Elon Musk Goes on Offense to Defend Offensive Speech

From The Wall Street Journal:

Elon Musk wants you offended.

His fight to protect free speech didn’t end with buying Twitter and simply loosening content moderation.

More than a year into owning the social-media platform now known as X, Musk’s aggressive tactics to defend myriad spectrums of speech are becoming clearer. Meanwhile, some say those efforts actually protect speech he likes, and repress other views.

“It’s actually good that I’m reading some things that offend me because that means freedom of speech is alive,” Musk said this past week during an audio event on X in which he talked in depth about his philosophy.

His approach looks twofold: He is trying to protect individuals’ ability to say what they please on X without fear of losing their livelihoods. All while he is also actively fighting—with lawsuits and his own X megaphone—outside critics who maintain X has become a bastion of hate.

Part of his approach is drawing criticism, including from the American Civil Liberties Union, that X is the one trying to stifle speech. Meanwhile, some of his supporters worry aloud that he’s going too far, risking offending customers of his other businesses, such as the electric-car maker Tesla.

. . . .

The way Musk frames his thoughts on free speech seems straight from the techno libertarianism that flourished in Silicon Valley around the time he arrived in Palo Alto in the 1990s and as he chased his dreams during the early days of the dot-com bubble.

It was a period when a new generation of techies wanted to minimize government regulation as the idea of the internet took root, arguing that the free market would guide the best choices.

Except, in Musk’s case, today he appears perplexed and frustrated by the free market’s reaction to his X changes.

. . . .

Advertisers from Apple to Disney have fled the platform, worried about associations with antisemitism, pro-Nazi and other hate speech, and ensuing dramas regarding his ownership.

They are effectively exercising their freedom of speech by taking their valuable ad dollars elsewhere.

Doing so, in Musk’s view, can have a chilling effect on speech that’s outside the norm, encouraging a world of conformity. He even went so far as to call it blackmail and, in November, infamously told advertisers to “go f— yourself.” And he called for Disney’s CEO, Bob Iger, to be fired, or, put another way, canceled.

. . . .

More than just throwing f-bombs, Musk is also fighting back against groups that are working to highlight content on the platform they say is offensive.

In July, for example, X filed a lawsuit against the Center for Countering Digital Hate after it published research critical of X, including a report that said the company had taken no action against 99 of 100 posts that researchers contend were hateful.

X claimed the group’s findings were flawed and said the attention resulted in several advertisers’ halting spending. A key part of the lawsuit against the center is X’s contention that the group violated the social-media platform’s terms of service that prohibit the process of collecting, or scraping, a large number of public posts.

The center is asking a federal judge in San Francisco to dismiss the case, calling “for an end to this baseless effort to silence honest criticism and punish critics.” A hearing is scheduled for Thursday. 

The ACLU, the Electronic Frontier Foundation and the Knight First Amendment Institute have filed a brief supporting the center, saying that scraping is a basic digital tool used to provide the public with insight into how powerful platforms, such as X, operate. 

They argued that the company is simply attempting “to punish” the center for “its speech by enforcing its term prohibiting scraping,” which if allowed they say would have a chilling effect and give X an end run “around the First Amendment.” 

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal (Sorry if you encounter a paywall)

PG suggests that billionaires throwing temper tantrums is a bad look, even on social media.

Art is always political

From The Bookseller:

On Tuesday, Arts Council of England (ACE) released a statement about the organisation’s funding policy. You have all probably read it by now. The statement warned creatives and organisations against “reputational risk” which ACE defined as any “activity that might be considered overtly political and activist and goes beyond your company’s core purpose and partnerships with organisations that might be perceived as being in conflict with the purposes of public funding of culture”. This was not limited to activities directly funded by ACE.

Is any form of art unpolitical? I write from several places of marginality. Author Bell Hooks calls this marginality a place of resistance. I too see this place of otherness not as a place of deprivation but as a place of opportunity and possibility. Anything and everything I write is political. It has to be. My lived experience, much like any other marginalised writer, is a space of refusal to accept what is laid out for us, the boundaries that are set around our existence, the spaces we are not allowed to inhabit. We learn to oppose these norms that limit our existence, and opposition becomes a necessity, not a choice. Writing is a way of writing ourselves into the mainstream, telling stories that are not necessarily heard, challenging the colonisers and oppressors, and imagining a radical new world where these boundaries and hierarchies do not exist anymore. Writing is a way of finding a counter-language, that hooks calls a “space of refusal” where we say no to the language of the colonisers and oppressors and find a language to name the repression. Once we silence these counter-narratives then we silence the language of resistance.

While I am writing this ACE has released an update, a sort of pushed-into-a-corner, we-are-not-really-bad but only-thinking-of-your-own-good statement; a faux-benevolent backtracking. It mentions “freedom of expression” and “artistic freedom” a few times to allay concerns and outrage expressed widely by artists on social media and elsewhere. Nevertheless, it refers once again to reputational risk, to polarisation and puts the onus on the organisations to make sure “that if they, or people associated with them, are planning activity that might be viewed as controversial, they have thought through, and so far as possible mitigated, the risk to themselves and crucially to their staff and to the communities they serve”.

There are larger questions at stake here as to what the public funds are for if not to fund art that resists the artificial oppressive structures inherent in our society and systems

Perhaps the timing is merely a coincidence as we are witnessing a artificial oppressive structures inherent in our society and systems among artists against the genocide happening in Palestine. If this is silencing and censorship, then of course it isn’t anything new, but to couch it within a concern for “reputational risk” seems disingenuous. There are larger questions at stake here as to what the public funds are for if not to fund art that resists the artificial oppressive structures inherent in our society and systems. If not this, then culture can never evolve beyond the limits of our current imaginations. Preventing creatives from challenging dominant norms, questioning, speaking their truth will only result in a monolith ossified culture, stagnant and festering with dissent and paralysed with fear.

Marginalised writers have lived with these fears for so long. Reputational risk is not something to be taken lightly. For anyone who is an “other” it is an anxiety that lies heavy on their shoulders, something that lurks silently at all times intent on pushing them away further into the margins. The warning against “reputational risk” feels like bullying, and intimidation. And the whole purpose of bullying is to create self-doubt, uncertainty and unease. As we face even more cuts to arts funding and public funding becomes even more scarce, creating a culture of fear is counter-productive to encouraging and supporting innovative art. The ACE stance is silencing of those who have been marginalised, and those who speak up against oppressive forces, telling artists to stay within their boxes, quiet, unchallenging, unresistant, fearful of the repercussions. When people are silenced, it creates hopelessness and despair.

Link to the rest at The Bookseller

  1. PG doesn’t agree with more than a bit of the OP. Don’t ask him to identify the bit.
  2. “[fill in the blank] is political!’ is a now ancient technique used by all sorts of people, right, left and center, to shut down argument.
  3. Marginalised, silencing, bullying, intimidation, self-doubt, uncertainty, unease, paralysed with fear, speaking their truth, challenging dominant norms, oppressive structures inherent in our society and systems are in the eye of the beholder. If these conditions are so widespread, horrible and heavy, why doesn’t everyone notice them?
  4. PG’s favorite horror was “faux-benevolent.” Heaven forfend!
  5. “What the public funds are for if not to fund art that resists the artificial oppressive structures inherent in our society and systems.”
    • Does anybody think to ask the public how their taxes should be used? Whether they do or don’t want to fund the creation of things they find abhorrent.”
  6. “outrage expressed widely by artists on social media and elsewhere.” Oooh! Outrage! On Social Media! Who would have imagined there was outrage of any sort on social media? How could we possibly miss outraged artists on social media amid so much reasoned, quiet, calm, and polite conversation with never a hint of anger everywhere we look on social media?
  7. And finally, genocide, the all-purpose horror, not to be missed in any tirade.

Author Platform Is Not a Requirement to Sell Your Novel or Children’s Book

From Jane Friedman:

Recently an article was published at Vox titled “Everyone’s a sellout now.” The subtitle: “So you want to be an artist. Do you have to start a TikTok?”

The dour conclusion, probably the writer’s predetermined conclusion when she began her research: more or less.

This article makes the classic mistake of conflating all kinds of artists and creative industries and painting them all with the same brush. But specifically, for writers and book publishing, it spreads so many myths and misconceptions about the business of authorship that I’ll be undoing the damage for years. (My inbox last week: Did you see this article!) However, I hope this post helps reduce the length of that battle. So let’s get straight to it.

Vox: With any book, but especially nonfiction ones, publishers want a guarantee that a writer comes with a built-in audience of people who already read and support their work…

Agents and big publishers seek authors with platform for adult nonfiction work.

If a debut novelist or debut children’s author seeks a book deal with a big New York publisher, then agents and editors make their decision based on the story premise, the manuscript, and/or whether the project fits with their theory of what sells in today’s market. That theory may be driven by pop culture, by what else is selling well among their clients or at their publishing house, by trends on TikTok—you get the idea.

If you’re a debut novelist with a platform, great! But it’s not going to make up for a lackluster story or premise that’s unappealing to today’s readers. The agent or publisher has to have genuine enthusiasm for the story or writing itself. They tend to trust their instincts on story quality or story marketability, and if they don’t love it, they’ll have trouble convincing anyone else of the same. The general hope is that word of mouth and consistent recommendations by readers and influencers will fuel the book’s success—not the debut author’s platform/following. Most bestsellers occur because of readers saying to their friends and family: you must read this.

Let me be absolutely clear: Agents and publishers don’t read a novel or children’s manuscript, fall in love with it and/or think it will sell in today’s market, then check to see if it’s safe to represent or acquire based on the author’s online following. (However, I have seen such a thing happen with nonfiction. I’ve also seen it happen when an author has a poor sales track record.)

Side note: I’m adding children’s authors into the mix here because, I hope for obvious reasons, it can be problematic to expect children’s writers to build an online following among children (their readers), although some children’s writers do have strong connections in the children’s community—with librarians, educators, teachers, and so on. Children’s books often must meet considerable requirements related to format, word count, education level, curriculum expectations or standards, etc—and platform is usually low on the list of concerns even for nonfiction.

Having an online presence or following is mostly a bonus for the agent or publisher if you’re an unpublished or untested fiction writer. Think it through: if you’re an unpublished novelist who’s building a following, why are others following you exactly? It’s not for your novel, because that’s not published yet. Is it for your short fiction in literary journals? Congratulations! You have a rarefied audience of people who actually read short fiction in literary journals.

Certainly publishing credentials that impress or show you’ve been selected/vetted or validated can help you get the consideration you deserve, or make you more visible to agents or decision makers at publishing houses. And social media will do wonders for building relationships with others in the writing and publishing community. To the extent that being on social media helps you be seen by gatekeepers, sure—this is part of platform, and it can lower some barriers and lead to more connections that help you get published. But we’re not talking about a following of existing readers on social media. We’re talking about relationships and visibility to specific, influential people. You can be visible to such people with a tiny following.

None of this is to say social media doesn’t sell books—it can and it does—but it’s rarely in the way that any writer thinks. It’s not going to sell a novel that readers aren’t motivated to go and tell all their friends about, whether that’s online or offline. And that’s the quality that agents/publishers are looking for when they receive your submission. Authors will find it challenging to support word of mouth on social without having readers’ own enthusiasm for their work present at the same time.

