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January 24, 2013

Behave…The Internet Never Forgets

Couple whispering secrets with text: Behave...The Internet Never Forgets

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?

As I’ve said before, “Branding is something that happens whether we’re ready or not.  Essentially, our brand is what others think of us.” Or as Kristen Lamb says:

“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: VinnyPrime

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58 Comments on "Behave…The Internet Never Forgets"

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Stefanie Nicholas

How interesting! It’s certainly something to think about. As an aspiring author, it can be hard to establish my ‘brand self’ while still keeping things personal and true to my life. Then again, my book has Christian content so presumably it would come as no surprise that I am in fact a Christian xD However, in the past few years on line, especially on tumblr, I’ve learned how important being kind about my beliefs is. I try to love everybody ^^ So hopefully no one could find anything too horrible I’ve written online. Thanks for your usual awesome insight, Jami!

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[…] Update: Here’s my follow-up post with more links to Terrell/Chris’s confrontation with his plagi… as well as his current […]

Laurie London

Wow, Jami, I had not heard of this situation. I just read Kristen’s blog too. It’s appalling what some people will do online, isn’t it? From Manti Te’o’s catfishing situation to a boy at my daughter’s school who fake-dated a girl online whom he thought was real. She was outed and apologized, but the boy ended up killing himself a few months later. Have you watched Catfish on MTV yet? Those people posing as something they’re not are really sad and pathetic.

We want to believe the best in people, that what they’re putting forth on the internet is their true selves, but it’s situations like these that really make you wonder sometimes. Yay for Digital Wonder Woman and White Hacker Jay. You go!!!

And I wholeheartedly agree with yours and Kristen’s statements about authors (and anyone in the public eye) who rant about politics, religion, etc. If it’s your brand, fine. If not, many people who follow you will be insulted.

I love your cocktail party analogy. That’s exactly what I do. If I wouldn’t say what I’m about to post online at a cocktail party or to one of my best friends who happens to have opposite political views than me, I won’t say it online. In my opinion, it’s just plain rude and inconsiderate. She’d be like, “Screw you, Laurie. You suck.”

Taurean Watkins
I get what Jami’s saying here. That said, we also need to remember that just like in real life, people are not perfect, we’re all not in politics, and sometimes you have to face hard conversations, offline or on, you just have to be respectful. I’m not counting the guy Jami used in the post above (I never knew of that, so I have no opinion) but I have said some things I’m not proud of, yet I didn’t say them to be a jerk, but they were things I actually care about, and I’ve thankfully learned to be more tactful. I’ve also met folks I had issues with for similar issues as cited above, but we became close friends over time, or at least developed a new respect for each other, I know that’s not atypical given Jami’s post above, but it does happen, just saying… I wouldn’t not buy or read someone’s books just because they had a big blow-up or two, it still all comes down to the writing and my interests, period. The only exceptions are a couple women authors whose views on men make me gag (I’m not naming them so I hope says something about me tact…), and I’ll stop there now. While I’m not for treating people like sleazebags, sometimes you HAVE to speak to something, even if it’s not the most happy thing ever. That’s a difference in my mind to just trolling people, which even at my worst, I don’t do.… Read more »
Jami's Tech Guy (Jay)

Great post Jami!

I laughed when I saw Terrell had deleted his Twitter account. And we now have the answer to if Storify keeps Tweets after they’ve been deleted – they do. Yay!

One thing I teach is the permanence of electronic information. Yay for you being such a good student! 🙂 If my office phone number from 1996 is still online, someone’s most embarrassing moments or divisive comments will certainly be.

