanavian and Lutheran in Minnesota, where, as Garrison Keillor says about Lake Wobegon on A Prairie Home Companion, every child is above average, so there’s no need to go tooting your horn, little missy. Is it any wonder social media and promotion are not exactly natural fits for me?

And then there’s the physical safety issue.

There was an unfortunate incident recently that brought all this agita to the forefront:  a literary agent recently reported having been assaulted by a disgruntled author. As an assault and stalking victim myself, reading this story made my stomach plummet to my feet like an elevator in free-fall. As a technologist, I found the divergent attitudes toward social media to be rather eye-opening. From the story:

Van Hylckama Vlieg said the incident taught her to be more cautious about her job and social media usage. Until the incident, she had been a keen user of the location-based social networking service Foursquare, often sharing her location in and around her daughter’s school, where the attack took place.

“My husband works for Yahoo,” van Hylckama Vlieg says. “A lot of people who work in tech[nology] circles tend to be more open [with their information].”

I found this comment startling. It doesn’t align with my experience of technologists at all. Several commenters expressed similar views:

The IT people in my family are absolutely paranoid about the internet…constantly warning us all not to put anything out there at all. They don’t use any social media – no Facebook, no Tweet, no nothing. They even refuse to order stuff online using credit cards and each have several email addresses not using any variation of their names. -- Susan of Wales

Same with mine. My father’s in Information Security…he’s the most paranoid person in my family about sharing information over the internet. No addresses, alias when I post something (sometimes) and never do things like tell my age and stuff… I know very few IT people that are open with their information on the Web. – Mercy Grant

Being a successful author today pretty much requires that you reach out to readers, reviewers, and other writers using digital means. But what do you do when the requirements of the author’s job utterly collide with beliefs and behaviors forged by decades of professional experience and personal inclination?  From the technologist’s perspective, I’m a clueless loser if I willingly feed the digital maw with likes, tags, tweets and clicks, or provide more personal data than I absolutely must. From an author’s or publisher’s perspective, I’m a paranoid loser if I don’t.

Sometimes my brain feels utterly cleaved in two.

It’s a struggle for me to try to explain to friends and loved ones exactly why so many technologists are so rabid about data privacy. It’s challenging to talk about such a complex subject in a meaningful way without a shared vocabulary. How do you condense a career’s worth of knowledge, experience, research and concern into a casual conversation, or into a blog post? Where do you even start?  (I tried: “Ten Things You Can Do To Reduce Hack Risk” Part 1 and Part 2) Technologists are concerned because we simply don’t know who can access, use, buy or sell our personal data, now or into the future. We don’t know how our personal data might be used. The law is about fifteen years behind technology here – the last significant update to the Telecommunications Act was made in 1996 – so in the absence of meaningful and appropriate consumer protections, we choose to protect ourselves.

I try to make what I hope are informed compromises. Writing under a pseudonym has been very helpful for this purpose. Tamara has a Facebook account and fan page; Tammy doesn’t. Tamara has a Twitter feed; Tammy doesn’t. Yes, Tamara and Tammy share computers, ISPs, IP addresses, and other technological trackables, but the risk of any one individual having enough interest, time and skill to connect the digital dots between Tamara and Tammy is relatively low—not zero, mind you, but low. Making a mental distinction between Tamara and Tammy helps me navigate this risk more productively.

Like the children of Keillor’s Lake Wobegon, I want to be above average in everything I do, but when push comes to shove, Tammy’s concerns will always trump Tamara’s. Always. This means that Tamara, who writes and sells books, pays a price. She doesn’t always hold up her end of the bargain, promotion-wise.  She isn’t above average – at least as far as sales go.

And that realization really, really stings.

Do you ever experience social media agita? If so, what do you do about it?

Award-winning author Tamara Hogan loathes cold and snow, but nonetheless lives near Minneapolis with her partner Mark and two naughty cats. When she’s not telecommuting to Silicon Valley, she enjoys writing edgy urban fantasy romance with a sci-fi twist. A feral reader with an unapologetic television addiction, Tammy is forever on the lookout for the perfect black boots.

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36 Responses to “Social Media Agita”

  1. Hope Ramsay says:

    I do have social media anxiety. And my pseudonym doesn’t even use a variation of my first or last names. I use a business address for all my author correspondence, and I try not to post any personal information about my children or grandchild. That being said, members of my family are not nearly as paranoid as I am, and since I don’t have a facebook or twitter persona in my own real name, family will use my author pages to communicate stuff that I’d just as soon not be communicated. And I could create my own personal profiles, but that would be another big drain on my time.

