Social Media Ethics for Writers

Like it or not, your reputation online is based on others’ perspective (subjective opinion) more than truth (who you know yourself to be). These tips will help you to maintain or protect your reputation online, and avoid being added to an agent or publisher’s blacklist.


Be respectful.

Treat others the way you want to be treated.

The golden rule applies to life in general, so it applies to online interactions as well.

Understand the nature of social media.

You have control over what you do, but not over what others do.

Potential employers, associates, friends, and lovers will search your online behavior. Even private interactions can become public, if your friends decide to make them so.

Screenshots are forever, can be spread publicly, and may be taken out of context.

Delete public posts that might get you in trouble later.

Include a “1/?” or some other signifier to show that there’s more to the story than one tweet:

This is one tweet 1/3

+ here’s another way to say you’re not finished +

… and here’s another way to show that the conversation isn’t contained to one tweet.

Know your tribe.

The writing and publishing community is very small, and they talk to each other. Everyone has a blacklist.

You can have feelings and be upset about things! Just don’t harass others.

If you can’t say something nice or positive, at least leave out identifying information.

When I have an unfavorable review of a book, I stay away from using authors’ names and titles. If an author were to search her name or title online, I don’t want my less-than-positive tweets showing up. If an editor at a publisher were to look up one of their books and find my tweet about it, they might not want to publish one of my books.

You can respond to inappropriate behavior or trolls, but do so with as much logic and grace as possible, and know when to quit.

Hey, that’s not OK.

It’s better to stand by the person being harassed:

@MyFriend FWIW, I’m on your side. That dude has no idea what he’s talking about.

…rather than directly attack the harasser:

Back off, @JerkGuy! @MyFriend is right, and you’re a fat turd. Go away.

Be empathetic.

Creative people are, by nature, vulnerable any time we open ourselves up. Assume that whatever your level of sensitivity, some other people will be more sensitive.

It’s hard enough empathizing with people who are like you, but it’s more difficult to empathize with people unlike you if you aren’t aware of marginalization and privilege.

Don’t tell others how to feel, even if you’re trying to encourage. You don’t know why they might feel that way.

Also be considerate of how your own words might be misconstrued. Be wary of snark or sarcasm, which are often lost in the translation of social media. (That’s one reason we have emoji!)

Block or report if necessary.

On Twitter, you can report individual harmful tweets as well as block people. Twitter doesn’t usually do much with those reports, but it’s a relatively easy step, and blocking will keep that person from interacting with you further.

If you notice someone behaving in a problematic manner publicly, let them know in a tweet, comment, or DM (private direct message) if you feel comfortable doing so, noting that your report won’t be anonymous that way.

If you want your report to be anonymous, you can consider sending a message on their contact form (if they have a website), or by telling one of their friends—but know that their friend might tell them your identity.

Have an ethical standard.

Think of someone whom you respect and seems to conduct themselves honorably online.

I’m a Christian, so the example I follow is Jesus (even though he was never on social media). Jesus did get mad at arrogance, intimidation, and injustice—and so do I—but he also had grace, compassion, and empathy for others—which I try my best to have.

When in doubt, don’t engage.

It’s better to have an empty or silent social media account than one that could get you in trouble.

Do you have any more social media tips for writers? Have you ever blogged about it? Comment below!

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