And don’t even get me started about the proliferation of personal information out on the Internet. I could spend all day helping people keep online stalkers from showing up at their door…oh wait… some days I do. 🙂

-Jay
@jaytechdad

Amanda
You know what’s funny? Just before this post popped into my inbox, Jeaniene Frost tweeted to authors, asking them not to respond to bad reviews. Which reminded me of another author and the flame war that ensued in the comments on various review sites. By the end of it, one blogger, who’d posted an honest review of the book, had her life threatened. The author did little to get her readers to calm down, and the apology she offered the blogger was perfunctory at best. I’ve been known, on occasion, to post about current events or politics on my own blog, but I don’t do it nearly as often as I used to. Part of it is yes, I am a little more wary of what I put out there, but it’s also partly because I don’t watch/read the news much anymore (too depressing!) When I do choose to, though, I feel I can get away with it because that’s the sort of thing that’s been on my blog from the beginning, and my blog followers know it. And yes, sometimes my snarky opinions end up in my projects (one book centered on an indie bookstore taking on a corporate giant, so I got to sound off on big business killing indies). But those times I do choose to post about something potentially polarizing, it’s always something I feel very strongly about. Victoria Dahl’s another awesome example-she’s big on reproductive rights and isn’t afraid to tweet or blog about it,… Read more »
Marcy Kennedy
I don’t talk politics online, largely because of lack of interest. I also avoid current events where there’s a lot of polarization about the issue because it’s not how I want to spend my time. Religion has always been the more difficult area for me. I don’t write Christian fiction, but I am a Christian, so I’ve had to find a way to be true to both of those aspects of myself. I don’t hide my faith, and if anyone wanted to talk to me about it, I’d be happy to. But I also don’t write blog posts about my beliefs, nor do I argue my points in my ethical-type posts based on “the Bible says.” I think by being open and authentic about who I am, while also sticking to blogging about what does relate to my fiction, I’m able to find that balance. I hope so at least 🙂 One thing that I’ve noticed is that those of us who are worried about destroying our brand or are worried about accidentally crossing the plagiarism line are the ones who probably won’t make those mistakes. I’m constantly thinking about whether I should or shouldn’t post something or about whether I’ve added my own take on something enough to share it. I would be devastated if I even accidentally overstepped the line. It’s difficult for me to understand how anyone could justify intentionally stealing and deceiving others. I’m very thankful to people like you, Jay, and Kristen who try to… Read more »
Kerry Gans

First of all, way to go, Jami! 🙂

Second, yes, I do think about what I post before I post it–both as to how it affects brand, and as to how it might impact the privacy of my family.

I am friends (in real life!) with people who hold very different views than I on many things. But we are still friends, because we have similarities that outweigh our differences and because we agree to respect each other’s right to have a different view. I try to keep that vibe online, too. Besides, it’s interesting to talk to people that don’t see the world the same as you!

There are certain things I will speak up about, because I feel strongly, but I try to be respectful about it. If it is something factually incorrect, I post a link to back me up. As I get older (don’t ask!) I find that I am more willing to stand up for things I believe in, even though I hate confrontation. Most of the time it is when I encounter hateful, spiteful or bullying behavior. I just can’t stand that. There is no need for it and it has no useful purpose. All it does is widen the gaps between us and hurt people.

So, yeah, I try not to get in the middle of political or religious frays, but there are times when something needs said. And then I try to say it with respect.

angelaackerman

I can’t believe he was stupid enough to do it not once, but twice. When Kristen’s story came out this week, my jaw dropped at what he did. Unbelievable.