    Social media does give me a chance to connect with readers in a way that would be impossible using snail mail. And I can see where it saves a lot of time and money. (I can’t imaging responding to snail mail letters as easily as electronic posts and emails.) But it makes me slightly queasy and I really think about everything I post.

    • Tamara Hogan says:

      Hope, the ability to connect with readers is what I see as being social media tools’ biggest benefit, but I have to be honest and say that the nature of that connection sometimes baffles me. I have no clue why people might be interested in interacting with me. I’m just not that interesting. ;-)

      Thanks for weighing in.

  2. [...] MORE…at the Ruby Slippered Sisterhood. [...]

  3. Elise Hayes says:

    This was such a great post, Tamara. I’m definitely of the “ack! keep that personal stuff off the internet!” mentality.

    Having a pseudonym helps, but even then, I still don’t like having a big internet presence. I don’t tweet. I’m on FB about twice a year, and then only because I have a couple of friends whose primary way of communicating about major life events is via FB–so if I want to stay current with them, I need to pop onto FB occasionally. But then, I’m not published yet…so I know someday, when I get that call–and, yes, ideally before then–I’m going to need to face this distaste for the way the internet records *everything* and plunge in anyway. Sigh.

    Glad to know I’m not the only one out there with these concerns!

    • Tamara Hogan says:

      Nothing wrong with sticking your toe in the water instead of taking the plunge, Elise! The way I figure it, that distaste is telling us something important. When my gut talks, I listen.

  4. Your post pretty much sums up how I feel. :) I have a twitter account and FB account under my author name, but I try to be careful about sharing too much personal information and I never post pictures of my children (or use their names) on my author social media accounts. And I’m extremely introverted anyway, so it’s hard for me to even know how to effectively use any of the social media stuff out there. In short, I pretty much feel like a promo fail most of the time. :D So, I’m taking the ‘write the next book and don’t worry about it’ approach.

  5. Laurie Kellogg says:

    Me! Me! Social media gives me the creeps sometimes. I’m a fairly private person, and I don’t like people knowing what I’m doing and where I’m doing it all the time.

    I’ve always been a little paranoid about BIG BROTHER watching me, but no more so than since Amazon began making connections to people I know and removing their reviews. It gives me the heebie-jeebies that this mega giant merchandiser was able to connect me to my sister, who hasn’t shared a last name with me in 36 years, and who doesn’t have either a FB or Twitter account. If they can do that, what other personal information are they gathering about us all? Are they perhaps tracking how many times a day we use the bathroom?

    Just call me Freaked Out!

    • Tamara Hogan says:

      I know exactly what you mean, Laurie. Pre-computer, I grew up in a small town where everyone knew your business, so I developed an outsized taste for anonymity and privacy very early on in my life.

      Now that our every digital move can be tracked and stored as we tool around the internet, that taste – that NEED – has only grown. Your comments about Big Brother aren’t paranoid in the slightest, Laurie. This week, lots of folks in the tech security community are looking at the Amazon thing as both a blessing and a curse – a curse because of the heinous actions you describe, and a blessing because there’s finally a real-world, non-classified example of how data can be used to do things people never anticipated. This time, it’s deleting book reviews. What about next time?

  6. Rita Henuber says:

    The information put out on FB sends chills through me. People post where they live, TN#s, birth date, names and pictures of family members. When they are going on vacation and how long they will be gone. It takes my breath away. Guys, facebook is used by employers, the police department, hell, the State Department, and criminals. A FB page was started for the girl in NJ who was murdered by neighbors for her bike. The murderers posted on the page. Chilling. Twitter has been known to incite protests and violence.
    As authors, I don’t believe we can avoid social media but we can be careful. I don’t think it takes a class or listening to a lot of geek talk. It boils down to common sense.
    Thanks for this reminder.

    • Tamara Hogan says:

      Me too, Rita. As a culture, I think we’re in an unfortunate era of over-sharing. We’re in the midst of this massive social experiment, and IMO there are too few people questioning the benefits and risks of living so much of their lives online. People see only the upside of this fabulous technology – and don’t get me wrong, there ARE some upsides – but to use Elise’s analogy, they take the plunge full-bore without necessarily questioning how deep the water is.

      Some caution and prudence is called for, and unfortunately, I see far too little of both.

      • Rita Henuber says:

        How many times have I heard the excuse “I didn’t know” or “No body told me.” Hello! Didn’t anyone tell you not to talk to strangers? Have no doubt, of those 5000 ‘friends’ you have on facebook not all are friends. Be careful people.

