Election Sharing: Dos and Don’ts

681734-01So, it’s time to face another election. And you know what that means? The Social Media Armchair Electioneering has begun!

And as much as it amuses me that the acronym for this is SMAE – making those who do it SMAErs – this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Engagement in politics is vital, especially during an election. However, we all know how annoying it can get. Especially on social media. So, with that in mind, I implore you to pay heed to the points below and try not to contribute to the traditional flooding of pointless and/or damaging articles on social media.

DO: Read before you post;

Seriously. Read the article. The whole damn thing, not just the title. I’ve already seen one person share an article that meant exactly the opposite of what he believes because he didn’t realise the title was clickbait-y “sarcasm”. And then check the sources. Despite evidence to the contrary, Fake News is incredibly easy to spot if you use a modicum of critical thinking. Be sure you know what you’re posting. Otherwise, you’re just that irritating person spamming junk all over people’s Feeds. And no one likes that guy.

DON’T: Post anything that isn’t new;

If you’ve posted an opinion once, we don’t need to see it again. Let’s face it, in all likelihood your friends know your political leanings already, so if all you’re doing is hammering home that you agree with one side or the other you’re not contributing to the discussion. If you read something new – a piece of information or an interpretation of a point of view you’ve not seen before – then go ahead and share. But if you simply post the same thing over and over people will stop bothering to read because you’re making your opinions repetitive and uninteresting. Then when you do have something interesting to say, no one’s listening.

DO: Read posts from people you disagree with;

The internet is an echo chamber. You will almost certainly be connected to people who, more or less, share your opinions. That’s why it’s sometimes hard to understand why anyone would ever vote differently to you; because you haven’t taken the time to engage with their thinking. And I’m talking about more than simply reading newspaper headlines as you pass them in the supermarket. Find a reputable website, newspaper, or magazine and give it a read. If you want progressive discourse you need to know why people don’t share your beliefs because that’s the only way you’ll learn how to change their minds.

DON’T: Get angry at dissent;

People will disagree with you. Get used to it and stop overreacting. I know it’s frustrating that the other side just can’t see how wrong they are, or how much better the world would be if they just learned to agree with you on everything but telling them how stupid they are for not doing so won’t help. Yes, if you want to make a difference in the world you need passion, but passion doesn’t necessarily mean anger. Yelling for no reason simply makes the divide bigger. And if every political post becomes little more than people yelling at each other about how stupid their opinions are people aren’t going to bother reading them.

DO: Change your mind;

Changing your opinion isn’t weakness, it’s growth. When we learn something new, we need to change our ideas to reflect this. We can’t be afraid to admit when hard evidence proves us wrong. Never dismiss facts out of hand just because they don’t match your current beliefs. If you ever want to believe you can change someone else’s mind then you need to be prepared for it to happen to you as well. Admitting you were wrong about something isn’t going to change how you vote. Or maybe it will. Who knows? Don’t blindly insist you’re right and everyone who disagrees is wrong. And if it happens the other way around, don’t be a dick about it.

 

We all both have a duty to engage with politics, to investigate and then promote our political ideas and beliefs, especially around election time. But we also have a right to ignore it all completely as well. And, at least in my opinion, what the Left and Right both need to do is learn to engage with the disinterested. So many people don’t care about politics, either through apathy, disinterest, or pointless rebellion against “authority”. This is the silent majority. These are the ones we need to persuade.

A third of all people don’t bother to vote, because they’ve become disengaged with politics. If you want to get these people voting, and more importantly for your side, then you need to think about how you’re engaging them. Take a moment. Is that post you’re about to Share going to help your cause as much as you think it will?

Don’t be that person who puts people off politics.

 

These people actually exist

Wow. Just… wow.

You know when you read something and you simply can’t grasp what caused somebody to actually make it public? That it has to be a joke. Or someone trying out old cliched self-help concept of writing an angry letter telling someone how you really feel, but then destroying it rather than sending it.

Well, it seems one guy hit “send” rather than “trash”.

Seriously, if you’re an aspiring writing who – like me – is putting yourself through the sometimes ego crushing process of trying to find an agent, please click the link for an example of exactly who you don’t want to be. (The link goes to a different blog who has screenshotted the original post, as I don’t want to the give the original poster the blog hits.)

