Don’t be a dick online

There’s been a lot of debate recently about how people comport themselves online. There are stories of teachers losing their job for complaining about students, other people losing jobs for complaining about said job, or their boss. Lovers discovering spouses and vice versa. Seriously, it’s a minefield out there. But that’s just life. I’m more interested in the persona someone puts out there when they’re some form of public figure, even a very minor one. Obviously, from my point of view, I’m most interested in writers, editors, publishers and so on. It seems that a lot of the time those people can be real dicks online and it can only damage their careers. I got to thinking about this after I wrote a fairly poor review of Unimagined by Imran Ahmad. Ahmad himself came along and left a comment that did some serious damage to his reputation among people that would otherwise have never thought badly of him. Some people even said they wouldn’t buy his book now, after the author “waded in with his ego-hammer”. You can read that post and all associated comments here.

I spend a lot of time online. I know, that’s really no surprise to anyone. But during that time I’ve seen a lot of people make serious asshats of themselves, for no real reason. Your personality online is very important. If you’re a writer and you want people to read your stuff, you’ll get more fans if those people feel like they know you. It’s one of the many things about this changing world of publishing. Back in the day you could be a complete shit, utterly sociopathic, but no one would know. If you wrote good stuff and no one ever saw you, you’d just be reclusive or eccentric. These days, with everyone online, people like to know a bit about the author behind the book. As far as I’m concerned, the best way to manage that is just to be yourself. Unless you actually are a dick, of course, but then you’ve got bigger problems anyway.

Not everyone is going to like you. I think that’s something we need to accept from an early age, regardless of what we do. Some people are just not going to dig you, just like there are some people you simply don’t like. If you’re being yourself and you’re happy in your skin, fuck ’em. You don’t need to please everyone. It’s the same if you’re an author with books that you’d like people to read. Not everyone will like your books and not everyone will like you, but if you’re open and honest with your personality online, then the people that do like you will follow you, read your stuff, interact with you. If you have any sense, you’ll interact right back.

To use myself as an example, I swear a lot. Yeah, I know, it’s a shock to many, but it’s true. I believe that words and language are seriously powerful things, but I also think that swearing is an unneccessarily heightened taboo. That’s partly just rationalising my constant swearing, but fuck it. I don’t care. It’s how I am in real life, so I don’t pretend to be different online. I’m always getting in trouble with parents because I inadvertantly swear around their children. I do my best not to, but I’m not very good at it. I’m also opinionated, I don’t suffer fools, I call out the willfully ignorant, I can’t stand injustice or bullying or hypocrisy and I’ll challenge it every time I come face to face with it. That’s just how I am in real life, so that’s how I am online as well. But I try not to be a dick about it. It gets me in trouble, but so be it.

I like to have a laugh with it too. I’ll be deliberately controversial and antagonistic to get a debate going and to interact. I’ll question people to test their conviction. It’s fun, it’s interaction and it’s part of who I am. But, again, I try not to be a complete arse about it. I still want to be a good guy, that people are interested in and entertained by. I want to be liked, same as everyone.

But while I’ll be open and honest about who I am as often as possible, there are some things I’ll keep to myself, because they’re not right for open public consumption. Particularly, I won’t bitch and moan about people to vent my frustrations. I won’t rant and rave when I get a bad review. Other people are as entitled to their opinions as I am. Like Imran Ahmad coming onto the blog here and whining about a bad review, it would only damage my reputation. Not just my reputation generally, but with other professionals in my field – other writers, but also editors and publishers. If I went online and ranted on about some shitty rejection I’d had from so-and-so publisher that didn’t know their arse from their elbow, that rant would DEFINITELY get back to them. (Of course, I have nothing but respect for all the great editors and publishers out there – I’m just talking hypothetically. Honest.) But it works the other way too. Sometimes editors will rant on about some fuckwit writer they’ve had to deal with and that writer WILL hear about it. The nature of Twitter and Facebook and blogs and all that stuff is that everybody knows everybody in some connection. There are certainly not six degrees of seperation any more. Sometimes there’s not even one.

If you have someone you want to bitch and moan about, or a particular company or group you have the shits with, or a review or rejection that really pissed you off, ring a friend. Email a personal mate that understands. Do your venting in the privacy of an enclosed group. When you put that stuff out there online IT’S THERE FOREVER. You might delete it, but it’s already cached. Whenever you say anything online, ask yourself if you really want it out there forever and for everyone to read, because that’s what you’re doing. Careers can crash and burn before they’re started sometimes, because a person flags themselves as a nightmare to work with by the way they act online. This is especially true of newbies in the writing world, that haven’t thickened their skin yet. Because seriously, people, you need the skin of an old elephant to survive with your ego intact in this game.

Be yourself, interact with others, let people in on your personality and your style, your standards and ethics if you like. But don’t be a twat. People want to get to know you and with the internet the way it is we’re all part of one massive community. Which is awesome – I love it, I really dig being part of this great big cyber love-in and everyone needs to embrace it these days. But like the title of the post says, don’t be a dick online.

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30 thoughts on “Don’t be a dick online

  1. So true. This should be mandatory reading for everyone on the internet.

    Man, you would fit in really well in New York. πŸ˜‰

  2. “Be yourself…[b]ut don’t be a twat” — well therein lies the eternal problem and contradiction!