Link to the rest at Jane Friedman

So you want to be an artist. Do you have to start a TikTok?

From Vox:

When Rachael Kay Albers was shopping around her book proposal, the editors at a Big Five publishing house loved the idea. The problem came from the marketing department, which had an issue: She didn’t have a big enough following. With any book, but especially nonfiction ones, publishers want a guarantee that a writer comes with a built-in audience of people who already read and support their work and, crucially, will fork over $27 — a typical price for a new hardcover book — when it debuts.

It was ironic, considering her proposal was about what the age of the “personal brand” is doing to our humanity. Albers, 39, is an expert in what she calls the “online business industrial complex,” the network of hucksters vying for your attention and money by selling you courses and coaching on how to get rich online. She’s talking about the hustle bro “gurus” flaunting rented Lamborghinis and promoting shady “passive income” schemes, yes, but she’s also talking about the bizarre fact that her “65-year-old mom, who’s an accountant, is being encouraged by her company to post on LinkedIn to ‘build [her] brand.’”

The internet has made it so that no matter who you are or what you do — from nine-to-five middle managers to astronauts to house cleaners — you cannot escape the tyranny of the personal brand. For some, it looks like updating your LinkedIn connections whenever you get promoted; for others, it’s asking customers to give you five stars on Google Reviews; for still more, it’s crafting an engaging-but-authentic persona on Instagram. And for people who hope to publish a bestseller or release a hit record, it’s “building a platform” so that execs can use your existing audience to justify the costs of signing a new artist.

Corporate consolidation and streaming services have depleted artists’ traditional sources of revenue and decimated cultural industries. While Big Tech sites like Spotify claim they’re “democratizing” culture, they instead demand artists engage in double the labor to make a fraction of what they would have made under the old model. That labor amounts to constant self-promotion in the form of cheap trend-following, ever-changing posting strategies, and the nagging feeling that what you are really doing with your time is marketing, not art. Under the tyranny of algorithmic media distribution, artists, authors — anyone whose work concerns itself with what it means to be human — now have to be entrepreneurs, too.

“Authors are writing these incredible books, and yet when they ask me questions, the thing that keeps them up at night is, ‘How do I create this brand?’” says literary agent Carly Watters. It’s not that they want to be spending their time doing it, it’s that they feel they have to. “I think that millennials and Gen Xers really feel like sellouts. It’s not what they imagined their career to look like. It inherently feels wrong with their value system.”

Because self-promotion sucks. It is actually very boring and not that fun to produce TikTok videos or to learn email marketing for this purpose. Hardly anyone wants to “build a platform;” we want to just have one. This is what people sign up for now when they go for the American dream — working for yourself and making money doing what you love. The labor of self-promotion or platform-building or audience-growing or whatever our tech overlords want us to call it is uncomfortable; it is by no means guaranteed to be effective; and it is inescapable unless you are very, very lucky.

. . . .

Take publishing, where there are only five major companies who control roughly 80 percent of the book trade. Fewer publishers means heavier competition for well-paying advances, and fewer booksellers thanks to consolidation by Amazon and big box stores means that authors aren’t making what they used to on royalties, despite the fact that book sales are relatively strong. The problem isn’t that people aren’t buying books, it’s that less of the money is going to writers.

. . . .

Even when corporations did enter the picture, artists working with publishing houses or record companies, for example, had little contact with the business side of things. “Before the internet came along, artists not only could let their companies worry about the money, but they actually didn’t have a choice. The companies didn’t let them,” says Deresiewicz. That was until social media, where every single person with an account plays both author and publisher. Under the model of “artist as business manager,” the people who can do both well are the ones who end up succeeding.

You can see this tension play out in the rise of “day in my life” videos, where authors and artists film themselves throughout their days and edit them into short TikToks or Reels. Despite the fact that for most people, the act of writing looks very boring, author-content creators succeed by making the visually uninteresting labor of typing on a laptop worthwhile to watch. You’ll see a lot of cottagecore-esque videos where the writer will sip tea by the fireplace against the soundtrack of Wes Anderson, or wake up in a forest cabin and read by a river, or women like this Oxford University student who dresses up like literary characters and films herself working on her novel. Videos like these emulate the Romantic ideal of “solitary genius” artistry, evoking a time when writing was seen as a more “pure” or quaint profession. Yet what they best represent is the current state of art, where artists must skillfully package themselves as products for buyers to consume.

It’s precisely the kind of work that is uncomfortable for most artists, who by definition concern themselves with what it means to be a person in the world, not what it means to be a brand.

Link to the rest at Vox

Musk bought Twitter for $44 billion

Musk bought Twitter for $44 billion in October 2022 and changed the name from “Twitter” to “X” in July. In the past year, 60% of Americans who are frequently on the platform have taken a break from using the app, according to Pew Research Center. Some users called the new X “toxic.”

Link to the rest at Campus Current

Social Media Best Practices for Authors in 2024

From Writers in the Storm:

Most writers have a love-hate relationship with social media. It’s consistently the best way to promote your author brand and books as well as build an engaged community of readers who love you and your work for little to no cash outlay. For many of us, though, the ever-changing platforms, algorithms, and best practices can be disheartening. Even on the best days, social media is often a distraction rather than a tool.

In 2023,

  • AI-generated content and tools took center stage as a trending topic and created change in how we use social media and create content.
  • Twitter became X and has made many changes, both positive and negative, in the first full year with Elon Musk as owner.
  • Meta launched Threads in July to much fanfare and record-setting, but since then its daily active user count has dropped 82%.
  • YouTube video podcasts became the most popular talk shows, and often sources of news. As per YouGov: only “25% of US adults now say that TV is their primary news source, down from 31% in 2019. In the same time, Americans who say social is their primary news source have increased from 12% to 18%, while for Americans under 34, social has already usurped TV as the top new source.”

. . . .

I ran this article in sections through Writer.com’s AI Content Detector, and the various sections were rated between 35% and 98% human-generated. I personally wrote the entire article myself, but because I focused on the facts and data, rather than my personal E-E-A-T, some sections ranked lower.

. . . .


Facebook has become more user-friendly over the past year and has reversed some decline that was being observed a year ago. The biggest changes, however, are in Meta Ads. Still one of the top options for paid advertising as far as cost and customizable targeting, Meta is currently rolling out AI assistance in creating ads, and has recently partnered with Zapier and HubSpot for CRM integrations. While these tools are exciting, what you need to know is that if you use Meta advertising, make sure your ads look and feel like a personalized post or Reel, and be sure to follow the Google E-E-A-T protocol.


Instagram is probably the best at keeping its users up to date with changes. Adam Mosseri, the head of IG, posts regular weekly Reels letting us know what’s rolling out, what’s in development, and why. He also has a Broadcast Channel for creators where he shares even more behind-the-scenes info that is relevant to us.

  • The big takeaway for authors is that Instagram has reset the algorithm to rate reach and engagement based on the size of your account. There are five size tiers, so the small accounts (under 500 followers) are no longer competing with the Kardashians for impressions. And while Reels are still important, they are not all important. 
  • Your IG strategy for 2024 needs to include a mix of Reels, Carousel posts, Stories, DMs, and Static posts– in that order of priority. Getting in the DMs with your readers and followers will very much help you in the algorithm and get your posts seen by more followers and new people. 
  • The hashtag strategy is still adjusting. I encourage you to experiment. While some accounts are dropping hashtags altogether, others are finding the full 30 are still giving them the best exposure. Mosseri is currently recommending using, on average, about eight very specific and relevant hashtags at the bottom of your post to help the algorithm correctly classify who you are, what you do, and who your target audience is.


TikTok, while still rather new among the leading social media platforms, is evolving quickly. They’ve released a customized-for-you feed, 15-minute-long videos, shut down their creator fund, and expanded “out of phone” TikTok ads to show on billboards, cinema screens, and elsewhere.

  • Their more intrusive privacy policy released in early 2023 caused renewed censorship among many countries, businesses, and government entities. If you haven’t yet, I encourage you to read the privacy policy for yourself. TikTok updated it again on 24 January 2024. 
  • One point of discussion among social media marketers is the issue of higher vanity metrics for creators and businesses, but lower conversion rates compared to other platforms. If you are not already, make sure you track your sales relative to the content you are putting out on each platform.

Link to the rest at Writers in the Storm

PG opined about social media in an earlier post today.

How much of a working author’s time should be devoted to learning best practices and creating promo content best suited for each social media platform and audience on a regular basis?

How does the author determine which social media platforms do the best job of reaching her/his current and likely readers? Social media platforms are in constant combat with each other and today’s best platform for reaching readers may not be the same as the best platform will be in six months.

Considering the value of an author’s time, if an author believes she/he can make more money by advertising on one or more social media platforms, is it cheaper to pay for a social media marketing expert than for the author to spend work time to learn and keep up with current best practices on multiple social media sites?

Is it possible that an author might get more bang for the buck by experimenting with using smart computer-savvy kids from the computer clubs at local high schools to run social media ad programs? If PG were to experiment with this type of strategy, he’d talk to the smartest computer teacher at the local high school about helping to set up such a group. It might not be a bad idea to offer to pay the teacher to help oversee the students’ work.

PG suggests structuring this activity so it qualifies as a legitimate educational activity might be a reasonable goal.

As Facebook turns 20, politics is out; impersonal video feeds are in

From The Economist:

“I’m a little intoxicated, not gonna lie. So what if it’s not even 10pm and it’s a Tuesday night?…Let the hacking begin.” So typed a 19-year-old Mark Zuckerberg, liveblogging from his Harvard dormitory as he began work on a website called Facemash. The site displayed randomly selected pairs of students’ mugshots, harvested from the university’s intranet, and allowed users to vote on who was hotter. It caused a stir and was promptly shut down. But before long, a successor was in the making. On February 4th 2004 Mr Zuckerberg launched a new site: TheFacebook.com.

Facebook, as it later became, quickly overtook established social networks such as Friendster and MySpace to become the world’s largest, a position it still holds on its 20th birthday. Today 3bn people—about 60% of all internet users—scroll its infinite feed every month (see chart 1). It has outwitted its rivals, or swallowed them, as it did Instagram and WhatsApp. Six of the ten most-downloaded mobile apps last year belonged to Meta, Facebook’s holding company, which is now the world’s largest seller of advertising after Google. Meta’s market value has surpassed $1trn; in the third quarter of last year it reported revenue of $34bn.

Facebook and its imitators have done more than make money. Social media have become the main way that people experience the internet—and a substantial part of how they experience life. Last year nearly half of mobile screen-time worldwide was spent on social apps (and more than a quarter of waking hours were spent on phones), according to Data.ai, a research company. The networks have become what Mr Zuckerberg and others call a digital “town square”, in which the arguments of the day are thrashed out and public opinion is shaped. Social media have fomented social movements, from #MeToo and #BlackLivesMatter to the Arab spring and the Capitol riot.