I know all of us fear that one day we might have to face the fact that our writing just wasn’t good enough, but don’t take it out on the agent. And don’t – I’m amazed I even have to say this – don’t rant about said agent on the internet.

Seriously, it’s a relatively small industry. This man will never – ever – get an agent after this.

 

A post on why I’m not posting that often

It’s October. And that, as everyone paying attention to their nearest supermarket’s seasonal items aisle since August knows, means Halloween is nigh. And in order to capitalise on this, I – as a writer of horror stories – should obviously be dedicating time and effort into some sort of month long programme of themed blog posts, book giveaways and a general glut of content across my social media presence.

At least I assume this is the case, based on how everyone else seems to be responding to this time of year. But I’m not, and there’s a reason for it. And it’s also the same reason I don’t post on here as often as I could. Allow me to elaborate.

I would love to post more on here. I really would. I want to spend time threading my way through Twitter holding multiple conversations across the world. I want to curate material on my Facebook Page that both interests, amuses and terrifies. I want to keep a regular schedule of interesting posts here on my blog for you all to read. But I also want to work on my actual writing, and I have almost all of my day taken up with either my day job or “grown up stuff” (meaning feeding myself, paying bills, preventing my house becoming a tip, etc.). There is a finite amount of time in the day and until we get those pills that allow us to go without sleep I simply have to make the most of the time I actually have.

There do appear to be people who manage to post all the time, but if I look closer, what do I see? Well in 95% of cases all I see are hundreds of people all yelling the same thing into the vast echo-chamber that is the internet.

I don’t want to be one of those people.

There are so many folk out there in the world trying to get noticed and establish themselves as the latest independent writing sensation. All of them have read the same tips and advise on how to do this as I have. They’ve been told they need a social media presence, to post regularly to build an audience, to generate hits, to connect with people. But the problem is that the more people that there are doing this the less effective these actions become. It’s overwhelming.

I fully admit that having a regular and/or frequent posting schedule would be a good thing. However, what’s more important is to post things of quality. Over the last couple of years I’ve starting following so many people online only to stop a few days later as they clog up my feed with so many repetitive posts and comments that it’s impossible to find anything interesting, let alone engage with any of it. I’m not trying to sound like snob or imply that I’m better than anyone who manages to post more often than me. I’m just saying that I think less quality is better than more mediocrity.

Essentially, in my eyes at least, posting hundreds of things online for the sake of posting something is about as useful as publishing a single short story on Amazon every couple of days so that you have a large back catalogue. You might create a huge online presence, but none of it is going to be any good for you. If I have nothing interesting to say, why should I say it?

I don’t want to be one more wannabe desperately shouting into the void for a sliver of the world’s attention. I don’t want people Following me just to repost what I’ve reposted from someone else’s repost. I don’t want to participate in Like for Like schemes. I don’t want to throw out hastily written 100 word blog posts every day that say absolutely nothing. I don’t want to comment on another person’s blog in the desperate hope saying “I like this post” will somehow equate to greater book sales.

I want to post when I have an interesting idea I want to develop. I want to post when I have news that I want to share with you all. I want to post when I’ve discovered something I honestly feel needs to be seen by more people. I want to feel that the people who Follow me do so because they share my interests and enjoy my work.

This is why I don’t post as often as I would like. If I didn’t have a day-job I would definitely put more up here because I would have more time to think up ideas and then develop them into something worth reading. As it is, I hope you don’t mind the sporadic schedule I am able to maintain, and that the work I actually post is worth reading.

Obviously this post is obviously inspired by the vast number of book-giveaways and blog posts and half-finished short stories I’m currently seeing strewn across internet forums, but I’m not saying the practice is necessarily bad. Just do it right. Plan ahead and think about what you want to do, and then do it well. It all harks back to that central point of the aspiring writing: it’s got to look professional.

But speaking of people doing the Halloween build up right, my friend Christopher Brosnahan has been undertaking something called #octoberphobia. Throughout October he has been posting short pieces of flash fiction, each themes around a separate phobia. Go ahead and have a read if you’re looking for some effective little horror stories this October. Then if you like them, maybe buy one of his books. They’re really quite good.

Find me on Social Media

Hello all. I just wanted to give you all a quick round up of where you can find me on social media. 

First off is my Facebook Page. You’ll find all my updates posted here, along with links to any other posts or articles I find interesting. I’ll also occasionally recommend films, books or television I discover and feel are worth sharing. 