    Also as Russell Blackford already pointed out, the entire topic of your post mirrors exactly one of the recent debates within skepticism (I assume coincidentally?) about whether you should be a dick or not when talking to homeopaths, reiki practitioners, global warming denialists etc.

  3. Hugh – great complimentary post, thanks.

    Seb – it’s an old adage, but very true.

    Michael – there is a dichotomy there, potentially. As for Russell’s post (which I haven’t seen, please link) I think there’s a line to be drawn. I don’t think you should NOT call out the frauds and charlatans, or the willfully ignorant, but you don’t have to be a dick doing it. In the end, sensible, rational, reasonable debate will always make your point better and stand on its own. Of course, that doesn’t mean we can’t have a laugh with them along the way!

  4. It was basically a link to yours:
    http://metamagician3000.blogspot.com/2011/02/on-being-dick-online-with-examples.html

    The actual debate, based on Phil Plait’s keynote speech at The Amazing Meeting last yr. These 2 posts summarise the speech and the reactions to it:
    http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/badastronomy/2010/08/17/dont-be-a-dick-part-1-the-video/
    http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/badastronomy/2010/08/18/dont-be-a-dick-part-2-links/

    My take is that sometimes mocking someone or doing something that’s considered dickish might be the best course of action, but even then it’s usually better to be caustic rather than an actual dick (but people’s thoughts on what counts as dickishness vary greatly). OTOH, how undickish should one be to a racist conspiracy theorist or holocaust denier or some such?

  5. Ah, with you – I hadn’t noticed that Russell had posted that. There does seem to be a lot of chat lately about it, but I didn’t realise that “being a dick online” was such a ubiquitous phrase at the moment! Synchronicity, eh? As I mentioned in the post, I’ve been thinking about this since the Imran Ahmad thing and there have been a few other instances of various magnitude since that finally nudged me into posting.

    I agree that there’s a lot more room for caustic response than dickish response to the kind of things you mention, but degrees of dickishness are obviously subjective. I think a calm, reasoned response, however caustic, is always the best method, avoiding any ad hominems and name-calling, etc. that only act to draw attention away from the subject in question.

    Also, I would like to congratulate us for use of undickish and dickishness.

  6. Yeah I agree. I think, too, in the Facebook Age, people find themselves venting and venting and venting, and causing all sorts of troubles. Rather than being social, it turns rather anti-social. People get the shits with their friends over the most minor of stupid things.

    What people need to realise is that, although you might do all your online stuff in the solitude of your own space, the internet is public space. How you comport yourself in public is pretty much how you should comport yourself online, too.

    It’s a weird space and a weird thing for some people to think. But it would do a lot of people a lot of good.

  7. The anti-social network?

    “Act on the internet like you’d act out in public” is a fairly decent motto to go by online.

  8. What? You shouldn’t get online and bitch and moan about people? What if, hypothetically, you’re co-hosting a podcast with some wanker and… Never mind.

  9. Lol I though for a minute you were a closet Skeptic. Of course not being a dick is a rather lose phrase – just pointing out to someone that a power balance bracelet is a worthless $2 piece of plastic can be taken as being dickish.

  10. Sean – nothing closeted about my scepticism. And, to use your example, I’ll gladly point out that a power balance bracelet is the equivalent of shitting on $60 of your own money and leaving it there on the pavement. Especially now we have the official word from the Australian Competition & Consumer Commission:

    “Power Balance Australia Pty Ltd (Power Balance) claimed that their wristbands and pendants improve balance, strength and flexibility and work positively with the body’s natural engergy field. It also marketed its products with the slogan “Performance Technology”. These claims made by Power Balance were not supported by any credible scientific evidence and therefore Power Balance has admitted that it has engaged in misleading and deceptive conduct in breach of s. 52 of the Trade Practices Act 1974.

    To address the ACCC’s concerns, Power Balance has undertaken that it will:

    *
    not make any claims about its products that are not supported by a written report from an independent testing body that meets certain standards;
    *
    offer a refund to consumers who feel they have been misled;
    *
    publish corrective advertising to prevent consumers from being misled in the future;
    *
    amend the Australian website to remove any misleading representations;
    *
    remove the words ‘performance technology’ from the brand itself; and
    *
    implement a compliance program.”

    From: http://www.accc.gov.au/content/index.phtml/itemId/964065

  11. A man after my on heart, this had me rolling on the floor –

    I’ll gladly point out that a power balance bracelet is the equivalent of shitting on $60 of your own money and leaving it there on the pavement.

  12. But ou have to be yourself online, and if you are generally a dick in everyday life, it’s hard to appear a decent human online, particularly given the spontanaeity involved in commenting on blogs etc. I was fascinated and appalled by Imran’s response to your review (and in fact, linked to it in a post a few weeks ago titled ‘responding to bad reviews).

    I have no doubt my politics online could impact my future ops, but I am painfully, and always, aware of that.

  13. Quite right – if a person is a dick anyway, that’ll come through online as well. But a lot of decent people can make a dick of themselves online very easily, when a moment’s thought will stop that from happening. Your words are wise – everyone should stay “painfully aware” of their conduct at all times.

    But yes, you do need to be yourself. As I mentioned in the post, people these days want to get to know the authors they read and you can only expect to appeal to some of the people. But that’s okay – it’s just like real life.

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