When we interact with people in real life, we’re often advised not to talk about politics or religion. Bringing up those emotionally charged topics is a good way to start arguments with strangers and friends alike. Yet I’ve seen countless authors, aspiring and published, break this rule online.
If they’re writing about religion or politics in their books, expressing their opinion about those topics fits with their brand. Maybe they’re writing Inspirational Romance. Or maybe their book is targeted toward those who think X religion is made up of crazies or Y political party members are all idiots who hate the country. But most of our books don’t fall into that category.
I can think of a dozen authors that I will never buy books from because they stated their opinion on social media with no room for anyone with opposite opinions to feel welcome. To me, whether I agree with their opinion or not, that unwelcoming attitude says they don’t want my money. If confronted with their behavior, those authors will often state that they don’t stop believing in certain things just because they’re authors. And that’s true.
However, Twitter is usually compared to an online cocktail party. How many of us would shout our beliefs at the top of our lungs at a real life cocktail party? And worse, how many of us would word it as “anyone who doesn’t agree with me is an idiot”? Why do we insist on behaving a different way online than we do in real life?
“We must remember that everything we say and do on-line serves as part of our brand. Social media is a loaded gun that can be used to feed our family or to shoot ourselves in the foot. … What takes YEARS to build can take only minutes to destroy.”
Whatever we do online creates our brand.
And whatever we do online remains forever.
Almost exactly one year ago, I pointed out, “An odd dichotomy exists within the internet, as it possesses both a short attention span and a long-term memory.” Some of you might have heard about this week’s exhibit number one proving that long-term memory: Terrell Mims.
Over a year ago, I helped spread the word about Terrell Mims’s plagiarism. That post is on my Most Popular Posts sidebar because it continues to get a fair number of hits from people Googling general plagiarism issues.
After being outed, Terrell disappeared for many months. Then on Monday night, a comment on that old post accused Terrell of returning with a new name, Chris DeLaune. As a new commenter, the accuser’s comment automatically landed in moderation. Before approving it, I checked out the links (s)he provided.
Sure enough, Terrell had kept his old Twitter account and just changed the avatar and handle to @AuthorCDeLaune. In an extraordinary show of gall, he’d taken up interacting with Kristen Lamb and the same group of writers he’d victimized last time—none of them aware of who he really was. (Nuclear explosions would have been quieter than their shock at the news. *smile*)
I took oodles of screen shots, prepared to make the case, and approached my Tech Guy for insight. He made his own copies when he discovered that Terrell’s post just last week at his new blog under his new name was…hmm, let’s say “strongly inspired” by a post at Forbes (with no credit, of course).
Tuesday morning, Kristen, my Tech Guy, and I all confronted him on Twitter. His first response was to deny everything. And then we brought up the proof. I captured the Twitter confrontation on Storify (tangent: I love Storify!), and in the end, he admitted everything.
I’m not bringing this up to turn this post into a slamfest against Terrell. I was never directly victimized by him, so others can handle that aspect.
(For a far better look at that angle, check out Kristen Lamb’s post from yesterday with the background of all the ways he’d betrayed her. From threatening her reputation to taking a brand new laptop from her, Terrell’s crimes are beyond simple plagiarism and into full-on fraud (and worse). For my efforts in outing him this second time, she dubbed me “Digital Wonder Woman.” (I do have dark hair and the power of truth. *smile*))
I am bringing up this mess with Terrell to illustrate my point of how everything we do online becomes part of a collective memory that will never go away. As I commented on Kristen’s post: “Someone might be able to fool some of us some of the time, but not all of us all of the time.”
This latest outing of Terrell Mims happened because of a post over a year old. Internet searches, quotes of conversations on blogs, copied chat messages, Storify, the Internet Archive/Wayback Machine, and Google caching all ensure that internet data remains forever.
And contrary to the beliefs of those who scream loudly, people tend to watch out for each other. Commenters defend bloggers from trolls. Fans of author Holly Lisle regularly let her know where they find pirated copies of her books. The internet is not just a faceless mass of words. The internet is people. People like you and me.
So we all need to keep that in mind when we feel like ranting, or lying, or stealing, or anything else that can negatively affect how others perceive us. Biting our tongue—just as we’d do in real life situations—can sometimes be the only thing that prevents us from having to dig out of a hole bigger than our ability to escape.
As for Terrell Mims, whether it’s the fact that he knows he was caught and is simply attempting to play everyone a third time or my Digital Wonder Woman “Lasso of Truth,” he has (as of this writing) updated his Twitter bio to include “Terrell Mims. Former plagiarist.” (Update: He’s deleted his Twitter account, will he try another new name?) Also, he posted a full admission of his past crimes to his blog (no mention of his oh-so-recent “slip” with the Forbes post) and stated that he’s a plagiarist on his blog’s About Me page.
However, the Storify of his Twitter confrontation with his plagiarism victims reveals several arrogant statements that make me doubt his sincerity. More importantly, his other what-he-thinks-is-more-private online activities make me doubt him even more, not to mention what I know from those who know him in real life.
Could he conceivably turn over a new leaf—completely changing his long-term character traits—in the twelve minutes between his “prove it” tweet to my Tech Guy and his “that was a slip” tweet in regards to the recent Forbes article plagiarism? Eh… Let me put it this way: I wouldn’t find it believable in a fiction book. *smile*
Has an author’s behavior online ever made you change your opinion of them or decide not to purchase their books? Do you talk about religion or politics online? If so, does it fit your brand? Whether you discuss those topics or not, what would make the risk in discussing them worth it to you? Before you post anything online, do you ask yourself if you really want this associated with your brand?
Photo credit: VinnyPrimePin It