Now, after two decades of evolution, the town square is being dug up and rebuilt. Following the arrival of competitors such as TikTok, powered by artificial intelligence, Facebook and other incumbents have been forced to reinvent themselves. Platforms that began as places for friends to interact and share their own content are turning into television-like feeds of entertainment, for passive consumption. At the same time, users are moving their conversations and arguments off the open networks and into closed, private groups on platforms like WhatsApp and Telegram. That migration, in turn, will have big implications for politics, in a year when countries with more than half the world’s population are heading to the polls.

Social media are more popular than ever. The average internet user spent nearly two and a half hours a day on social platforms last year, according to gwi, another data company. Usage ticked up during the pandemic and has not returned to pre-covid levels. As more people go online, more are signing up. Total time spent using social apps on Android devices, which account for about 70% of the world’s phones and tablets, has risen by 42% since 2020, to 2.3trn hours last year, according to Data.ai.

But the sort of social networking that Facebook pioneered is disappearing. The most obvious change is the shift to video on today’s networks. The explosive success of TikTok, a Chinese-owned short-video app which launched in 2017 and quickly had young people hooked, has sparked a wave of copycats. Meta has added a video feature called Reels to Facebook and Instagram. Similar products have been bolted onto Pinterest (Watch), Snapchat (Spotlight) and YouTube (Shorts). Elon Musk, who bought Twitter in 2022 and renamed it X, now claims it is a “video-first” platform. Of the 64 minutes per day that the average American spent on social media last year, 40 were spent watching video, up from 28 minutes three years earlier, estimates Bernstein, a broker.

The bigger change to social feeds is under the bonnet. At first, social networks showed chronological updates from users’ contacts: their friend just got engaged, their uncle was storming the Capitol and so on. As the volume of posts grew, the networks employed algorithms to prioritise posts that had proved popular among the user’s friends. Now a new phase has begun. TikTok decided that, rather than guessing what people would like based on their “social graph”—that is, what their family and friends liked—it would use their “interest graph”, which it inferred from the videos they and people like them lingered on. And rather than show content created by people they followed, it would serve up anything it thought they might like.

Every other big platform has followed suit. In 2022 Mr Zuckerberg announced that Facebook’s feed would become a “discovery engine” to seek out engaging content from around the internet. Since last year half of the posts X shows its users come from outside the network of people they follow. Threads, Meta’s Twitter-clone, launched last year with a similar approach. The resulting feeds of unrelated content from strangers can be jarring: “Here’s a healthy breakfast option! You should kill your mom!” quipped Bo Burnham, a YouTube comedian, in a satirical song. But users seem to like it. Time spent on Instagram has risen by 40% since Meta launched Reels. Even the geriatric Facebook somehow added 5m new users in America and Canada last year.


As users’ newsfeeds become unmoored from their network of friends and family, they are posting less about themselves. “The average user is now more of a consumer,” says Michael Bossetta of Lund University. In a survey last year by Gartner, a market-research company, only 28% of Americans said they liked documenting their life online, down from 40% in 2020. Some 61% say they have become more selective about what they post, finds Morning Consult, another research firm, which speculates that an influx of “influencer” content may have made users think “their everyday life is too mundane to justify frequent posts”. Video, the new format of choice, is harder to create than dashing off a quick status update. And some platforms, such as X, prioritise posts by users who pay, reducing incentives for the rest.

Instead, conversations have been moving for some time to private groups. In 2021 Mr Zuckerberg wrote that, as well as debating in the “town square” of Facebook and Instagram, “People increasingly also want to connect privately in the digital equivalent of the living room.” Adam Mosseri, head of Instagram, said last year that more photos and videos were being shared in direct messages than on the app’s main feed. “All the friends-sharing is moving in that direction,” he concluded. Morning Consult asked people how they would be most likely to recommend a movie. Only 30% said they would post on social media, behind the 43% who chose text or email and the 35% who opted for group chats.

At the same time, in the digital town square, fun is in and politics is out. Although (and perhaps because) social networks are accused of driving political polarisation, they seem increasingly eager to steer users away from news and current affairs. A study by Joshua Tucker of the Centre for Social Media and Politics at New York University (NYU) and colleagues compared a group of Facebook and Instagram users who were on chronological newsfeeds in the run-up to America’s election in 2020 with another group who used the platforms’ recommendation algorithm. Those using the chronological feed saw 15% more political content on Facebook and 5% more on Instagram than those who were fed by the algorithm. (They also saw a lot more information from what Meta classified as untrustworthy sources: 69% more on Facebook and 22% more on Instagram, albeit from low bases.)

Since then, the platforms have shied even further from news. The u-turn has been sharpest at Meta, whose boss said ten years ago that he wanted Facebook’s newsfeed to be a “perfect personalised newspaper for every person in the world”. The firm now says that news makes up less than 3% of what people see on the platform. Mr Mosseri, who is also in charge of Threads, wrote at its launch last year, “Politics and hard news are inevitably going to show up on Threads…but we’re not going to do anything to encourage those verticals.” A week later he added, “From a platform’s perspective, any incremental engagement or revenue they might drive is not at all worth the scrutiny, negativity (let’s be honest), or integrity risks that come along with them.”

A campaign by some publishers to make social-media firms pay to share their content has reinforced the networks’ view that news is more trouble than it is worth.

Link to the rest at The Economist

PG tried to remember when he had last read about a literary agent recommending that every author should be on Facebook. He thinks it was last week.

His own experiences with the new Facebook have convinced him that it’s really not that simple for an author to have an effective Facebook destination without, perhaps, hiring a Facebook marketing expert. That said, PG wouldn’t advise any new graduate to become a Facebook marketing expert.

The place has changed by much more than just rebranding to Meta. It’s laid off lots and lots of skilled employees, is facing serious technical, legal, ethical, and social issues. and, for PG has lost at its moorings and started drifting into strange places he finds offputting.

The end of the social network

From The Economist:

Facebook may be turning 20 on February 4th, but it is just as much of a magnet for controversy and cash today as when it was a brash, break-everything teenager. On January 31st Mark Zuckerberg, the social network’s founder, was harangued by American senators over the spread of harmful material. The next day he announced another set of glittering results for Meta, Facebook’s parent company, which is now valued at $1.2trn. Yet even as social media reliably draw vast amounts of attention from addicts and critics alike, they are undergoing a profound but little-noticed transformation.

The weird magic of online social networks was to combine personal interactions with mass communication. Now this amalgam is splitting in two again. Status updates from friends have given way to videos from strangers that resemble a hyperactive tv. Public posting is increasingly migrating to closed groups, rather like email. What Mr Zuckerberg calls the digital “town square” is being rebuilt—and posing problems.

This matters, because social media are how people experience the internet. Facebook itself counts more than 3bn users. Social apps take up nearly half of mobile screen time, which in turn consumes more than a quarter of waking hours. They gobble up 40% more time than they did in 2020, as the world has gone online. As well as being fun, social media are the crucible of online debate and a catapult for political campaigns. In a year when half the world heads to the polls, politicians from Donald Trump to Narendra Modi will be busy online.

The striking feature of the new social media is that they are no longer very social. Inspired by TikTok, apps like Facebook increasingly serve a diet of clips selected by artificial intelligence according to a user’s viewing behaviour, not their social connections. Meanwhile, people are posting less. The share of Americans who say they enjoy documenting their life online has fallen from 40% to 28% since 2020. Debate is moving to closed platforms, such as WhatsApp and Telegram.

The lights have gone out in the town square. Social media have always been opaque, since every feed is different. But TikTok, a Chinese-owned video phenomenon, is a black box to researchers. Twitter, rebranded as X, has published some of its code but tightened access to data about which tweets are seen. Private messaging groups are often fully encrypted.

Some of the consequences of this are welcome. Political campaigners say they have to tone down their messages to win over private groups. A provocative post that attracts “likes” in the X bear pit may alienate the school parents’ WhatsApp group. Posts on messaging apps are ordered chronologically, not by an engagement-maximising algorithm, reducing the incentive to sensationalise. In particular, closed groups may be better for the mental health of teenagers, who struggled when their private lives were dissected in public.

In the hyperactive half of social media, behaviour-based algorithms will bring you posts from beyond your community. Social networks can still act as “echo chambers” of self-reinforcing material. But a feed that takes content from anywhere at least has the potential to spread the best ideas farthest.

Yet this new world of social-media brings its own problems. Messaging apps are largely unmoderated. For small groups, that is good: platforms should no more police direct messages than phone companies should monitor calls. In dictatorships encrypted chats save lives. But Telegram’s groups of 200,000 are more like unregulated broadcasts than conversations. Politicians in India have used WhatsApp to spread lies that would surely have been removed from an open network like Facebook.

As people move to closed groups, the open networks left behind are less useful because of the decline in public posting. During the covid-19 pandemic, scientists and doctors contributed to an online debate which contained real insight as well as misinformation. Open-source intelligence flowed when Russia invaded Ukraine. Today those conversations are disappearing or moving to closed channels, slowing the spread of ideas. The people still weighing in on the public networks, meanwhile, are disproportionately male and likely to describe themselves as very left- or right-wing: bores, in plain English.

What’s more, the open-network algorithms driven by users’ behaviour seem primed to spread the spiciest videos. For something to go viral on a social network, people had to choose to share it. Now they endorse it simply by watching, as the algorithm rewards content that attracts the most engagement. Deliberate curation has been replaced by a system that taps straight into the id. Provocateurs like Mr Trump or Nayib Bukele, the favourite in this week’s election in El Salvador, stand to benefit, as do misinformation merchants. Platforms say they are better at weeding out fakes. Taylor Swift, the latest high-profile victim of a deepfake, might disagree.

More urgent even than the rise of fake news is a lack of the real sort. Mr Zuckerberg once said he wanted Facebook to be like a personalised newspaper. But since the network’s pivot to entertainment, news makes up only 3% of what people see on it. Across social media only 19% of adults share news stories weekly, down from 26% in 2018. Publications like BuzzFeed News, which relied on social distribution, have perished. That is their lookout (and ours). But it is everyone’s problem when nearly half of young people say that, just as the platforms decide news is no longer interesting, social media are their main source of news.

Link to the rest at The Economist

PG notes that this is presented as a trend in the OP. The article also recognizes that people individually and in groups change over time.

From a seller’s standpoint, you can’t assume the formula that worked wonderfully five years ago will continue to work this year or next. It’s not just because people react to shiny new things, it’s also because groups of people, including age groups, change over time. Last year’s breakthrough product or last decade’s standard does not necessarily fit well with changing social preferences.

Technology can certainly have huge impact on the behaviors of individuals and groups. PG is old enough to remember a time before everyone had a television. People who owned one talked about people and events that needed to be explained to those who didn’t own a television. It was a big deal when a family acquired their first television set.

Television was a true mass medium because everyone watched the same channels, which were limited in number. Today, of course, it’s 57 Channels (And Nothin’ On). As the OP suggests, Facebook is rightly concerned about becoming CBS or NBC.

How Womb House Became the Internet’s Favorite ‘Women-Driven’ Bookstore

From Publishers Weekly:

When Jessica Ferri launched her online bookstore, Womb House Books, in August 2021, her expectations were modest, if not nonexistent. Having just published her second book, Ferri, an author and book critic for the Los Angeles Times, had extra time on her hands and was unsure how she should use it.

