Should Writers Have Muzzles?


Originally posted 8/1/12 at New Wave Authors.

Yesterday on Facebook, I posted a link to an article about New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s proposal to have hospitals lock up baby formula in an attempt to encourage new mothers to breastfeed. I also posted my opinion about this proposal. The comment section quickly lit up with opinions from both sides of the issue. And about fifteen minutes after I posted the link, I received the following private message:

I am sorry to tell you that I have decided to unfriend you. I sought you out [on Facebook] because I enjoyed your book and wanted to hear more about your writing not because I’m interested in seeing you go off about your personal opinions or political views all the time.

I’ll admit this surprised me, because I generally don’t “go off” on political issues on Facebook (the exception being LGBT rights, which I consider to be a civil rights issue rather than a political one). A quick perusal of my personal Facebook Timeline will reveal my love of pie, bacon, and geek culture, links to writing and publishing related articles, and occasional plug for my book. Don’t get me wrong, I’m pretty well-informed about current events and have very strong opinions that I’m not afraid to voice in my everyday life. My car would be plastered with bumperstickers proclaiming these opinions forth to the world if my husband and kids didn’t keep me in check (apparently they devalue a car and embarrass teenagers who are being driven to school). But I’ve never been comfortable with online political debates. They almost always follow this pattern: Person A states his opinion, Person B chimes in with his support, Person C strongly, but usually respectfully, disagrees with A and B. Then Persons D – Z begin the inevitable pile-on. Political buzzwords like “liberal agenda” and “heartless conservative”, as well as idiotic buzz-non-words like  “libtard” and “conservokook”, are thrown around. Someone makes an impassioned plea for unity that almost everybody ignores. Someone pulls out the Nazi card. Cue finger-pointing and chest-thumping, a little more name calling, and…scene! Thank you, ladies and gentlemen, that’s a wrap. I find the whole thing tedious, and I try not to invite tedium to my wall.

But mostly this guy’s PM irritated me. I’ve always been under the impression that writers are human beings and citizens of the world with the right to talk about their opinions about political issues, or any other issue they’re interested in or concerned by. Personally I enjoy reading the political and person opinions of other writers, particularly novelists. Not because they’re well-known or worthy of more esteem than the average person, but because their inherent command of words and language enables them to make their points more succinctly, usually precludes the use of annoying buzzwords, and nearly always makes for interesting reading, whether I agree with their opinions or not.

I realize that not everyone feels this way. Unfortunately, writers who are politically vocal risk alienating a portion of their audience. In the olden days, it took an interview with a national reporter to cause a stir. Five years or so ago, a blog post. These days, however, a casual Tweet or status update can do the trick. Hell, on Facebook it doesn’t even require addressing people directly. Every time you “LIKE” a photo, update, link, or page, that activity ends up in the newsfeeds of your friends. This means they’ll all know whether you’re pro-life or pro-choice, if you’re boycotting Chick-Fil-A or supporting them, if you’re an atheist or a believer. They’ll even know if you’re a secret Nickelback fan.

Part of my problem is the semi-sloppy way I’ve managed my Facebook account. My friends  list is a strange amalgam of family, friends from “real life”, online friends, other writers, and people who (like the gentleman who sent me that PM) are only interested in hearing about my books. When I signed up for the account, I didn’t think ahead to the challenges that odd combination would set up for me. I could, I suppose, create a new account and invite only those people I know well to be my friends there, keeping the existing account as a professional one. But I waste enough time on Facebook as it is with one account, and besides, that’s why I supposedly created a separate author “fan page.” Also, I really like meeting and getting to know people online from various backgrounds and whose opinions are different from mine. I think most people do. It’s how we grow. Segregating my personal and professional online life may be a safer way to go, but it’s much less rewarding.

And, most importantly, I like to give my readers credit for having enough intelligence to separate my personal opinions from my work. They deserve that.

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About R.J. Keller

R. J. Keller is the author of Waiting For Spring. An avid independent movie enthusiast, she was Managing Editor of The Movie Fanatic website and created episodes of the writer-centric YouTube series, Inside The Writers' Studio, with author Kristen Tsetsi. She co-hosted Book Chatter with Stacey Cochran from 2011-2014. She lives in Central Maine with her family, where she enjoys gardening, collecting geeky memorabilia, and watching other people cook. View all posts by R.J. Keller

3 responses to “Should Writers Have Muzzles?

  • Janet Schmidt

    I am a FB friend who came because of the book. I actually enjoy just about everything you post, I can’t think of any that bothered me. I came for a writer I love and found a witty FB friend I look forward to seeing post. As to the person who sent you that – their loss!!!!

  • kristentsetsi

    Have you ever thought about what it might be like if Dorothy Parker were alive today and had access to all these opinion-sharing outlets?

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