Monday, January 11, 2016

The Algorithms, the Minefield

The algorithms, the algorithms, the damned algorithms.

Facebook and Twitter choose what we see and what we show according to the algorithms, social media's God (or Devil), of sorts. We can blame all sorts of things on the algorithms: our lack of reach, the things we miss, the ads we see and the ones we block.  The friends you used to see on your wall three times daily have dropped off social media...or have they? No. Facebook's just not showing them to you anymore (or, more to the point, Facebook's algorithms aren't). The same cat videos and memes are there, but now you just have to go hunting for them on individual pages.

Oh, but the irritating stuff is there, too.  The Darth Trump video she Liked; the Bernie Sanders student loan debt thread he commented on; the Stephen King meme she retweeted that called everyone not an unreconstructed 1970's hippie a fascist. That stuff's front and center. Can't miss that.

It's a terrible thing to serve such an arbitrary and capricious deity as the social media algorithm, especially when its Creators are such flawed figures. I know: I saw The Social Network.

When you're treating social media as a potential sales outlet, you subject yourself to a terrible set of self-imposed strictures that can't help but conflict. Say you're a writer, like me, and you use Facebook not just to connect with friends and relatives, but find new readers and network with other writers. It is a social network, after all.  When you're starting out, the rule is: don't alienate half the world with your horrible political/religious/economic opinions (and they are horrible, all of them, every single one).  Keep it light.  Stay professional.  Be yourself, but don't be too much of yourself, because you'll piss someone off. Maybe you'll make someone important angry.  Is it worth the price of a book (or an online friendship) to dash off that paragraph about how evil Hillary Clinton is?  They're watching you, you know. They'll see and get mad.  So how much tongue-biting are you going to do?  You want to be you, but you have to hide certain things, which isn't you.

No, it doesn't matter that you see what they Like and it makes you mad but you let it go.  Your forbearance means nothing.  You see them, but more importantly, they see you. They can piss you off all day long, but don't piss them off. Only their views are legitimate.

A conundrum, isn't it?


Because it's all bullshit.  You're not going to ruin your writing career, nascent or otherwise, through social media, especially Facebook.  The people who will get mad at you for your appalling opinions on issues that have nothing to do with your writing are entirely without value as individuals or contacts.  Their conditional professionalism can only damage you.  Nobody gets rich selling books on Facebook or Twitter.  Nobody.  (At least, nobody who wasn't rich to begin with.) If you can't strike it rich there, then you can't get bankrupted there, either. Social media is a tool among many.  Obviously, it's stupid to go out to deliberately make enemies, but living on eggshells will kill you.

Anyone who'll construct a negative opinion of you because you Like Rush Limbaugh (or Rachel Maddow) on social media is a waste of time.  They won't buy from you and they won't sell for you. Ditch them and move on.

The only caveat is that shoehorning your disgusting political views into your fiction at the expense of plot and characterization dooms you to deserved failure, as my Breitbart piece suggests.

So don't worry about the algorithms. They're there to upset you, but they won't kill you.  Most of the time.

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