She had always dreamed of owning a bookstore—“since I was a little girl,” she said—but was daunted by the idea of opening a brick-and-mortar operation. And with the pandemic still raging, compounded with Ferri’s recent cross-country relocation from Brooklyn to Berkeley, Calif., the timing felt wrong.

Then she discovered a pair of feminist bookstores—Toronto–based Bellwood Books and London–based the Second Shelf—which modeled precisely the kind of store Ferri could envision herself running: one primarily operated online and specializing in rare books by women.

“That was a big influence,” said Ferri of Bellwood, owned by Julie Malian, and Second Shelf, owned by A.N. Devers. With these blueprints in hand, Ferri made her first foray into bookselling with the “women-driven” Womb House Books.

Womb House focuses on books by and about women, as well as literature that Ferri calls “women-adjacent.” Its stock comes largely from local library book sales. She attributes her success at these sales to living in the “vibrant academic community” of Berkeley. “The sourcing is excellent here,” she said, because donations tend to come from professors, artists, and other “literarily-inclined, highly-cultured people.” She also frequents library sales all over Northern California and occasionally out of state, as well as estate sales. She estimates that she purchases between 200 and 400 books per sale.

Ferri’s buying practice is guided by her own unique but hard-to-pin-down sensibility; to paraphrase that most famous of Supreme Court opinions, Ferri simply knows a Womb House book when she sees it. As of this writing, the shop has made 3,743 sales and has 270 books on sale, including first edition of books by Isabel Allende, Maya Angelou, Marguerite Duras, Louise Erdrich, Jamaica Kincaid, Doris Lessing, Iris Murdoch, and Ntozake Shange.

Ferri posts three to five new listings on Instagram, Twitter, and Etsy each day at 6pm PST. There’s a pleasing aesthetic consistency across the listings, with each book positioned symmetrically on an ornately patterned rug. She chose to sell through Etsy, she said, for its user-friendliness and because it streamlines the process of listing and shipping.

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

PG suggests that the interesting backgrounds will be both eye-catching and an excellent example of brand-building on social media. He thinks the unique backgrounds will catch the eye in an ocean of look-alike naked book covers on social media.

Why a bestselling author’s email to book influencers is sparking controversy

From MSN:

Bestselling author J.D. Barker is facing scrutiny for a Jan. 23 email campaign sent to book influencers, asking them to take risqué videos with his latest book in exchange for payment.

“I cannot believe this is an actual email that I received this week from an author about making a promo video for one of their books,” TikToker Marissa Bologna said in a video, teeing up the latest controversy to take over BookTok, the bookish corner of the social media platform TikTok.

BookTok is known as a space for book influencers, enthusiasts and commentators to share their opinions on their latest reads and occasionally uncover controversy, like author Cait Corrain’s involvement in a Goodreads review bombing campaign in December 2023.
“BookTokers hold each other and authors accountable. We’re aware that it reflects the whole community,” 28-year-old BookToker Amanda Zarb says of the community’s reputation for making news.

However, Amanda Zarb distinguishes this from other instances of BookTok drama by classifying the email as “a safety concern.”

“At this point it’s the safety of the whole community,” Amanda Zarb, who received the email, says of the outpouring of videos. “The whole point was to make sure the community was aware this was happening.”

TODAY.com has reached out to Barker and publisher Hampton Creek Press for comment and has not heard back at the time of publication.

Barker apologized to recipients in an email reviewed by TODAY.com sent two days after the initial message. Barker said the first email “was not issued by me nor was it approved by me” but was “sent by one of the many PR firms I hired to promote my latest title.”

. . . .

Barker is a New York Times bestselling author of thrillers. The email, which has been reviewed by TODAY.com, was sent as part of a publicity campaign for Barker’s upcoming book “Behind A Closed Door,” about an “app craze” that sends couple Abby and Brendan Hollander “down a dangerous game of life and death.”

“When the app assigns them a series of increasingly taboo tasks, they soon find themselves caught up in a twisted web of seduction and violence in this sexually charged dark thriller from the New York Times bestselling author of ‘The Fourth Monkey’ — master of suspense, J.D. Barker,” the email reads.

The email was sent to BookTokers who could receive a free copy of the book and possibly payment, should they submit a video personally accepted by Barker.

. . . .

The controversy arose from the sexual nature of the email’s four video prompts, which appear to be inspired by the book’s content.

“This book is SPICY! Here are few video ideas currently in the works by other influencers,” the email read.

One prompt encourages BookTokers to post a video with the text, “Who doesn’t like to relax with a good book?” The accompanying video would be a “a camera pan up or down the body using only the book to cover up your naughty bits.”

Another prompt had the text, “What is the most taboo place you’ve ever had sex?”

“These are questions I’ve never received from a publisher, and never thought I would ever receive,” Amanda Zarb says of her reaction to the email. “That’s when it started and I was like, Hm. This is uncomfortable.”

. . . .

The campaign offered payment for videos that were selected via a submission process, the rationale being that Barker “understands how much work goes into those videos,” according to the email.

The payment scale ranged from $100 for accounts with 3,000 to 5,000 followers through $2,400 for those with upwards of 700,000 followers.

. . . .

In order to receive payment, users — after receiving a free book — had to upload a video for review.

“Barker will personally review each video and either approve it (triggering payment) or offer suggestions to get it approved. Once approved, you’re free to post,” the email read.

Book influencers are often given free books in exchange for a review, Liz Zarb confirms. She has also worked with publishers in exchange for compensation. In those cases, she submits the video to the publisher first.

“In those cases, it’s more an advertisement than an honest review,” she says. What made this ask a “gray area” is that in addition to the prompts, the videos weren’t called advertisements in the email.

One BookToker summarized the prompts and the payment scale as follows: “It blows my mind that they’re offering to pay BookTok creators for sexual content.”

TikToker @jerseybookguy equated it to “asking women to take their clothes off” to promote his book.

The email didn’t indicate what Barker or the publishing house planned to do with the videos. “The concern becomes, well, if my video isn’t approved, what are you going to do with it?” Liz Zarb says.

. . . .

Barker apologized “for the inconvenience this may have caused” in an email sent Jan. 25, two days after the first email.

In the three paragraph-long message, he explained the origin of the prompts and said he had “not approved” the email.

“The message you received from my account was not issued by me nor was it approved by me. It was sent by one of the many PR firms I hired to promote my latest title,” the email read.

“We are working with influencers on multiple social media campaigns and while some of those influencers have suggested racier posts to tie in with the theme of the book, that is not the heart of the campaign. The individual who edited this message chose to include these racier suggestions while editing out the others. Again, that was not the intent of the campaign. Had I seen this message before it went out, I would have stopped it.

“Ultimately, this is on me. I should not have allowed an outside firm access to my email account. That has been corrected,” he continued, before concluding, “I apologize for any inconvenience this may have caused you.”

Link to the rest at MSN and thanks to F. for the tip.

PG recalls that one of the services provided by PR firms and advertising agencies is to accept blame for a stupid decision by a client.

PG also notes that the author did not mention which PR firm was to blame for a message that “was not issued by me nor was it approved by me.”

Suspicious PG wonders why the author didn’t say that he had fired the PR firm for its terrible judgment nor did he say he insisted that the PR firm fire the nameless employee for her/his egregious decision-making that harmed a client of the firm.

PG was reminded of the old Sherlock Holmes short story titled “The Adventure of Silver Blaze” which featured “the dog that did not bark.”

Scotland Yard Detective Gregory: Is there any other point to which you would wish to draw my attention?
Holmes: To the curious incident of the dog in the night-time.
Gregory: The dog did nothing in the night-time.
Holmes: That was the curious incident.

When the New York Times lost its way

From The Economist:

Are we we truly so precious?” Dean Baquet, the executive editor of the New York Times, asked me one Wednesday evening in June 2020. I was the editorial-page editor of the Times, and we had just published an op-ed by Tom Cotton, a senator from Arkansas, that was outraging many members of the Times staff. America’s conscience had been shocked days before by images of a white police officer kneeling on the neck of a black man, George Floyd, until he died. It was a frenzied time in America, assaulted by covid-19, scalded by police barbarism. Throughout the country protesters were on the march. Substantive reform of the police, so long delayed, suddenly seemed like a real possibility, but so did violence and political backlash. In some cities rioting and looting had broken out.

It was the kind of crisis in which journalism could fulfil its highest ambitions of helping readers understand the world, in order to fix it, and in the Times’s Opinion section, which I oversaw, we were pursuing our role of presenting debate from all sides. We had published pieces arguing against the idea of relying on troops to stop the violence, and one urging abolition of the police altogether. But Cotton, an army veteran, was calling for the use of troops to protect lives and businesses from rioters. Some Times reporters and other staff were taking to what was then called Twitter, now called X, to attack the decision to publish his argument, for fear he would persuade Times readers to support his proposal and it would be enacted. The next day the Times’s union—its unit of the NewsGuild-cwa—would issue a statement calling the op-ed “a clear threat to the health and safety of the journalists we represent”.

The Times had endured many cycles of Twitter outrage for one story or opinion piece or another. It was never fun; it felt like sticking your head in a metal bucket while people were banging it with hammers. The publisher, A.G. Sulzberger, who was about two years into the job, understood why we’d published the op-ed. He had some criticisms about packaging; he said the editors should add links to other op-eds we’d published with a different view. But he’d emailed me that afternoon, saying: “I get and support the reason for including the piece,” because, he thought, Cotton’s view had the support of the White House as well as a majority of the Senate. As the clamour grew, he asked me to call Baquet, the paper’s most senior editor.

. . . .

Like me, Baquet seemed taken aback by the criticism that Times readers shouldn’t hear what Cotton had to say. Cotton had a lot of influence with the White House, Baquet noted, and he could well be making his argument directly to the president, Donald Trump. Readers should know about it. Cotton was also a possible future contender for the White House himself, Baquet added. And, besides, Cotton was far from alone: lots of Americans agreed with him—most of them, according to some polls. “Are we truly so precious?” Baquet asked again, with a note of wonder and frustration.

The answer, it turned out, was yes. Less than three days later, on Saturday morning, Sulzberger called me at home and, with an icy anger that still puzzles and saddens me, demanded my resignation. I got mad, too, and said he’d have to fire me. I thought better of that later. I called him back and agreed to resign, flattering myself that I was being noble.

Whether or not American democracy endures, a central question historians are sure to ask about this era is why America came to elect Donald Trump, promoting him from a symptom of the country’s institutional, political and social degradation to its agent-in-chief. There are many reasons for Trump’s ascent, but changes in the American news media played a critical role. Trump’s manipulation and every one of his political lies became more powerful because journalists had forfeited what had always been most valuable about their work: their credibility as arbiters of truth and brokers of ideas, which for more than a century, despite all of journalism’s flaws and failures, had been a bulwark of how Americans govern themselves.

I hope those historians will also be able to tell the story of how journalism found its footing again – how editors, reporters and readers, too, came to recognise that journalism needed to change to fulfil its potential in restoring the health of American politics. As Trump’s nomination and possible re-election loom, that work could not be more urgent.

