I was writing a guest blog post recently about hiring for the gaming industry, and in a moment of panic I thought to myself: “Am I going to get harassed for writing this?” Without realizing it, I had internalized a new reality: being online is no longer fun. And, for some, it’s quite threatening, too. Folks are being harassed, creators are getting death threats, and many are losing their jobs–and not always for the right reasons, either.
Being online has become an obligation for authors, and it’s part of online marketing. This is especially true for authors like myself who, truly need, to remind folks that we exist and we write great stuff. Add limited convention budgets and perhaps you might understand how this window to the world has become integral to our ability to connect with folks. Maybe, you might be interested in our new releases or maybe you might be overjoyed by what we’re working on now. Except, when you’re not. Except, when folks online are preoccupied with politics or a natural disaster or what Kim Kardashian is wearing. In other words, we’re getting lost in the day-to-day mundania, and that is having an adverse impact on us, because what those moments do–whether they happen during a book launch or not–is tell us that we need to be online more, to get a word in edgewise. Or, in other words, the twenty-percent of super users who are online all the time are getting harder to reach, because something else, something louder has caught their interest. And, that some “thing” is usually negative in the era of the call out culture.
It may sound like I’m doom and gloom, and I’m really not trying to be overly negative. The issues that I have with social media are not because of an individual poster. They’re systemic, and it’s because the tools were not built with authors–who require a public profile tied to their true identities–online. Cutting off the objection: “Well, then don’t be online!” Many of my friends, co-workers, and members of my zombie apocalypse support network are online, because these are the people I’ve met at conventions and workshops, on vacations and in former places I’ve lived, in countries I don’t visit too often. I also use social media to connect with them, read the news about what they’re up to, and keep abreast of publishing changes, too. So, “don’t be online” isn’t really an option for me. Less? Yeah, absolutely. But not: “Just don’t use it.” The internet has become a utility, and that means there are things I need it for, and other things I don’t.
This list of wants and needs is based on the premise that I, as a user, have to be myself on the internet. I’m sure I am not the only person who’s required to have a public persona, so these may apply to them, too.
- Verified Profiles – People who use their true identities online should automatically have a verified profile on social media. Period. This can and should be something you pay for, and I feel this service should come with benefits that include other abilities as outlined below. Bottom line, I think people with public personas should be rewarded for putting themselves out there, not punished for our existence.
- Pen Names – Those who have their identity verified should be allowed to use pen or alternate names. This gets around the issue of people who do not want to use their legal identity for whatever reason, but it does allow the rest of us to know that the network has verified who is on the other end of the line. This allows (me, anyway) a sense that harassment may result in consequences.
- Rage-Minder – The list of ways users can be harassed is long and sordid indeed. But, I think there’s words that can be plugged into a filter, that will allow an auto-pop up to come up when someone presses “Publish” to say: “Do you really want to post that?” Creators are now getting death threats, and I bet a friendly “time out” post to remind people that Tweet might get them blocked or result in being removed from their social media would cut down on a lot of the crap.
- Tie Anonymous Users to IP addresses – Yeah, hackers are going to get around this issue by ghosting their IP. I would venture that the average anonymous user is not a hacker, though. Harassment is becoming an ever-increasing problem, and if we can’t verify? Then perhaps we should tie activity to an IP address, instead. Then, when that account gets shut down, that IP address can’t start up a new one or harass somebody else.
- Curated Interaction – I want the option to check a box that I’ll only interact with other verified users, or a list of certain users. I want the chance to shut off responses to certain posts or Tweets, and the option of blocking other people from conversations I’m having with one or two folks.
- Categorization – Having the ability to cross-pollinate with other verified users based on categories attached to our profiles, would greatly increase the chance of networking and community. Not segregation, but segmentation.
- Identity Protection – Since doxing occurs on social media, it makes sense to me that social media platforms should own up to that fact and either have systems in place to help or offer paid services (via a small annual fee) for identity protection–especially since doxers are also viewing everybody else who’s in our network. I want to be alerted when that happens, because my friends and my family do not need to feel the impact of my being targeted by assholes. I also want the ability to say “Yes, I am concerned about identity protection” to these places who sell our data. (See Opt-Out/Opt-In below.)
- Auto-Delay/auto-boost – The ability to auto-delay posts if there’s breaking news to a better time when folks are actually able to listen, plus the ability to set auto-boost rules for certain types of announcements for other authors like ourselves (e.g. on new release day)
- Moderation/Harassment-fighting teams – Systems teams designed to combat and deal with harassment on a system-wide level (not on a user-by-user basis). Forums do it, why can’t social networks?
- Sub-communities – We need private and public communities, not “set up a list on Twitter” or “ask for this FB group someone set up.” Twitter desperately needs pages moderated by users, that can be public or private. FB needs a better way of doing groups, too, that is more like pages but doesn’t favor ad revenue. Allow folks to pay for visibility, even if in increments–and they will!
- Conversations/Chat – How many times have I heard: “FB/Twitter is not supposed to be used for conversations.” Really? That’s what many folks are using the tools for. We need the ability to have public and private conversations. Suggest when folks begin exchanging Tweets/messages of 3 or more, that triggers a “Do you want this logged as a conversation?” overlay. From there, the people involved in the conversation can decide if they want to mute their chat from outside listeners, automatically collate it and repost the list (as a conversation) for later. Conversations should also be thought of when someone is answering questions via a Twitter chat, so there’s an authority or an expert handling Q&A from the audience.
- Tagging – Tag clouds may seem so 2005, but seriously… Tagging is one of the easiest ways to allow users to customize their experience. Folks on Twitter are already using tags, for example, and to a lesser degree FB as well. So why not make it official? Let us put word clouds in our profiles, and block tags/categories of conversations to weed out what we don’t want to listen to.
- Block All The Way – Uh, on Twitter if someone comments on a blocked user, you’re still seeing it. Unfriending on FB means that person can still comment on your posts. Don’t do half-measures. If we don’t want to see somebody, then remove ’em all the way. Mute? Unfollow? Those work for those tricky political situations when you still need to be “friends” with someone online.
- Design Parameters for Friending/Unfriending – Allow users to set parameters for friending/de-friending follow/unfollow, etc. on a programmatic basis. Don’t make us use outside tools to sort inactive users or spammers. Right now, this is a chore and a half.
- Status-Pinned Messages on Profiles – I want the ability to show when I’m off-line for a period of time and when I’ll return. Like on vacation! Or at a con! Or on deadline! But, I want to do this outside of pinned tweets or messages promoting something I’ve done as an artist.
- Scaling Profiles – People are already looking at our profiles for work-related reasons, so why not allow us to scale those profiles? Let us mark a public profile and a personal profile for the same account, and allow us to have different types of followers/friends for each.
- Galleries – Allow us to add galleries that are attached to what we do as artists. Per above.
- Opt-In vs. Opt-Out – I found out when I was reviewing my information, that LinkedIn is a source of information for doxing. Linked. In. Seriously? And why is that, may you ask? Because data is worth $$$, and you have to opt-out and aren’t always notified of changes. I want the ability to tell a network once that my data is not for sale.
I’m sure I’m missing something, and this list is only a portion of what is off the top of my head, but I feel there’s a lot more work to be done on social media platforms. The more people use these tools, the more they should improve in my opinion. And, neither FB nor Twitter is innovating fast enough for the end user. It’s still about managing data on the “big picture” scale or looking at advertisers or thinking about incremental changes for individual users. What I want, is to recognize that different people use the same tools for entirely separate reasons, and we need segmentation to better handle the volume and to increase the value of the user’s experience.