Kristen Lamb
Kristen Lamb
Brilliant post, as always. I know that when I advise against blogging on sex, politics or religion (unless it’s part of your platform) I get a lot of writers who wail and scream about freedom of speech and that I am denying them the right to have an opinion, but the Internet can just blow up in our faces. I have seen it happen too many times. A fairly innocent post goes DEFCON-5. Unlike taking a political stance in a book, where the “politics” are subtly woven into a narrative, FB, tweets and blogs are more like a punch in the face. Star Trek changed society’s views of women and minorities by using the power of STORY. We as the “audience” didn’t feel attacked. We eased into the idea and soon? We changed. Rants just put people on the defensive. I never mind buying from authors who have different beliefs than mine. What I WON’T tolerate is being called a hater-idiot-moron non-stop and then them expecting me to part with cash after using their platform to bludgeon me AND my beliefs. I am friends with all kinds of people who are different from me. That’s what’s beautiful about the Internet. We can connect, get to know one another. Recently, I had a staunchly liberal gun-control friend on Facebook start a dialogue with me and my husband about guns. Instead of calling me names, she asked a lot of respectful questions, and we had a really awesome chat and are even… Read more »
Andrew
Now and then I’ll make comments of a political or a religious nature. However, just by my nature I am not a hateful, spiteful person, so when I do it’s usually posted in the most diplomatic way possible. I’m a practicing Buddhist, and it pops up in many ways in my works. No one so far has been offended by anything I’ve said, and for the most part people are curious to learn about a different perspective. My posts aren’t pushy or preachy. Since I write horror and fanatasy, a post a good deal about monsters, folklore, and mythology on my blog. So if I am talking about Buddhism, it’s often in that context. Now I do have a day where I write personal posts, which might be more “ranty” in nature. But usually it’s more of a “can’t we all get along?” type deal, or a response to some current event, once again phrased as diplomatically as possible. The internet does have a very long memory, which is why it pays to be kind and reasonable :). And not to plagiarize. I used to talk to Terrell on Twitter. Seemed nice enough, although got pretty arrogant and offputting when talking about how much of an ‘expert’ he was about writing. Tried to get me to enroll in a workshop. Then he disappeared not too long after, which must have been when he was outed. Seems a shame to me really, since he shot himself in the foot and killed… Read more »
Joanna Aislinn
Joanna Aislinn

Heck of a post, Jami, and one whose many links have caught my interest at the very least. I’m such a Pollyanna I don’t even get this kind of stuff exists. (I suppose I keep myself sheltered, but I plan to be enlightened by following up on your links–thanks, DWW ;)). So sad when people have to go such an averse way. One asks herself why.

As per my opinions, they’re mine and I’m entitled to them. Think I once went into a small rant in my three or so years blogging. I’m not about debating. I’d rather live my life and let others do the same. And if I can help or serve others in the process, that’s simply gravy. Thnx.

Serena Yung
Serena Yung

Interesting. I do think that it’s more hurtful if one bashes someone else’s religion, than if one talks about how happy their own religion makes them feel. On Facebook, I sometimes post things about how grateful I am that I have God to watch my back; but now I’ve set my privacy settings so that ONLY my confirmed Christian friends and Christian sympathizers/ those who seem to like God can see these posts. 🙂 Privacy settings are wonderful!

Straying away from the internet though, about my short stories, I do worry that some of them are so heavily Christian (i.e. they assume that God’s existence is an established fact, lol), that they might repel my atheist friends 🙁 However, books are different from the internet, as one can always view my books as catering to a Christian audience rather than the general public, so maybe the overt Christianity in there can be excused? XD

Joanna Aislinn
Joanna Aislinn

Hey Serena, just jumping in to share MHO on your comment. Your books are yours to write as you see fit. Others may or may not choose to buy and/ or read. Chances are your atheist friends won’t be picking up ANY Christian books but people who like and seek inspirational, faith-driven stories will. I’ll assume the latter is the audience you’re trying to reach anyway. Best wishes.

Kat Morrisey
I’ve had several instances where I was following authors whose books I really liked and had to un-follow them because they go off on a political, religious or other tangent that is just plain rude and castigates anyone who perhaps doesn’t share that view. In some of these cases I may have shared the general viewpoint but not the way the person went about expressing it. The best examples of this were during the recent US election hoopla (as well as some of the more recent news events in the US.) One person had tweeted that if any woman voted for the other guy they were worse than a moron and called them some other unpleasant things. (It was so bad –and way vulgar-, but I won’t repeat it here. I don’t think I could even type some of the words they used when referring to supporters of the other political party, it was that bad.) In terms of who the person supported and them tweeting about it, I could care less. But the fact that the person made such a broad statement and was that disrespectful to anyone not agreeing with them, well let’s just say I was beyond disgusted. I get that authors are people too and have opinions, but writers (or anyone really) shouldn’t be shocked when people start un-following and refuse to buy books after going on disrespectful rants filled with inflammatory statements. I mean talk about showing not only the unattractive quality of being close… Read more »
Vanessa
Vanessa