I think Sulzberger shares this analysis. In interviews and his own writings, including an essay earlier this year for the Columbia Journalism Review, he has defended “independent journalism”, or, as I understand him, fair-minded, truth-seeking journalism that aspires to be open and objective. It’s good to hear the publisher speak up in defence of such values, some of which have fallen out of fashion not just with journalists at the Times and other mainstream publications but at some of the most prestigious schools of journalism. Until that miserable Saturday morning I thought I was standing shoulder-to-shoulder with him in a struggle to revive them. I thought, and still think, that no American institution could have a better chance than the Times, by virtue of its principles, its history, its people and its hold on the attention of influential Americans, to lead the resistance to the corruption of political and intellectual life, to overcome the encroaching dogmatism and intolerance.

But Sulzberger seems to underestimate the struggle he is in, that all journalism and indeed America itself is in. In describing the essential qualities of independent journalism in his essay, he unspooled a list of admirable traits – empathy, humility, curiosity and so forth. These qualities have for generations been helpful in contending with the Times’s familiar problem, which is liberal bias. I have no doubt Sulzberger believes in them. Years ago he demonstrated them himself as a reporter, covering the American Midwest as a real place full of three-dimensional people, and it would be nice if they were enough to deal with the challenge of this era, too. But, on their own, these qualities have no chance against the Times’s new, more dangerous problem, which is in crucial respects the opposite of the old one.

The Times’s problem has metastasised from liberal bias to illiberal bias, from an inclination to favour one side of the national debate to an impulse to shut debate down altogether. All the empathy and humility in the world will not mean much against the pressures of intolerance and tribalism without an invaluable quality that Sulzberger did not emphasise: courage.

. . . .

One of the glories of embracing illiberalism is that, like Trump, you are always right about everything, and so you are justified in shouting disagreement down. In the face of this, leaders of many workplaces and boardrooms across America find that it is so much easier to compromise than to confront – to give a little ground today in the belief you can ultimately bring people around. This is how reasonable Republican leaders lost control of their party to Trump and how liberal-minded college presidents lost control of their campuses. And it is why the leadership of the New York Times is losing control of its principles.

. . . .

 As everyone knows, the internet knocked the industry off its foundations. Local newspapers were the proving ground between college campuses and national newsrooms. As they disintegrated, the national news media lost a source of seasoned reporters and many Americans lost a journalism whose truth they could verify with their own eyes. As the country became more polarised, the national media followed the money by serving partisan audiences the versions of reality they preferred. This relationship proved self-reinforcing. As Americans became freer to choose among alternative versions of reality, their polarisation intensified. When I was at the Times, the newsroom editors worked hardest to keep Washington coverage open and unbiased, no easy task in the Trump era. And there are still people, in the Washington bureau and across the Times, doing work as fine as can be found in American journalism. But as the top editors let bias creep into certain areas of coverage, such as culture, lifestyle and business, that made the core harder to defend and undermined the authority of even the best reporters.

There have been signs the Times is trying to recover the courage of its convictions.

Link to the rest at The Economist

PG shares the concerns of the author of the OP.

Daniel Patrick Moynihan said, “Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not his own facts.”

PG notes that variations of Mr. Moynihan’s quote on the internet, which is part of the problem.

The internet is pretty close to untrammeled free speech. Various nations exclude opinions or facts their leaders believe to be wrong or inconvenient, but even The Great Firewall of China, a huge and expensive information blockage system, is reported to still being possible to breach by the use of the right technologies.

PG is pretty close to an online free-speech absolutist, reasoning that the best way antidote for bad or misleading speech is good speech.

That said, some of the bad speech on the internet includes purported facts that are demonstrably wrong, which may be spread by useful fools or those with malevolent intentions. This includes facts that are simply and demonstrably not true and urban legends that become so widespread they are regarded as true.

While PG was in college and before he quit drinking, it was common to hear older patrons at a bar arguing about whether Roosevelt had advance notice of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. Those who claimed he did said Roosevelt ordered that military officials in Hawaii not be warned ahead of the attack, presumably so he would have a solid pretext for declaring war on Japan and Germany and deprive the many antiwar isolationists in the US of a leg to stand on.

PG is pretty certain that he could find “facts” online that would support any argument his addled brain might generate.

Avoid Random Acts of Content

From Jane Friedman:

One way to attract and cultivate a loyal audience is by sharing compelling content. The goal is to build a relationship that not only leads to book sales but creates fans that stay with you for the long-term. Content marketing should ideally begin before the launch of your book and continue for as long as you want to grow your author business. This is how influencers are born—by marketing content that serves their audiences.

You’ve probably heard the advice to leverage social media, blogging, podcasting, and other content marketing strategies as a tool for growing your author business. However, when you do this without getting clear about the needs, challenges, and interests of your target audience, these efforts usually fall flat.

Let’s take for example Joe Schmoe (not a real person) who authored a book and blogs about backyard farming. Joe is passionate about his topic. He converted his modest backyard into a thriving source of food for his family, and he aims to help others do the same. Despite his passion and enthusiasm, his audience isn’t growing.

To date, Joe’s blog contains several dozen posts. Here are some examples of his titles and topics:

  • Check out my tomato harvest
  • Memories made on our family vacation
  • Why I like backyard gardening
  • See all the salads I made this week
  • Where are the helpers at the hardware store?

Now, imagine you’re interested in backyard gardening. Would the above titles appeal to you? Would they make you want to click on these posts? Or subscribe and visit again and again?

The biggest mistake Joe is making—and one that so many others make with content marketing—is that he’s not considering what his audience cares about. If I’m getting ready to convert my backyard into a mini-farm and I stumble on Joe’s site, seeing photos of his tomatoes or reading about his family vacation offers no value to me. It doesn’t address my challenges or improve my life in any way. So, I will move on, and find one of the many other blogs that can meet my needs.

Here are some better blog post titles that Joe could use:

  • 10 Steps to Getting Started with Backyard Farming
  • How to Create a No-Fail Watering Schedule for Your Backyard Farm
  • 5 Tips for a Hearty Lettuce Harvest
  • How to Select Tomato Plants and When to Plant Them
  • 3 Reasons Why Your Backyard Garden is Attracting Bugs and How to Get Rid of Them

Can you see the difference here? When Joe puts himself in the shoes of his readers, he will realize they are seeking guidance. As the expert, his readers rely on him to help them get started with gardening and overcome their backyard gardening challenges. If he simply meets these needs, his blog will begin to gain readership momentum.

Identify content ideas

After determining what your audience cares about, you can begin to develop content that meets their needs. Following are some types of content you can create.


Prescriptive content is some of the easiest to promote because millions of people turn to the internet to seek answers to their challenges every day. When you consider what types of questions your audience is typing into search boxes each day, you can begin to address those needs and develop content they are seeking. Your mission here is to solve their challenges and show them ways to make life easier.

Themes related to book

For narrative nonfiction and memoir, children’s books, fiction, and poetry, you will need to choose a theme and stick with it. Your theme might come directly from your book—or not. You could focus on the location where the book is set and share history of the city or travel tips for visitors. Or, if your book discusses an illness you overcame, sharing helpful information for others battling the illness can be a powerful strategy.

Donna Hartley has authored a series of memoirs based on events from her life, including surviving a collapsed heart valve. Today she earns a full-time living as a professional speaker covering women’s health issues.

Your theme might also be totally unrelated to your book. Charmaine Hammond is a business consultant who wrote a book of lessons from her dog called On Toby’s Terms. She reached out to her business contacts and organized a cross-country tour to promote the book by speaking at dozens of locations. Charmaine picked up the phone and acquired sponsors for the entire trip, covering everything from the borrowed RV she traveled in and a custom promotional wrap placed around the RV, to the coffee she brewed along the way and treats she shared with Toby. Her efforts led to selling tens of thousands of copies of the book and helped her further cultivate loyal fans in her business community—which is her target audience because she offers consulting and educational services for business professionals.

Link to the rest at Jane Friedman

How TikTok’s BookTok craze is ‘making reading cool again’

From Big Issue:

Welcome to BookTok. TikTok’s book recommendations, reviews and releases have amassed 185 billion views, making it one of the platform’s most active communities. According to the Publisher’s Association, 59% of 16- 25-year-olds have rekindled their love for reading thanks to the trend.

This is true for BookToker Nicole Murphy, who has 42,000 followers on the app.

“I stopped reading as I got older. But when I stumbled upon BookTok, it seemed like a positive space and I started reading more. I wasn’t part of a specific community and thought it’d be nice to be part of,” she tells The Big Issue.

“It’s made reading cool again,” Murphy continues. Addressing BookTok’s reputation for competitiveness she says, “Someone might say ‘I’ve read 30 books this month’, but they haven’t said ‘I’m better than you because of that’. It’s internal pressure people get from seeing this, like with anything online.”

There are hundreds of articles dismissing the platform for the competitiveness it allegedly fuels by promoting unattainable reading quotas and goals. GQ complains BookTok is “shallow” and has made being a reader more important than actually reading. Dazed speculates it has “sucked the joy out of reading”.

Signs are there. Some videos suggest “listening to audiobooks at 1.5x speed and skimming long passages of text”, while others show TBR piles (stacks of books that have yet To Be Read) taller than most people’s whole collections. But Murphy is quick to defend BookTok against criticism: “I urge people to spend more time on BookTok and look for what they’re genuinely interested in, not what they want to bash.”

. . . .

Another unexpected benefit of this renewed enthusiasm for reading is that it’s providing a boost for bookshops.

“So many books become bestsellers after going viral,” say Leah Caffrey and Alice Treadwell, from House of Books & Friends, an independent bookstore in Manchester. “You can see when certain backlist titles are having a moment online and many trending books have stayed consistent in our weekly sales; sales which were certainly boosted by TikTok for some titles.

“BookTok has encouraged younger generations to read more and find an online community to share their enthusiasm with. This can only be a good thing. It is creating generations of future readers.”

Link to the rest at Big Issue

PG picked a BookTok video at random. The following video had more than 17,000 views when PG embedded it.

So, how are the various social media platforms doing?

From Chuck Wendig:

So, how are the various social media platforms doing? Are they worth your time as a person, as a writer, as seven possums in a trenchcoat? Given that community and audience are both found and earned through these social networks, I figure it’s worth taking a gander at them again as I’ve done a number of times over the last year — in part because the social media landscape has broken into a number of little islands thanks to various tectonic shifts beneath the internet crust and we’re all just trying to find a place to rest our digital heads at night. Also in part because, as a writer, I need to find not just a place to HAWK MY WORDY WARES, which is of dubious value, but rather a place where I can meet writers and readers and agents and publishing folks and bookstore people and in general contribute to a larger, greater, cooler bookish ecosystem.

That said, as always, this is all purely my perspective. It is zero percent useful wisdom and one hundred percent just some bullshit that passed through my head like a cloud of stupid. I am not to be listened to. I’m just some jackass with a blog. Proceed with that situational awareness.


So, to jump to the start, I’m on Threads now.

It’s fine!

That’s more or less my capsule review. It’s fine! It’s fine. It’s fine.