On Twitter I’m @tomhbrand. My Twitter account has a slightly more varied theme than the rest of my social media presence. While I try to keep most of my social media presence focused on writing and publishing, rather than any old thing that comes into my mind, on Twitter I’ll post things of a more diverse nature. You’ll find post on politics, art, or links to random stuff that I simply found amusing. 

My Tumblr account is thomashbrand. For the more artistic of you, I post horror and reading imagery, as well as links back to this blog. Tumblr tends to be my go to site when I’m just killing time. If I’ve got a few minutes to kill I can just fire up my Kindle and browse Tumblr. I know there are a lot of people sharing deep, meaningful information. I kind of just use it to bum around. 

You can also find me on Goodreads.com. Add me as a friend to keep up with what I’m reading, as well as what I think of it. Add my work, ask me a question, or give me a rating or a review. I’d love to see more opinions from all of you.

I’m also on Instagram, but it’s more of a personal account. Not so much about my work, but just pictures from my life. You’re all more than welcome to pop over and have a look if you’re interested in seeing a little of the everyday. 

So come along and say hi. I’m always up for answering questions or just saying hello. I’m always interested in meeting new people online, either fans of my work or who simply share the same interests as me. I love discovering new things, events, images or writers through my friends.

Come along and say hi.

A few thoughts following publication

So a few thoughts on my first week as a published author.

I want to start with a big thank you to those of you who have downloaded The Serpent’s Eye already, and another to those who have been sharing it with friends. During the five days where the book was available for free it has had over 400 downloads! That’s just amazing. That fact that the number of people who have downloaded my book is pretty much double my Facebook friend list (which is pretty much what I expected my audience to be) is awesome.

I’ve even got my first review on Amazon. And people I’ve never met mentioning that they are reading my book of Twitter. It’s strange how little things like that seem to validate what you have done. The fact that I know have a book available to buy, an author profile on Amazon, and that strangers are leaving positive feedback, somehow makes it seem more real. It’s like I’m a real writer or something.

But I do feel a strange conflict. There is still a small part of me that cannot shake the feeling that putting something up myself as an e-book doesn’t count as “real” publishing. This feeling annoys me, as I’m proud of what I have done and in no way feel it is any worse than books that have been professionally published. If I didn’t believe it was good enough for publication I wouldn’t have self-published it. The reason I didn’t go down the shelf publishing route for my last book was that I wasn’t confident it was good enough without the input of a professional editor to help me out.

The fact is that the first hurdle in self-publishing is the easiest to fall at: believing your work is good enough without the work. You can look around the internet for five minutes and find hundreds of works people have self-published online that can’t even be considered half finished by any professional standards. People who seem to honestly believe that “My Mother said it was good” is enough reason to publish something. I swore I would never be one of those people, but that doesn’t stop them swamping the market.

A basic fact about today’s literary market is that if you seriously want to make it, the first step is to make sure that you stand out from the crowd half finished and poorly constructed drivel. The internet allows you to put your work out for people to find, but if you are lazy, hasty, make the same mistakes as others, or are just simply untalented, any publishers and agents who you manage to get to pay attention will dismiss you without a second thought.

And so my next step is to get an agent, and to get The Serpent’s Eye “officially” published. While I will always keep writing and putting out my work myself if that’s what it takes, I won’t deny that the end goal is to move into the field of traditional publishing. And if any one thing can help me get the attention of agents and publishers, it will be my book selling without any professional help.

The problem is I am not a publicist. Nor do I have any marketing experience. These are not things that you traditionally consider to be vital skills in an author, but in the modern publishing market they have become essential. If you want to stand out and be noticed, you’ve either got to (a) get working on the self publicity, or (b) pray that you’ll get reallyreally lucky.

So my work is set out before me; to grow word of mouth and build both book sales and blog-hits.

So, you know, start bigging me up to your friends. Suggest The Serpent’s Eye. It may not be free any more, but £1.53 is still pretty cheap.

Oh, and if you’ve still to get your own copy, you can download it here.

This our summary of Jeremy Hunt’s contempt

While some people might argue that we already have all of the evidence that we need to make a judgement, recently Jeremy Hunt, through the use of Twitter, has summarised in 140 characters or less exactly why he is utterly ill-suited to the posts of MP and Minister that he holds.