Hi Jami,
I hope all is well on your writing. I really liked this blog post you posted today, I have two situations in which I didn’t buy the authors book based on their behavior on the internet.
One way I didn’t buy an authors book was because it was a originally a fanfiction, I find it unethical to pawn on another authors hard work and universe.
Another way I wouldn’t buy the book is the authors behavior. I don’t know if you know this, but there was a book blogger that posted a review about THE SELECTION BY KIERA CASS and the agent was lashing out at the blogger on her twitter account and was liking the book to get it popular again. The book blogger had over 2000 followers on the blog so you can imagine the reaction to her readers when she posted about the situation. The book bloggers who were following the blog didn’t want to purchase the book after seeing the behavior from the author’s agent. That incident also sparked the article on Pubilsher’s Weekly and Media Bistro about if authors should respond to those who write reviews on their books.

Thanks for Letting me comment!

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[…] Gold: Behave…the Internet NEVER Forgets. Excerpt: “When we interact with people in real life, we’re often advised not to talk about […]

Pam

For me, it is in the “how” of the presenting. I enjoy a well-thought-out, well-written opinion post, even if the opinion is vastly different from my own and on a “hot button” topic. The key for me is that the post is written in a tone that respects other opinions (for example, as a fairly liberal person a good read from a conservative viewpoint DOES help me understand why others feel differently, but not if it bashes liberals and insinuates that anyone who doesn’t agree is wrong/stupid/etc). I’ll read your book regardless of your feelings on other topics if you present them as friendly conversation rather than a “beat-the-reader-over-the-head-with-how-right-I-am” point of view.

Deanna Wiseburn

I referred to you and this on twitter to spark some conversation. Hope that you do not mind. 🙂

Daphne Shadows

Wow! I never knew about any of this!
I never talk about religion or politics, not on my blog or in real life. I like to make friends, not get them into a huge fight over something that can get blown way out of proportion. Plus, I believe everyone is allowed their own opinions and its not my place to tell them that their choices are incorrect, or something.
Unless, of course, they’re a murdering psychopath who thinks cutting internal organs out of people while they’re alive and then rolling around in their blood is fun. Then, I might intervene with that opinion. 😉

I love this blog post. This is why I tend to over think everything I type onto a laptop.

E.B.Pike

Oh. My. Gosh.

You are amazing! AMAZING, I say! I can’t believe you were able to do all that sleuthing and catch that guy in the act. You really are a Digital Wonder Woman. 🙂

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[…] Writing Stuff In the comments of my last post about watching our online behavior, some people worried about the bigger picture. Can we still be true to ourselves? Should we not […]

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[…] Behave… The Internet Never Forgets by Jami Gold […]

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[…] Writing Stuff The recent talk of watching what we say on the internet and being aware of our brand has brought up several ways people come to odd conclusions about us […]

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[…] Gold reminds us that the internet is forever—bad author behavior or plagiarism will not be forgotten. The story of Terrell Mims is a case in […]

Hunte Shea

This goes for everyone, not only writers. I tell my kids this all the time and how they need to be mindful of what they post on social media.

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[…] Unless it’s something you’re willing to lose potential readers over, try not to get embroiled in real controversy (where there’s definitely two or more sides to the issue). No matter where you are on the political fence, remember that half of your potential readers might be on the other half. A political rant might not be the best idea unless that’s part of your brand. […]

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[…] blogs that aren’t about building up their author name can be run as the author sees fit (to a point). But if we blog to help spread our author name and/or improve our Google-ability, we have to learn […]

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[…] I mentioned earlier this year, “the internet is not just a faceless mass of words. The internet is people. People like […]

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[…] now. As I said, I still feel like I’m making things up as I go along. As long as we avoid major scandals that can cause big problems, we’ll usually be okay if we learn, grow, and make tweaks as we go. […]

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