Yesterday author and near-namesake Lynn Shepherd published five golden rules for writers on Twitter which you should go and read. Her tips are useful and Lynn, who writes very smart and exciting literary thrillers set in the early Victorian period, has a few thousand followers and tweets regularly and is a generally very nice person.
Which makes it hard to disagree with her. But disagree I will.
See, rules for Twitter are all very well, and you’ll find a great many of them. But the more I use social media, Facebook and Twitter in particular, and the more it gets under my skin, the more I think there’s only one rule. And it’s this:
Don’t try to be someone different online to the person you are offline.
Now, this being one of those annoying think-out-loud, don’t-know-what-I-mean-till-I’ve-said-it creatures called a ‘blogpost’, I’m going to instantly counter that with of course you can be someone different online. You can adopt a personality, pretend to be Samuel Johnson or your dog or a tree. But that’s different. That’s not the kind of social media Lynn or I are talking about.
So, if you’re a person not pretending to be someone or something else on Twitter, you can’t be someone you’re not, and nor should you try to be.
I know, because I’ve tried.
Most days, I’m trying very hard to be someone I’m not when I’m online. I’m trying not to be judgemental (I’m very judgemental). I’m trying to choose my words carefully (I stick my foot in my mouth all the time). I’m trying not to pretend to have knowledge I don’t have (I’m a know-nothing know-it-all blowhard in the flesh). I’m trying not to be too diffident (I’m way to quick to challenge others for taking themselves seriously). I try not to be too fake-modest (….).
I’ve tried not to be all these things, and I always fail. Take yesterday. Someone else on Twitter was being puppyishly enthusiastic about another writer, and I snarled ‘brown-nosing’ in their direction. I then agonised about having done it – it was cruel and it was pointlessly negative. I then deleted the tweet. I then felt bad about deleting the tweet. I then had a shower.
See, this kind of stuff is really damaging. One of the worst things social media has done to our kids, I think, is force them to play the age-old playground game of pretending to be someone you’re not even when you get home. We can’t shut the door anymore on the world and be ourselves. If we’ve constructed an image of ourselves in whatever walk of life we exist in – our school, our office, our friendship groups – social media demands we continue to portray that image even when physically alone in our own homes.
Well, stuff it. I don’t want to do that anymore. I want to play at being me, and not some re-engineered version of me that might play better. I’ll apply the same rules to Tweeting and Facebooking that I’d apply to real life. Be kind. Be honest. Do unto others as you would be done by. And if you’re being boring, shut up.
Shutting up now.