Some general thoughts about it:

a) It’s obviously tied to Instagram and Facebook and therefore is tied to Zuckerberg which is bad and not good. No, it’s not awesome having to pick your social media platform based on which billionaire sociopath upsets you the least? But it is what it is, I guess. Our choices in life do not always amount to great ones, woefully.

b) If you want the place where the celebrities, the brands, the media outlets, are all going, it’s probably there. It’s got a big crowd — a lot of transfers over from Instagram, I guess? Despite the big crowd I don’t think it feels that peppy as yet. I can’t actually tell how many people I’m following (?) but it seems like a good group. That said, I do see a lot more general activity happening on Bluesky. Still, Threads is not precisely quiet, either, and even in the week since I’ve joined it looks to have picked up a bit.

c) There is a “who you follow” feed, which appears to present the posts of your followed accounts in the order they are posted. But it defaults to an algorithmic FYP feed, which shows a random disgorgement of… I mean, I assume it’s whatever the Insane Robot That Governs The Place wants you to see. It definitely seems to prioritize verified accounts over non-verified.

d) There does seem to be a pretty good bookish crowd of writers and readers.

e) The vibe there is… I dunno, is it wrong if I say, Ruby Tuesdays? Applebees? Like, if Twitter is currently your local Nazi Bar, and Bluesky is your local Eclectic Diner, this definitely feels like a popular-but-functional chain restaurant. People are having a nice enough time and it feels pretty reliable. It’s the “Hey, let’s go to Chili’s” variant of social media. Sometimes, you want that, and that’s okay, no shame.

f) The one thing I like about it in theory but not in practice is the granularity of how you can see your engagement — there’s All, Follows, Replies, Mentions, Quotes, Reposts, Verified, Dunks, Trolls, Posts By People Who Don’t Know What They’re Talking About But Probably Mean Well, Devil’s Advocates, Robots, Dog Photos, Replies From Stalkers, and People Who Still Think NFTs Are Cool. Or something like that. Point is, it’s definitely more granular but… I also don’t feel like each tab works great, and I’m really not seeing a lot of actually existing replies, and the overall GUI of those pages feels noisy and hard for me to parse, for some reason. That might just be me, though.

So, it’s fine! I don’t hate it. I don’t yet love it. It exists and I’m using it and have found some value there and in part that value is finding friends who are using it, too. Which is nice. I wasn’t going to join it but… real talk, writing is a lonely gig and sometimes you want to feel like there’s a room you can go into and hear some voices. Further, publishing is in a place where it’s still not sure exactly how to navigate the shattered social media landscape, and as much as I hate to say it, that means it’s (yet again) on writers to actually carve out their spaces and — well, we’re all just trying to either not die in the abyss or, at the very least, find other people dying in the abyss with us so we can commiserate with one another as we sink softly into the pudding of oblivion.

(Also, The Pudding of Oblivion is my next next novel, out in 2026.)

At the very least, Threads is not Twitter.

. . . .


I continue to not be on there or literally see anything that happens there and I’m probably better for it, and you’re probably better not seeing me there, and I think that’s a good decision we’re all making. I do understand that BookTok is currently *checks notes* kind of in control of publishing, whether it realizes it or not, and as such, I guess I should probably be there and be paying attention? At the same time, I can’t control it, and I suspect it would just cause my brain to swell up like an overfed tick and then it would pop and there’d be anxious brain goo everywhere. So, again, I remain here. Without the Tiks or the Toks to keep me warm at night.

. . . .


If you need to know what your racist aunt or that guy from high school is up to, Facebook is your jam. I dunno. It seems to throttle links now and ennh. I use it as a walled garden to keep up with family and friends, that’s it.

Link to the rest at Chuck Wendig

X remains primary social media platform for publishers

From The Bookseller:

Publishers say most of their social engagement still comes through X, formerly known as Twitter, though they are now actively engaging with alternatives such as Threads, BlueSky and Mastodon.

Since business magnate Elon Musk completed his buyout of the networking site in 2022, there have been a number of changes, notably to the platform’s verification policies, stripping verified blue ticks from accounts which hadn’t signed up for its paid-for subscription service. Links to articles also changed to only show the associated image without the headline, making it difficult to share news. This has prompted the book community’s use of the platform to dissipate, but most publishers still see X as their main social media platform as it still has the largest number of active users and newer alternatives are not yet set up for scheduling.

Jack Birch, senior digital marketing manager at Bloomsbury, told The Bookseller: “The users that have left Twitter/X since Musk’s takeover have not gone to a specific destination; they have fragmented across different platforms such as Blue Sky, Mastodon and Threads, as well as other platforms. As a company, we felt that Threads had the potential to be the biggest competitor to X, given Meta’s history of running successful social media apps and an existing audience that they could convert (cleverly linking Instagram followers to Threads at the click of a button). We hoped Instagram and Facebook users could pivot to a text-based social network, as well as pick up people leaving Musk’s X. However, after initial enthusiasm, interactions and impressions have dropped off a cliff.”

He believes that despite the press for dwindling numbers on Twitter/X, it remains the place for “influential media figures” such as journalists and celebrities and is still where “news breaks first”. Birch also cited how two of the more recent campaigns, Ghosts: The Button House Archives and The Rest is History, “performed exceptionally well on X, partly due to pre-existing, established fandoms, as well as each book’s content suiting the platform”.

He said that Bloomsbury believes Mastodon and Blue Sky are “currently too complicated for the general user to have wider popular appeal at least at the moment”. He added: “Our social media management platform, Sprout Social, does not currently allow us to schedule posts on these two platforms. With all of this in mind, we have put more energy into our Instagram and TikTok channels. Though content usually takes longer to produce, we are seeing excellent returns on engagements and impressions. As a company, we also have direct relationships with Meta and TikTok, and are able to solve any issues that may affect our accounts.”

“The social media landscape has always changed very quickly, but, since Musk’s takeover of X, it is even more unstable than it ever has been before. We have a large, and engaged, social media following on Meta, TikTok and X; it is still there where we see our key audience.”

A Bonnier Books UK spokesperson said: “We’re continuing to use Twitter/X across a number of our imprints, and so far it is proving fairly resilient with an active community of readers, media and influencers. Ultimately, we’re committed to going where our readers take us, and to ensure that we offer our community the space and the content to connect, debate and celebrate their love of stories – whatever the platform.”

Link to the rest at The Bookseller

PG suggests that, regardless of social media platform, traditional publishers are going to be small fish compared with real celebrities, tech companies or just about anyone else with the slightest bit of talent. For one thing, a talented social media influencer can maker significantly more money than the CEO of a book publisher.

He’s pressed for time at the moment, but feel free to compare the number of X followers of publishers with television networks, online news sites, newspapers, popular authors or just about any other provider of information or entertainment and post your discoveries in the comments.

What Makes a Great WordPress Theme for Authors?

From The Book Designer:

Before we get to the 10 best WordPress themes for authors, let’s get one thing out of the way.

Yes, you need an author website!

Too much enthusiasm? I think not. 

Over the years  I’ve seen way too many authors miss out on opportunities to engage with their audience and even sell more books because they don’t believe that they need a website, or they feel that being on social media is enough. Or, they don’t want to be on the internet at all. I kind of understand the reasoning behind the last one, but you still need a house, even if you’re never at home. 

. . . .

Now let’s talk about the best WordPress themes for authors and finding the best one for your author website.

When it comes to author websites, any ol’ template won’t work. As writers and authors, we have specific needs that not every template provides. For this list, I selected themes that met the following criteria:

  • Multiple layout options: You don’t want your website to look like your author neighbor across the internet street. 
  • Shop/Store option: Having an easy way to sell your books directly to your readers built into the theme (even if you don’t need it at first) will make life easier. 
  • Theme Support: It’s tough when you have questions but can’t find anyone to answer them.
  • Blog style options: An author has to write, so please give her some options.
  • At least a 4 out of 5-star rating (at the time of this article.)
  • Regularly updated
  • Detailed documentation

Link to the rest at The Book Designer

After the excerpt above, the OP goes through each of his Ten Best WordPress Templates.

PG has his opinions, but, since he’s not an author, share your opinions and selections in the comments.

Why This Ghostwriter Loves His Haters

From Publishers Weekly:

Whenever someone chooses to leave social media, you hear the same refrain: it’s gotten so negative, I can’t stand it. To me, that’s a reason to stay.

Don’t get me wrong. I’d rather hang out with people who like me in real life, and I’d certainly rather hear praise than criticism. But when it comes to building an audience online, it’s better to be hated than loved. For better or worse, social media rewards engagement, and negativity fuels engagement.

You may have heard the old saying, “All publicity is good publicity.” But I’m here to tell you that the best publicity of all is absolute hatred. Your online haters can inadvertently give you effective marketing, spread your name to new groups, give you opportunities to respond persuasively, and sharpen your brand.

Once you recognize this, haters also lose some of their power. They may try to bring you down by making you feel small or unworthy. If they make you feel bad, provoke you into an ill-tempered response, or drive you offline, they win. But once you realize they’re inadvertently boosting you, it’s an opportunity to turn that dynamic around.

I’ll give you an example: the online trick shot group Dude Perfect. These five guys have filmed themselves doing everything from calling and making a hole in one to sinking a basketball from a skyscraper. They’re good, and their online comments reflect viewers’ utter disbelief. And not just stunned amazement or polite questions about the veracity of videos—they deal with everything from scorn to conspiracy theories. This is a level of mastery everyone should aspire to and something I write about in my book So Good They Call You a Fake.

In an interview on Good Morning America, Dude Perfect member Cody Jones said the group loves it when people call their shots fake because it makes what they do “seem even more ridiculously impossible,” leading to more publicity and clicks on YouTube. Online haters are literally putting money in their pockets.

Now, not all online hate is created equal. When people are responding to you with racial hate and bigotry, their comments obviously provide no value. It’s best to report and block these people rather than engage with them.

The haters I’m talking about are people who come at you because of what you do. They’re the ones who criticize you because you’re talented or smart or successful—and they simply can’t stand it. For that reason, they try to cast doubt on your achievements and minimize your talents. These haters and trolls, who tend to move in packs, will latch onto something you say and begin circulating it among themselves, adding their own put-downs. But their attacks merely serve to elevate your standing online.

I’ll give an example from my social media feed. Last year, I was musing on the flaws of some popular movies, which could help authors more effectively write books. I went onto what was then still called Twitter, and shared a thread of my observations about how Captain Marvel, Rey from Star Wars, and Bo Peep from Toy Story were examples of what fans call a Mary Sue—a character with no flaws or weaknesses. I argued that this robs them of narrative arcs and obstacles to overcome, and ultimately is a disservice to viewers who want to see a strong female character.

My core audience—people who want to improve their writing or just enjoy well-told stories—loved my posts, but soon a new audience of haters found them and were determined to argue with me because I had criticized popular female characters. These haters seemed to be responding more to one another than to anything I’d written, high-fiving one another with each withering reply.

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

Since PG had never heard of Dude Perfect, he did a little investigation for the benefit of visitors to TPV.

X remains primary social media platform for publishers

From The Bookseller:

Publishers say most of their social engagement still comes through X, formerly known as Twitter, though they are now actively engaging with alternatives such as Threads, BlueSky and Mastodon.  