Last month, the website www.conservativepolicyforum.com released a survey that listed a number of questions to its members about the future of the health service. At the end of this was a list of self admitted ‘controversial’ topics which members were asked to rate. Among these was the idea that there should be a cap on the number of times you should be allowed to visit your GP in any given year. (Go here to find the original report. The section in question is right at the end).

In their own word, the ideas this was included with were “controversial food for thought”. It is clearly a way of measuring the Conservative Party membership’s level of interest. However, when this news got out many people were understandably worried. I’m sure that at various points in the past this whole thing would have quickly been dismissed by both the media and public, but under our current Health Secretary it rang all too true as something that he might well attempt.

I was first made aware of this by a 38 Degree online petition. This was set up to make a firm and rapid statement to Mr. Hunt that the general public would not support such a direction in his policy. In 48 hours it reached nearly 200,000 signatures, and was sent off to the Ministry.

This was where Hunt displayed to the world what sort of man he is. Soon after receiving the petition, he posted the following on his Twitter feed.

Image

This highlights the utter contempt that Jeremy Hunt holds all those who wish to engage with him. This ideas was when out by an official, public Conservative Party think tank, and those of us who were concerned made a statement of their displeasure, as was our right. All the Minister had to do was make a brief statement reassuring people that this was not being considered as policy.

The public raises a concern, the government listens and replies. Democracy in action.

Or not. Because of course Jeremy Hunt does not consider the concerns of the People to be of importance. Why was there the need to make a dig at a group of people who expressed concern? A basic tenant of democracy is that the elected representatives are answerable to the people, and yet Mr. Hunt decided to make a passive aggressive attack on those people who seek to promote that accountability.

A cannot imagine that this situation took any significant time out of his day. He would have been shown the petition by his office, seen that the idea highlighted was not planned to be policy, and told one of his staff to clearly refute it on Twitter. End of story. What’s that? About two minutes of his day at most? It would have been a wonderful example of him engaging with the electorate and done nothing but help his reputation as a politician. But instead he feels compelled to make his snide remark about 38 Degrees. I mean, how dare the public place him under scrutiny? Don’t they know who he is? He’s Jeremy Hunt!

Online petitions are a new phenomenon, and one a lot of the political establishment is still trying coming to terms with. The internet has made it so simple for the public to come together an express opinions on matters of national interest. In the past Ministers might have been able to do the majority of their work with little or no response until policies were enacted, but those days are over. Mr. Hunt, with his involvement in the Ministry’s of both Media and Heath, has been the focus of a number of these petitions since coming to office, and I can understand why he might be frustrated by them, but there is no sympathy.

What this is an example of is a man who is getting fed up with the public outcry at all of his policies. Jeremy Hunt is an example of a certain type of politician; those who feel that the authority they are given is their god given right, rather than something granted to him by the choices of others. This Tweet has encapsulated all of this. He doesn’t see the public as an entity that should be paying attention to what he does, with the right to know his plans and express their opinion. To him the public should settle down and leave him to it, allowing him to do what he want without having to worry about what the common folk want.

I am not trying to make a party political. While I do not support the Tory party or many of their policies, I accept that they were voted in and the current government was fairly elected under our current political system. What I’m criticising here is the man himself. This is a entitled member of the Oxford Old Boys Club. He holds a great deal of power and yet holds nothing but scorn for an open, informed electorate that doesn’t treat him with the deference he feels he deserves. He does not care about what any of us want or need. He has his own views, and as soon as anyone disagrees with him they are a target for his scorn and derision.

This situation offered Mr. Hunt a chance to engage with the electorate. What he gave back was a precisely summarised display of what a privileged, entitled bully he really is. In 140 characters or less.

Paris Brown is just the first…

The recent controversy regarding the dubious comment found of the Twitter feed of Paris Brown, the 17 year old newly appointed Youth Police and Crime Commissioner, has brought us to the cusp of a new point in our technological society. While we’ve all slowly begun to recognise the affects social media has on our professional lives, only now are there people who have grown up with access to online social media joining the workforce. And while she may be one of the first, Ms. Brown will not be the last we hear about.

Paris Brown made the news when she was appointed to the new post of Youth Police and Crime Commissioner in Kent. The post was controversial to many, and under such media scrutiny it was soon revealed that between the ages of 14 and 16 she had posted various homophobic and racist slurs on her Twitter account, along with various references to drug and alcohol use. None of these posts were made since Ms. Brown was appointed, and since then she publicly apologised, deleted the account in question and stood down from the post.

