One of the great benefits touted by exponents of social media is that it brings people together. It does indeed, but each social media group brings together only those sharing similar views.
A good example of this lies in the “sad puppies/rabid puppies” kerfuffle involving “slate voting” to determine the nominees for the annual World Science fiction awards. The situation continues and appears to be getting increasingly acrimonious, with partisans on each side making declarations and demands, and even threatening the boycott of the books of one major F&SF publisher because of the intemperate comments of two employees on social media.
From what I can tell, this acrimony likely involves at most perhaps several thousand individuals, and probably less than a few hundred who are deeply involved and committed… and who feel that the entire literary “culture” of fantasy and science fiction is threatened in one way or another, with the “liberal” side declaring that “traditional” F&SF is the bastion of old white males who embody all of those stereotypes, and the “sad/rabid puppy” side declaring that the liberals have hijacked F&SF into everything they detest, including novels that focus on multi-culturalism, gender diversity, extreme environmentalism, etc. Each side is industriously employing social media to assail the other.
The truth is that F&SF is big enough for both sides, and in fact is far bigger than either. Most readers haven’t even heard of this “death of F&SF as we know it” jeremiad. What’s published today in F&SF spans an incredible range, enough that a careful reader can find almost any political “range” or social structure. Yes… there is a struggle over which group controls the awards, but, face it, literary awards are always political, and always have been. At times, usually rarely, excellence triumphs over politics, but most of the time, awards reflect the social and political biases of those controlling the process. Thankfully, fiction publishers try to determine what readers want, rather than what literary groups declare is “good.” And readers know what they want, and that’s what they buy.
Unhappily, the “puppies” kerfuffle has far larger implications. Each side in this tempest in a large teapot has used social media to convince itself that not only is its view correct, but that far, far more people share this view than in fact do. Social media has become a tool for group self-selection, and group isolation. This seems to be resulting in greater polarization, greater intransigence on the part of each self-selected group, and a far greater sense of self-importance than is in any way justified.
After all, our entire planet has a population of eight billion or so, and is just one of eight in our solar system, which is just one of over fifty billion stars and associated solar systems in our galaxy. Current observations suggest over two hundred billion galaxies in the universe. Most F&SF devotees should know this, but paradoxically, the more invested they are in their identity in F&SF, and the more involved in social media, the less they seem to recognize this.
And that is the great danger of great investment in social media, which all too often reinforces group identity to the exclusion of even considering the views and values of other groups. Is this really desirable? Or do you want everything to be a replay of the American Congress, which has used technology and social media to effectively polarize U.S. politics into near total gridlock, where each side refuses to consider almost anything suggested by the other? Or of academic politics where the vast majority of university faculties are dominated by either the left or the right, and where pettiness and vicious infighting abound, now intensified by email and social media?