Open Thread : How can writers protect themselves from social media?

As some of you will know, I took a week week long sabbatical from social media last week. I’ve done this four times this year, each time for one to three weeks. For reasons I’ll come to, I find it essential.

I love social media. Twitter is my favourite platform, it connects me with hundreds of wonderful people whose friendship I value hugely. I also use Facebook, Google+, Instagram and a number of others. I also, for reasons I will come to, hate social media.

Like any professional writer, I have to be on social media. My work as a journalist means I need to keep in touch with developing stories, for which social media is essential. Much of my freelance consultancy work revolves around helping businesses use social media, so I need to stay in touch with these platforms as they evolve. In short, I am on social media a lot because it’s immensely useful to me in many ways. But for reasons I will come to, I hate that I have to be on social media.

Why do I hate social media?

Creativity requires focus. Social media, as we’re all fully aware, breaks that focus. It does that in obvious ways, with constant notifications that we train ourselves to constantly be checking. But it’s the less obvious ways that are more pervasive. For every positive debate on social media, there are ten futile conflicts. Like it or not, the kind of continuous presence writers have on social media makes not being drawn into those conflicts extremely problematic. And those conflicts are symptomatic of something worse. It’s what I’ve started thinking of as the social media Crab Barrel effect, wherein social media tends to drag all its participants towards a median level of wisdom or understanding on any topic.

As a creative of any kind the crab barrel is, of course, exactly the thing you have struggled to escape.

We need social media as writers, but we also need to protect ourselves from social media. Your thoughts on how are most welcome.


Published by Damien Walter

Writer and storyteller. Contributor to The Guardian, Independent, BBC, Wired, Buzzfeed and Aeon magazine. Special forces librarian (retired). Teaches the Rhetoric of Story to over 35,000 students worldwide.

14 thoughts on “Open Thread : How can writers protect themselves from social media?

  1. The first rule of self-protection from the tyranny of social media: do not walk and text. It shows the world how impractical you are and what a danger you are to yourself and everybody around you. It signals muggers and pervs to take advantage of you. It annoys all the other right-minded people using the sidewalk/escalator/staircase who have places to go and things to do.

    The second rule is to dictate your own use of SM to suit your own purposes and timing and not the needs and timing of others who use it. Whether that’s 5 minutes every hour, or 30 minutes every two hours, or one long block in the a.m. and another in the p.m. or some other arrangement, make it and abide by it.

    These are the only two rules you need.


      1. Yeah, sure, I think we’re all drawn to writing because there’s some flexibility and creativity, so “scheduling” is somewhat anathema. The point you were after was to preserve the creative space… So if you cut into that creative space for unscheduled SM use, cut into later scheduled SM space for creativity. You need to build the borders respecting the intent, if not the border per se.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Thank you, this is really, really important. The day will come when I need to be on social media much more than I will find comfortable as an individual. To get traction is a very good way of putting it. I shall remember, I hope, to treat my relationship with social media like all other relationships with human beings. There may be the period of being there almost all the time. OK, so be it. Then we negotiate, me and social media. This is what I’ll share, this is what I expect you to share. If you share the contents of your mental knicker drawer I shall not reply. You can continue to splurge the contents of your knicker drawer if you wish. If you behave badly and I choose to involve myself it is because I know I am not going to suffer more than extreme frustration. If you try to involve me in behaving badly … but that won’t happen. I have worked in classrooms, there are secret techniques, mainly a voice and a look, but words will work as well, I’m assuming.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. I’m relatively new to social media. I wandered in anticipating some sort of wide open utopian meritocracy, and very quickly realised how mistaken I was. It’s as anti-social as it is social and the key word is “network.” It’s as cliquey as any school playground, except that in web land it’s the ostracised and disenfranchised who rule the roost, and they know how to play the game better than anyone. It takes a lot of work to figure out who is who, to identify the power brokers and to inveigle your way into their courts. Much time can be wasted just attempting this. It very much depends on the maturity of the people you are dealing with in any given forum. People want to feel safe, they don’t want to be challenged. Hence genres are established and lines of demarcation are strictly drawn and enforced. But eventually schisms become chasms and then sub-genres proliferate, decreasing in size and relevance as they do so. The problem is, as an artist you have a responsibility to challenge complacency, orthodoxy and hierarchy at the same time as the network promotes compromise and complicity. It’s the eternal dilemma of the artist.


  3. I don’t agree that It’s just the disenfranchised who rule the roost; I see the same old traditional playground types gradually get the hang of it and start to exert their time-worn tactics. When I first forayed into Twitter (for example) it was great. A bunch of people waving at each other, having huge amounts of fun, promoting work reciprocally and without snobbery or etiquette. The problems start beyond around ooh, about 400 followers/ees. But you nail it @dragon__eel in your last two sentences.

    It’s important that we try to keep Social Media the wonderful thing it has the potential to be. At least in our own timelines*

    And NEVER inveigle yourself in someone else’s court.

    *social media meddling aside

    Liked by 1 person

  4. As for the tendency of social media to encroach on one’s productive creative time, I think one has to treate social media with the respect one would give any other drug, and choose carefully how much access to oneself it gets. Kudos for the sabbaticals.
    As for the challenges of human social interaction and the hierarchies and cliques that form, yeah, wow. I highly recommend Sigmund Freud’s Group Psychology And The Analysis Of The Ego ( ; I found it fascinating in the light of social media.
    As the “protocol for psychic communication”, boy I just love that description. I think there are a lot of rewards to be earned by investing our time and imagination in perfecting this vessel. Up to the point that it interferes in what’s important.
    Thanks all for lots of food for thought.


  5. Something I wrote a while ago. It might not be specifically relevant to the question, but it addresses a related theme. I thought I might add here.

    We are in an era of self-publication and self-promotion where mutual back-slapping and back-scratching has become the accepted norm. It’s a large part of what social networking is about. That’s not to say that this kind of clubbing together for mutual benefit is utterly without integrity, but there comes a point where compromise becomes inevitable, and someone is obliged to provide a positive comment regarding a sub-standard work. In reality it’s always been thus, social networking has just made the process more naked and prevalent. The first question you should ask when reading a review, is: “What’s in it for the reviewer?” In other words, do author and reviewer share a publisher, or other mutual interest. The publishing industry, and critics and reviewers by association, will always have an interest in promoting certain names and works ahead of others, because these are the marquee names that develop and sustain interest. It’s important to keep them buoyant, even if it means letting the occasional lesser work slip through.



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