Since business magnate Elon Musk completed his buyout of the networking site in 2022, there have been a number of changes, notably to the platform’s verification policies, stripping verified blue ticks from accounts which hadn’t signed up for its paid-for subscription service. Links to articles also changed to only show the associated image without the headline, making it difficult to share news. This has prompted the book community’s use of the platform to dissipate, but most publishers still see X as their main social media platform as it still has the largest number of active users and newer alternatives are not yet set up for scheduling. 

Jack Birch, senior digital marketing manager at Bloomsbury, told The Bookseller: “The users that have left Twitter/X since Musk’s takeover have not gone to a specific destination; they have fragmented across different platforms such as Blue Sky, Mastodon and Threads, as well as other platforms. As a company, we felt that Threads had the potential to be the biggest competitor to X, given Meta’s history of running successful social media apps and an existing audience that they could convert (cleverly linking Instagram followers to Threads at the click of a button). We hoped Instagram and Facebook users could pivot to a text-based social network, as well as pick up people leaving Musk’s X. However, after initial enthusiasm, interactions and impressions have dropped off a cliff.” 

He believes that despite the press for dwindling numbers on Twitter/X, it remains the place for “influential media figures” such as journalists and celebrities and is still where “news breaks first”. Birch also cited how two of the more recent campaigns, Ghosts: The Button House Archives and The Rest is History, “performed exceptionally well on X, partly due to pre-existing, established fandoms, as well as each book’s content suiting the platform”.

He said that Bloomsbury believes Mastodon and Blue Sky are “currently too complicated for the general user to have wider popular appeal at least at the moment”. He added: “Our social media management platform, Sprout Social, does not currently allow us to schedule posts on these two platforms. With all of this in mind, we have put more energy into our Instagram and TikTok channels. Though content usually takes longer to produce, we are seeing excellent returns on engagements and impressions. As a company, we also have direct relationships with Meta and TikTok, and are able to solve any issues that may affect our accounts.”   

“The social media landscape has always changed very quickly, but, since Musk’s takeover of X, it is even more unstable than it ever has been before. We have a large, and engaged, social media following on Meta, TikTok and X; it is still there where we see our key audience.”

Link to the rest at The Bookseller

Terror and the Secondary Trauma of Social Media

From The Rand Blog:

Like many, I’ve recently been using social media to follow the war in the Middle East. As a habit, following news like this makes a certain amount of sense—social media has often been one of the better sources for breaking information on emerging crises.

Many aspects of this war are unique, but what is increasingly common is that my social media feeds, along with those of many others, are populated with extremely graphic images, many of which, having seen them, I fervently wished I could unsee. Yet I still felt compelled to follow the news, to seek out ever-more visceral videos and details of this unfolding human tragedy.

I am far from alone in my exposure to this extreme content. And while it may seem like being an active, informed citizen requires such immersion in raw imagery, I am also a social psychologist and should know better.

Immersive Sensory Experiences Tied to Secondary Trauma

The effects of a traumatic event—and the events in Israel and Gaza are certainly that—are, as we psychologists well know, contagious. That is, their effects can spread well beyond their initial victims. In war, those victims include those who are displaced, injured, and killed, as well as those who have lost a loved one.

The idea of secondary trauma recognizes that people indirectly exposed to an event like war can suffer as well.

Take, for example, drone operators, who endlessly scan live footage and take split-second orders to fire rockets at suspected terrorists, then commute home in time for dinner. Even though they are not physically exposed to harm, these immersive sensory experiences become associated with real trauma.

That jarring disconnect, especially because it often goes unacknowledged, becomes its own form of trauma for people in critical roles such as emergency rescuers, social media content moderators, law enforcement, and intelligence analysts.

Secondary trauma was, for a long time, largely confined to people involved in the initial event, like first responders. Thanks to technology, however, it can now afflict anyone with a smartphone.

And now, as graphic images from Israel and Gaza proliferate on social media, it is likely that these images are having significant negative impacts on the mental health and well-being of many—especially adolescents and young adults, who already struggle mightily

And Social Media Choices Help Spread Secondary Trauma

The proliferation of traumatizing social media content is, make no mistake, a deliberate choice. People post war dispatches for many reasons, such as to expose atrocities, but also to deceive and to serve as propaganda. Hamas attackers have hijacked victims’ social media accounts to sow even more terror.

For their part, social media platforms have actively encouraged the spread of misinformation—this after layoffs shed their ability to weed it out.

Social media algorithms also drive people to extreme content, even when they’re not actively looking for it.

The global mental health impacts of this war are only just beginning. But, like its casualties, they will likely be staggering. Social media companies could and should do more to moderate the virality of such content, but they have largely abdicated this responsibility.

Many have withdrawn from the business of providing news—that is, accurate and relevant information—leaving behind a toxic stew of false and misleading posts. Communities might need to seek out less-toxic alternatives to the digital town square.

That mental health and health behaviors are contagious is both good and bad news. Parents should look to improve their own social media habits and model a healthy digital lifestyle for their kids. Digital health companies could also shift their focus from individual to public health.

Young people are in many ways their own best hope. Today’s youth are active and enthusiastic about shaping the world they will grow up in. Policymakers would do well to prioritize younger voices, concerns, and ideas when thinking through proposals toward building a less-traumatizing form of social media.

Trauma is often described as a shattering of one’s assumptions or worldviews. That is, when events collide with our expectations, beliefs, or hopes, we are forced to reconsider what is truly possible.

This latest war—set in a world still emerging from the COVID-19 pandemic, grappling with social isolation and mental health crises—has provided plenty of traumatizing developments, with the grim promise of more to come. Mitigating their impact on global mental health might require some combination of regulations, “healthy” social networks, or personal behavior change.

Link to the rest at The Rand Blog

San Francisco TikTok creator makes 1934 murder mystery novel ‘Cain’s Jawbone’ sell out worldwide

From SFGate:

In 1934, English translator Edward Powys Mathers, renowned for his cryptic crosswords, came up with a new puzzle: a 100-page murder mystery entitled “Cain’s Jawbone.”

To solve it, readers must correctly identify all six murderers and their victims, but doing so requires rearranging the book’s pages, which are published out of order. Only three people have ever correctly figured out the answer: two in the 1930s, and one last year.

Then the relatively obscure book became a worldwide sensation after a viral post on the social media app TikTok.

“I decided to take this nearly impossible task as an opportunity to fulfill a lifelong dream and turn my entire bedroom wall into a murder board,” San Francisco TikTok creator Sarah Scannell says in a video posted Nov. 14, which reveals the 8-by-5-foot “murder wall” she created in her bedroom composed of the pencil-annotated 100 pages taped up and connected by string.

Days later, the book sold out at retailers worldwide.

At press time, the TikTok has 4.6 million views, 1 million likes, 36,600 shares and 5,340 comments. On Nov. 18, the publisher of “Cain’s Jawbone,” Unbound, announced a reprint on Twitter, and pointed to the cause of the sales spike: “To all who found us through @saruuuuuuugh’s TikTok, welcome and thank you!” 

. . . .

The TikTok begins with Scannell grabbing “Cain’s Jawbone” from the wood shelves of San Francisco independent bookstore Green Apple Books before revealing the murder wall in her apartment (which is also mine, as I am her roommate).

. . . .

The book sold out on Amazon within 24 hours of the initial TikTok’s posting, Scannell said. It was relisted the next day with its price doubled and with shipping delays. Presently, it’s listed on the online behemoth as out of print, with limited availability. As of Friday, publisher Unbound surpassed 5,000 open backorders in the U.S., 2,500 in Canada and 3,000 from U.K. book retailer Waterstones alone — its own website sold out of its stock of 600 within 24 hours. Two days after the initial TikTok’s posting, Joey Goodman, who works at Green Apple Books, tweeted at Scannell to let her know that her TikTok “wreaked havoc” on online orders.

Link to the rest at SFGate and thanks to DM for the tip.

I couldn’t stop writing fake Dear Prudence letters that got published

From Gawker:

Sometime at the tail end of 2018, shortly after abandoning yet another draft of what was supposed to be my fifth Young Adult novel, I took up a different form of fiction: I started writing fake letters to Dear Prudence, Slate’s long-running advice column.

Part of the reason for this change was that I was getting too old for young adults. As the sun set on my twinkhood, the teenage characters in my unfinished drafts had become suspiciously middle-aged in their preoccupations. They were jaded about sex, fretful about the effectiveness of their skincare routines, and clumsy in their use of emojis. Maybe worse, in the time that I had been writing YA, the once pleasantly eccentric corner of book publishing had become a stronghold for cynical opportunists and people who seemed to despise the very idea of literature. It was all fucking with my head, and while I couldn’t imagine giving up on fiction entirely, I was starting to think that what I had spent my career doing wasn’t working anymore.

Writing fake letters to advice columns could not be considered a good career move; after all, it was unpaid and I wouldn’t even get a byline out of it. On the other hand, it was easy and creatively fulfilling. In my anonymous, fabricated letters to Prudence, I could follow the most demented threads of my imagination without having to anticipate the omnivalent flavors of opprobrium that might rain down on me from YA’s brigade of cultural revolutionaries.

The world of “agony aunts” was not new to me. In my childhood, I would take the Washington Post and the local Montgomery Journal with my after-school snack, and while I’d tried to cultivate an interest in the news of the day, the advice columns were what really spoke to me. Part of this was personal. It was family legend that my grandmother had been published in the 1970s by Ann Landers, sincerely asking if she should divorce my grandfather for his secret smoking habit. Ann had advised her to chill, and they remained married, so I felt that in some way I owed her for my existence. (Then again, my grandfather eventually died from the cigs, so maybe Ann was to blame for that too.) In my pre-teen mind, Ann Landers and her sisters (Dear Abby was, in fact, her actual sister!) were figures similar to the Fates. To contemplate the ways in which their pronouncements had altered the course of history was to stare down a dizzying kaleidoscope of Quantum Leap what-ifs.

I was also intrigued by the question of fakes, for which Ann was always on alert. She operated under the thinking that Yale undergrads were the most common perpetrators of fabulist letters, and, for a time, refused to publish any letter bearing a New Haven postmark. This suggested to me an erotic glamor: I imagined dormitories full of muscular undergrads lounging around in their undies and collaborating on phony scenarios before hitting the showers together to celebrate their labor. It was with this dream in mind that I approached my task.

Over the next couple of years, I used burner email accounts to submit around 25 letters to Dear Prudence, at least 12 of which were answered on either the printed column or the podcast.

Though Dear Prudence has run in Slate since 1997, the role of Prudie was assumed in 2015 by Daniel Lavery — co-founder of the feminist website The Toast and author of a book about famous literary characters texting — who transformed the column into something of a tribunal, doling out po-faced judgment to guilty white cishets for crimes of allyship. Was it wrong for a letter-writer to call the cops when she saw a home invasion taking place on her street? (“You can’t go back in time and undo what you did, of course,” an unamused Prudie tsked.) Would it be morally acceptable for another to steal their parents’ phones and secretly delete objectionable content from their Facebook feeds? (“Go ahead and unsubscribe them with my blessing,” Prudie advised.)