  7. Ugh, such a tough line we straddle. I’ve been trying to be careful how much I share, and I never post pics of the kids, but when people tag me, yeah, it ends up in my FB feeds somehow. Interesting post, Tamara!

  8. Vivi Andrews says:

    Fantastic post, Tammy. I agree that the pressure to social media socialize for authors is strong. I have found a compromise I feel I can live with by keeping a “presence” but also being careful about what I say. I’ll tweet about the nice TSA lady who told me my shirt was inside out before my 5am flight (cannot be expected to think at that hour), but I’m not handing out my flight info online. It’s a dance – giving readers enough that they can connect with you, but still maintaining your privacy.

    • Tamara Hogan says:

      Thanks, TSA Lady!

      One of the things I’m working on, as we talked about in a blog post earlier this week, is finding ways to preserve and protect the joy I feel when I write. I’m slowly but surely coming to terms with the realization that worrying about meeting or not meeting any spoken or unspoken expectations around social media isn’t helping me one bit. I need to stop angsting about it and just keep writing. ;-)

  9. Great post, Tammy. That line between personal and professional is sometimes pretty squiggly looking. I write under a pen name, and my personal and professional Facebook pages have no overlap (no shared friends). It feels kind of weird trying to keep track of two different identities, but I do feel it gives me a kind of buffer zone of safety, whether real or imagined. Thanks for reinforcing the need to be careful!

    • Tamara Hogan says:

      Tina, doesn’t writing under a pseudonym feel a little schizophrenic sometimes? I am continually logging on and off various accounts depending on whether I want to access or post as an author or as a civilian. ;-)

  10. Liz Talley says:

    Okay, yeah. I do. I tried (and still do) to keep Liz separate from the person I am at the grocery store…problem is, everyone around here knows who I am. And all my friends and family who aren’t particularly savvy when it comes to technology haven’t caught on to the fact that I never use my children’s name on FB. They use it for me. Not to mention my handle for everything is amyliztalley so that everyone who knew me in the past can find me…along with knew readers. I have a major identity crisis.

    I know I could do better, but it would mean overhauling and changing things on all the media outlets I struggle to keep up with. It’s a really hard thing, but maybe I should work harder at widening the gap between my two different identities.

    If people really want to track me down, they will. It’s easy to find people in this day and age. Easy. Almost makes me want to pack things up and hide away in a cabin somewhere, but that’s impractical. Thanks for this post – give me much to consider.

    • Tamara Hogan says:

      Liz, every person has to decide for themselves where their personal comfort zone is, and how much risk they’re comfortable taking in the digital sphere. Having been a crime victim, my tolerance is a lot lower than most. (I’ve learned the hard way that bad sh*t doesn’t always happen to other people.)

      It IS easy to track people down in this day and age, but there’s easy and then there’s EASY. I refuse to make it any easier than it has to be.

  11. Kelley Bowen says:

    Tammy,

    This is such an interesting post I have zero online presence and I wonder how detrimental the lack of an online footprint is to the goal of getting that first sale. I realize writing is a business, but I want to focus on writing the best book I can and go from there. Trouble is, I’m not sure that’s the best game plan.

    Sigh. Lots to think about. Thx for a great blog.

    • Tamara Hogan says:

      Hi Kelley – one of the things I find so frustrating about this subject is that no one really has any data on whether, or to what degree, an online or social media presence translates to book sales. I think conventional wisdom is that it can’t hurt, but no one really knows.

      For writers pursuing that first sale, I think the answer is more clear cut – IMO, the manuscript has to come first, or you have nothing to pitch, nothing to sell. Keep on writing!

  12. Gwyn says:

    It amazes me what people post to social media. Even using nicknames for my family makes me unsure, yet I’ll post pictures because Hubble’s back precludes visits and such, and my family uses my FB page, which is only under my penname. One one hand, it can be a Godsend. Then, of course, there’s the other hand.

    • Tamara Hogan says:

      If you’re concerned about posting pictures to Facebook, you might consider turning back the clock a bit. How did you share pictures before Facebook? These options still exist. You can attach them to email, or produce a hard copy and mail them.

      Read Facebook’s Terms of Service and decide whether you’re comfortable with how they manage pictures, and other data you may post.

  13. Elisa Beatty says:

    All this totally terrifies me. I’m sure I’m eminently hackable…though I have beefed up all my passwords lately.