But disregarding all the debate about the validity of the role or her personal suitability for it, what this media storm has highlighted is a new facet that modern social media has added to our lives. One we are soon going to have to face up to in a big way.

The fact is there is an entire generation about to enter the workforce who have grown up on social media, and until now they have never had to worry about what they have said on it.

My generation was the first to have access to modern social media in their youth. Facebook came in around the time I was at university. My peers and I were quick to take up this new tool, but while at first most of us only saw the fun side of it people soon began to recognise all the professional uses and implications of such site. Despite how much fun it was to post ridiculous photos of ourselves and our friends for all to see, we then realised the implications of doing so on a public forum. Family and, more importantly, potential employers had full access to this portrait we painted of ourselves. Stories began to spread of bosses monitoring their employees Facebook pages, and of internet searches becoming a standard part of the vetting process for new jobs. We all quickly learned to ensure that we took control of our digital footprint, and how it represented us.

But now sites like Facebook and Twitter, which have become an integrated part of mainstream life in a way previous incarnations such as MySpace never managed, have been about for long enough that a new generation has had access to them since childhood. Like the rest of us they post what’s on their minds; random thoughts and stupid opinions that mean nothing to anyone five minutes later. And just like the rest of us, they have a following of a couple of dozen people to whom such comments will, in most cases, make very little impact. The occasional social drama or hurt feeling was quickly passed by and forgotten.

But as the case of poor Paris Brown has shown, that generation has now come to the point where people will start to take notice. All those stupid, ridiculous things that they have posted on the internet for all to find are still there. While you can delete them, the very nature of the internet means you can never be sure it hasn’t been saved somewhere. How many guilty secrets and forgotten offenses are hidden in the darker recesses of the ‘net?

And while my generation simply had a year or so to filter through and fix, this new generation has possibly ten years worth. In some cases their entire childhood is documented for everyone to see, with every poor decision and half understood comment.

While you can say that to a certain degree when you’re applying for most jobs your potential employers are not going to search your social media feeds in such fine detail, there are many are out there that will.

It is the media’s job to scrutinise those who reach positions of power and they will go that extra mile. When David Cameron became leader of the Conservative Party, the media was awash with photos of his university days with the Bullingdon Club. You can laugh away a few ridiculous photos, but does anyone imagine that boys in the same positions now aren’t making jokes to each other playing up being the snob and looking down on other people. They may well not mean any of it and be simply joking around with friends, or they might even mean it but realise in a year or to how stupid those opinions are and completely change, but those comments are there potentially forever, waiting for somebody to use out of context.

We are now reaching the stage where the people who will be running for Prime Minister in thirty or forty years are currently pasting comments like “Lol, Karen is such a homo!!1 Gonna beat her good!” and “Driving back from the club. Music dere was for fagz”. Because teenagers write things like that. Because they are stupid. They could mean it, or it could just be attempts at witty irony. In this hypothetical situation the media will not care about the original context, as they will happily create their own. And down goes another political career.

And when this happens it is going to be a hell of a shock for those who have to deal with it. Ann Barnes, the Kent Police and Crime Commissioner who appointed Ms. Brown, highlighted this when she was interviewed by the BBC.

“We went through a perfectly normal recruitment process and we had her vetted by the force. Nobody normally looks through anybody’s Twitter feed – perhaps that’s a lesson for the future. We are living in a different world now.”

In a way, despite various calls from opponents that this scandal shows that the appointment of a Youth Commissioner is a terrible idea, this whole situation actually highlights how including young people in the ‘establishment’ would be beneficial for it. The social media culture is something that folk like Anne Barnes do not understand as it was not something they lived through. Childhood has changed. The police vetting service missed this aspect of Ms. Brown’s past because they did not foresee this sort of thing happening. Political parties are going to be the same.

And while every sensible person knows that you can’t take the comments someone made when they were a teenager seriously when judging their ability as an adult, that won’t stop the media.

I feel sorry for Ms. Brown. She seems to have been first through the breach of this new field of media scrutiny. Unfortunately for her, but unsurprisingly for a 17 year of girl against the might of the media, it has forced her to give up an amazing opportunity. Hopefully she will still be able to make something of all this, but maybe she will simply end up as a example to others as yet one more danger of the irresponsible use of social media.