More than being an heir to Ann and Abby, this incarnation of Prudie felt like an heir to Judith Martin’s Miss Manners, whose adjudications on minor questions of polity were, in their own way, more titillating than the seamier stuff offered up in more generalist columns. But rather than looking to Emily Post, Lavery’s Prudie was guided by the convoluted pieties of Twitter. This was fertile soil for the themes that I was interested in, which included Disney monomania, semantic disputes in queer relationships, and paralyzing anxieties around Brooklyn-style social mores.

Link to the rest at Gawker and thanks to D for the tip.

Research And Learning And Blogging

From Kristine Kathryn Rusch:

I spent the morning researching things like BookTok and NFTs for writers and Substack. I was going to write about each, but you know what? I don’t want to.

Here’s the thing: I’ve been blogging now on the publishing industry—the indie publishing industry in particular (which some folks still insist on calling self-publishing)—for 12 years now. Which makes me a relic.

When I started blogging, it was something that everyone did because that was the way to attract readers to your fiction. You could make a living by writing a blog.

The rule of thumb for writer-bloggers was never write a blog longer than 500 words. Yeah, you see how that worked for me. I never write a blog that short.

But folks were making a small fortune blogging about topics not being covered by the mainstream media. Eventually, though, that niche went away or it disappeared behind a paywall like Patreon. Now that paywall includes Substack, which I am truly interested in.

Honestly, though, if I blog about it, it really isn’t fair to you all. My knowledge of Substack is an inch deep, which is an inch deeper than my knowledge of NFTs, and two inches deeper than my knowledge of BookTok. I haven’t even been to TikTok, although I’ve seen some great vids designed for TikTok.

I had planned—weeks ago—to learn all of this in depth, so that I actually could cite articles and experts and do a good analysis of the changes happening in the digital sphere.

I didn’t do any of it, I thought for lack of time. But I managed to research some other things which are important to my career and I also managed to learn some new skills that I will continue delve into. So really, lack of time isn’t the issue.

Lack of priority is.

And I realized, that’s where the blog is, as well as the end of this particular series of posts.

When I started blogging in 2009, the indie world was small and contained. I wrote about that in the previous blog. In indie publishing, rather like traditional publishing, we were all doing the exact same things, because there wasn’t much more to do.

New things came on the scene, and we all analyzed them. Sometimes we made group decisions about them (you have to try BookBub!) and sometimes we did our own thing, after a lot of analysis. But we were talking about the same programs or opportunities.

As new things proliferated by 2014 or so, those of us in the blogosphere tried to keep up. The problem was that many of those new things would disappear shortly after we researched them. I got paid $4000 by an app developer around that time so that he would design an app based on my Fey books. And then he literally disappeared. He paid me, said he started, and poof! gone as if he had never existed. (And he paid me by check, so he wasn’t trying to get my bank account information.)

Stuff like that happened all the time. And eventually, I started to tune out some of the new. It was either keep up or get my writing done. For some reason, I preferred writing.

A friend of mine who makes part of their living off online work advising people what to do with their indie publishing opted to do something different. They just interviewed everyone about every bit of new tech. My friend did not investigate the tech or even use most of it. The upshot of it was that my friend knew about the newest latest thing, but rarely used it themselves.

That put them in almost reportorial mode even though they had started off only interviewing things they recommended. And, let me say as a former journalist, the problem with reportorial mode is the one that I mentioned above. Journalists are, by definition, generalists. Their knowledge of damn near everything is only an inch deep.

Link to the rest at Kristine Kathryn Rusch

Here’s a link to Kris Rusch’s books. If you like the thoughts Kris shares, you can show your appreciation by checking out her books.

8 Critical Thinking Fallacies You’re Likely Falling For on Social Media

From Zarvana:

You may think that scrolling endlessly through social media is a harmless way to decompress after a long day of work and let your mind relax. And the latest research on the mental and emotional effects of sinking hours into social media suggests that it has a relatively limited effect on your well-being.

While social media may not be the cause for the increasing youth depression rates, it does have a perhaps, more insidious effect on our critical thinking skills. The average adult spends 2 hours and 24 minutes every day on social media. It’s impossible to spend that much time doing a single activity in your day without the repetitive behaviors associated with that activity carrying over into how you do other activities.

How Social Media is Undermining Your Critical Thinking Skills

Said another way, the way you engage with social media is, likely without you knowing it, training you how to think when at work, when interacting with friends and family, and when running into strangers on the street. Patricia Greenfield, UCLA distinguished professor of psychology and director of the Children’s Digital Media Center in Los Angeles, puts it this way: “the mid-21st century mind might almost be infantilized, characterized by short attention spans, sensationalism, inability to empathize and a shaky sense of identity.”

When you thumb through Instagram or Twitter posts, you’re building cognitive habits around how you process and make sense of information. And research suggests that our habits for processing information on social media are far from exemplary. We know this because many people fail to identify fake or false information from true information. In one study, 44% of millennial participants failed to correctly identify whether information was true or false in at least four of nine questions.

The more time people spend on social media, the more likely they are to fall prey to false information. A study sponsored by the Reboot Foundation found that 36% of people who check social media hourly or more frequently held at least one wrong belief about COVID-19, while only 22% of people who checked social media once a week held at least one wrong belief.

Our use of social media limits the development of robust critical thinking skills. Professor Greenfield explains that the visual media we consume on screens “do not allow time for reflection, analysis or imagination — those do not get developed by real-time media such as television or video games.”

While identifying fake news is a key critical thinking-related challenge when it comes to social media, there is another challenge that goes beyond deciphering fact from fake. This is the challenge of determining whether the reasoning that underlies a post or article is rigorous and rationale. Unfortunately, social media is littered with posts that contain critical thinking fallacies. We must learn to identify them or we will fall prey to them not just on social media, but in every area of life.

Here are some examples of common critical thinking fallacies.

Examples of Critical Thinking Fallacies on Social Media

Our goal is not to convince you of any particular point of view found in the examples. Critical thinking doesn’t care about the answer. It only cares about the rigor behind the support for the answer. As we’ve explained, critical thinking is providing a robust answer to a question.

Undermining the Messenger Fallacy:

Many times, people on social media immediately dismiss an idea because of the person sharing it. This is a cognitive shortcut that leads to lazy thinking. There is no law of logic or nature that dictates that if people made statements that are wrong or false in the past, they can no longer make any statements that are right or true.

When you discredit ideas because of their source, you operate out of “stereotype thinking.” Stereotype thinking says that because a certain condition has been statistically probable in the past, it is true in the present. While stereotypes can help people make snap decisions when absolutely necessary, they create significant problems as we can clearly see from the stories of racial inequity that are becoming more visible.

Because most people fall prey to this fallacy, those arguing on social media often resort to a cheap and often irrelevant strategy for dismissing the ideas of those with whom they disagree. Rather than engaging in a debate around the idea shared by their opponent, they simply hurl personal attacks at the opponent. The goal is to discredit the messenger so that we will automatically dismiss the idea.

Here’s a simple, but common example:

@JoeBiden, you & your son Hunter are #MadeInChina  pic.twitter.com/0Z3eSM0Bpp— Marla Hohner (@marlahohner) July 1, 2020

The other consequence of this fallacy is that we are much more likely to reject an idea posed by someone we dislike even if we would have supported the idea had it been presented by someone we like – and the opposite is true, we are quick to support ideas shared by our friends even if they aren’t rigorous enough to warrant our support.

Correlation vs. Causation Fallacy

This is a more well-known fallacy that is beat into the head of every statistics student: correlation doesn’t mean causation. Just because two events trend together doesn’t mean that one caused the other. For example, let’s imagine hypothetically that you found data asserting that people drive slower in urban areas when it rains. The conclusion that most people would jump to is that the presence of rain causes people to drive more slowly. If your job is to eliminate the slow-downs, you might try to solve this problem by requiring drivers to go through rain driving training or increasing regulations on tire conditions during vehicle inspections.

However, it’s easy to see that a third factor may be the cause of reduced driving speeds. When it rains, more people in cities are likely to drive (rather than walk, bike, or take public transport and get wet), creating more traffic, which, in turn, could cause people to drive more slowly.

You can see how the tendency to believe that correlation equals causation can cause you to arrive at very different conclusions.

The logic used in this Twitter thread is that Democrats are the cause for riots and racist police brutality because the leadership in those cities and states are largely Democratic. While this could be the case, the data shared in this tweet only establishes correlation, not causation. There are many other possible explanations for how both of these facts can be true without one causing the other.

. . . .

Wrong Denominator Fallacy

Dividing the incidence of an event by a denominator helps achieve what statisticians call normalization of the data. For example, imagine you take a test that has 200 questions and you get 20 wrong and your friend takes a test with 100 questions and gets 11 wrong. If you simply compare the number of wrong answers, you would think you did worse. But you answered more questions than your friend, so you have to divide the number wrong by the total number of questions:

  • 20/200 = 10% wrong
  • 11/100 = 11% wrong

When you normalize the data by dividing by the right denominator, you can see the that conclusion is reversed: you did better, not worse.

Sometimes people run into critical thinking fallacies because they don’t normalize the data; that is, they don’t divide by a denominator. But a more subtle fallacy is dividing by the wrong denominator.

Link to the rest at Zarvana

Banned Hashtags You Should Avoid In 2021

From Kicksta:

Hashtags are an important part of any business’s Instagram strategy, but it’s important that you monitor which ones you’re using. You don’t want to accidentally use a banned hashtag, as it can derail your entire Instagram marketing plan. If you’ve been using many different hashtags and other organic Instagram growth strategies and your account hasn’t been growing much (or at all), you might be accidentally using banned hashtags.

. . . .

Banned hashtags are hashtags that Instagram users have reported because the posts using them go against Instagram’s guidelines. This means that any post that uses that hashtag will be hidden, which will only hurt your organic reach and growth efforts.

Banned hashtags are always changing, based on community reports and Instagram’s investigations. Unfortunately, Instagram doesn’t publish a list of the currently banned hashtags.

. . . .

Instagram bans hashtags because of reports from users. Typically it happens because people are posting inappropriate content and using certain hashtags. Some of the hashtags that are banned, though, are ones you wouldn’t necessarily expect, like #beautyblogger. Sometimes, though, close alternatives are still okay. In this case, #beautybloggers, with an “s” on the end, is not banned and works just fine.

Link to the rest at Kicksta

As a disclaimer, PG claims no expertise with respect to Instagram, including Instagram hash tags.

As a further disclaimer, PG is not a #beautyblogger or a member of a group of #beautybloggers and, although PG is somewhat hesitant to predict the future in absolute terms, he has a very high degree of confidence that he will never use a hashtag like #beautyblogger for anything he does online.

In the interest of scientific inquiry, he checked out a list of banned Instagram hashtags at the OP to see if #book or #books were prohibited. Visitors to TPV will be relieved to learn that, as of the date and time PG made this post, both #book and #books appear to be just fine in the opinion of the Instagram Hashtag Police (#hashtagpolice).

However, you will want to make certain that, in addition to #beautyblogger you don’t use any of the following hashtags beginning with the letter “B” lest you be “shadowbanned” from Instagram:

  • #besties
  • #bikinibody
  • #boho
  • #brain

Remember, you can always rely on TPV for the latest updates on all things online because PG (AKA #bikinibody) is constantly on the alert.