    I’ve kept my Facebook pages for my pseudonym and real life scrupulously separate (won’t even Friend my family members), and yet people from my real life have somehow found me. Eek!! And they’re not even hackers.

    Privacy is an illusion.

    • Tamara Hogan says:

      —> Privacy is an illusion.

      This is so true, Elisa, but simply being conscious of WHAT we post is a great first line of defense. Then there are other layers of technological risk to assess: WHERE are we posting from? Are we using public wi-fi, which is notoriously insecure? We also place an awful lot of trust in the vendors we engage with when we park our mailing address and credit card information in their databases, which may or may not be well-managed, or may be an attractive hacking target. Anonymous or LulzSec might hack Apple as a protest, but it’s OUR FRICKING DATA they’re releasing out into the wild. Grr.

  14. Tamara Hogan says:

    Hmm, author M.J. Rose is having some similar thoughts for different reasons: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/mj-rose/social-media-book-promotion_b_2006755.html

  15. Donnell says:

    social media agita. I love it, Tammy, Great post! I believe it adds to ADD. Take what I’m doing right now. I’m off to paint my office ;)

    • Tamara Hogan says:

      I just spent a couple of hours sitting on my couch, reading, drinking coffee and playing with the cats. Having a first-hand real world experience that I did not have any desire to tweet about!

  16. Hi Tamara — I saw the link at Kiss of Death and thought I’d respond here.

    I totally see where you’re coming from. I’m not an introvert, but I have become MORE introverted since I’ve been published for a bunch of reasons. (Topic for another blog.) One reason I separated my personal Facebook page from my author page (and don’t post identifiable personal information on my author page) is because I had a lot of friends and family posting personal information on my FB page. So making my FB page private and for people I actually know was important (rather than policing my family!) Also … I keep track of my kids via Facebook and Twitter, and their friends comment on my page all the time. I didn’t want to stop that.

    However, with ALL the information available online, the only way to truly stay private is to not engage online anywhere, and that isn’t feasible for most of us. I teach my kids to be responsible, but even the most responsible kids sometimes make mistakes, and sometimes they don’t — but their friends do. All very scary, but at the same time there isn’t a lot we can do about it except disengage.

    • Tamara Hogan says:

      Hi Allison –

      Yes, it’s impossible to completely disengage no matter how much I want to sometimes ;-) but I try to be judicious about my use – particularly in the vendors I trust to store my personal data. I shudder to think what it’s going to take to get the general public to start thinking about information security beyond the type of information they personally post to FB or Twitter. That’s important, definitely, but it’s just the tip of the iceberg.

      My 2013 release, TEMPT ME, features a reformed hacker heroine, and my research took me into the internet’s grimiest back alleys. Some of the things hackers are doing – and thinking about doing – chill my blood. And what’s scarier yet is that, relatively speaking, it’s SO DAMN EASY for people with the right mix of skill and inclination. People are the weakest link. Too many people buy a new smartphone, turn it on without reading the manual or exploring its default settings, and become really easy pickin’s.

      Anyone who’s read my work probably knows that my natural inclination is toward long time horizons. My friends are used to hearing me say, “A hundred years from now, what will history have to say about SUBJECT.” In hindsight, what will history make of Facebook’s impact on our definitions and perceptions of privacy? Will 9/11 and Facebook be considered the cultural one-two punch that eroded the concept of privacy to the degree that we hardly recognized it anymore? Or will the tide have already turned, making privacy more precious to us than ever?

      We’re living this history today, and the jury’s still out.

  17. Hi Tamara,

    I’ve been online for a long, long time and I’ve never ever used my real name or spoken about my family because of privacy issues (though, when I was a teenager, I simply didn’t know to not use handles!). Even though I dabble with all the “cool” social media devices, I still shy away gabbing about every aspect of my life–it feels a bit like walking into a stranger’s house and telling them about my crappy day, lol. So I blog or tweet or update my Facebook feed when it feels comfortable and natural–people can always tell when you’re trying a bit too hard to be “sociable”.

    • Tamara Hogan says:

      Evangeline, things sure have changed, haven’t they? I went to college at a time when THE computer took up an entire room in the Science Building! Now, there’s more technological firepower in your average smartphone than what was available for the Apollo moon shot.

      And we use it to play Angry Birds. Go figure. ;-)

  18. Great article, Tammy. You know me and I’m pretty loose about my info. I don’t post my address or phone number but I’m “out there” as much as possible with all else. I’ve been thinking about tightening it up, but, ah – the decisions of a want to be famous author!

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