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Agony Editor: Provoking an author on social media isn’t a cool, but neither is bullying back

(Evan Munday)

(Evan Munday)

Dear Agony Editor,

Recently, I @ mentioned a writer on Twitter. I thought her book was poorly written and said so. She retweeted my tweet to her 10,000 followers and made a comment about my intelligence. I got mean replies and DMs from her followers as a result. I felt harassed and under attack. Did I get what I deserved?

Twitter Target

Dear Twitter Target,

I don’t think it was the wisest decision for you to have @ mentioned the writer in your tweet. You could’ve expressed your opinion without including her. By doing so, you were intentionally poking the bear. Why did you do it? To make her feel bad? To see if she’d reply?

You clearly had an agenda and need to own up to that. But how the writer chose to respond
to you was worse than your tweet. She could’ve ignored your tweet. Or replied and said, “You suck,” or whatever. But instead, she decided to take advantage of the power imbalance between you. She retweeted it out to her 10,000 followers for one reason – to incite them into reacting. She invited them to participate in her shaming of you. And from my vantage point on the schoolyard, that’s called being a bully. You may have criticized her book but she criticized your intelligence.

As a reader, you have every right to not like a book and to express your opinions. There is no shortage of platforms available to express those opinions: Amazon, Goodreads, social media, etc. You even have the right to express that opinion directly to a writer if you so choose. But if you decide to go that route, ask why. Are you trying to engage in meaningful conversation or are you doing it to get a reaction? Regardless, what you shouldn’t expect in return is bullying behaviour. Writers, please check yourself before engaging with readers on social media and remember that you have the upper hand. After all, you have something most readers don’t – a published book.

Brian Francis is the author of Natural Order and Fruit. He teaches creative writing­ as part of the International Festival of Authors.

Have a question for Brian? Email info@quillandquire.com.