The Illusion of Social Media

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?

15 thoughts on “The Illusion of Social Media”

  1. CRM says:

    I think something that’s missing from this discussion is the size of the group that actually cares enough to pay the fee and vote for the Hugo Awards. Last year there were 3,587 people voting on awards, out of who knows how many consumers of SFF (http://www.thehugoawards.org/content/pdf/2014HugoStatistics.pdf). The obvious solution is the equivalent of a voter registration campaign, rather than attacking the process or a particular group or philosophy.

  2. Eric Ashley says:

    I am a long-time fan of your works. Some of them I’ve done the honor of reading more than once. Many times I found myself in disagreement with you, such as when you had women throwing black iron swords, but you’ve frequently made me think.

    I appreciate that.

    Now, as to errors in this post. I will not try to be clever, but plain, as a gesture of respect.

    1. Universities, in any great number, are divided between the Left and the Right. Really? One might as well say that MSNBC is a bastion of the Right. The Universities are the Left’s property.

    2. In your books you frequently have a group which has claimed too much power and wealth often through corruption, and is unwilling to accept change, and so therefore has to be corrected forcefully.

    I’m grateful Vox Day is not an Ordermaster who must come to Fairhaven to break the hold of the Chaos Wizards, and restore the Balance by melting the white city. Or any of the other frequent examples of this idea you use, to my enjoyment.

    You might want to take a look at how many Hugos Tor has won, and their history of bloc voting, and decide if they fit the model of many of your evildoers in your books.

    In any case, keep on writing. You’re one of my favorite authors.

    1. Every university I know in the state of Utah, except perhaps the University of Utah, and quite a number of other universities in the mountain states and in the deep south are incredibly conservative. I’ll freely admit that the majority of colleges and universities, particularly in the east, are incredibly liberal, but their high profile tends to overshadow those universities and colleges that are conservative. You’re also forgetting a sizable number of institutions of a conservative religious persuasion that are anything but liberal. I earlier made the point that the university structure leads to extremism in faculty, and I’ve seen it happen in both directions.

  3. nope says:

    http://rationalwiki.org/wiki/Balance_fallacy

    “Both sides” is a crock. The Mangy Curs started this one. There is not “room enough” for both sides because the Puppies will not stand for it.

  4. Josh Camden says:

    Quote from above:
    “”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?””

    I firmly believe this is a devastatingly, REAL problem caused by the rise of the internet/social media. For 161 years, the 2 party system has worked however that may be coming to an end. I don’t know how to solve, but our government’s deadlock will only worsen until it’s solved. Perhaps a third party?

  5. Plovdiv says:

    I thought that the earth had a population of 7 billion, not “8 billion or so”?

    1. You’re closer than I was. Current figure is 7.25 billion.

  6. hola says:

    I’m not sure what your opinion of Locus Magazine is, but I thought their article on the puppy issue was fairly thorough and certainly enlightening. The one aspect that struck me was the economics involved. It seems to me that one of the more vociferous participants in this mess has a large economic interest in the awards being given to publishers with whom he has monetary expectations. For me, that trumps any mealy-mouthed pontification about SciFi/Fantasy being high-jacked.

    1. The Locus article on the “puppy” issue was as thorough as it could be within the space limitations, as well as dispassionate in tone and presentation. While one participant does indeed have a higher stake than any other individual in the awards, from what I can tell the Hugo awards have a marginal impact on sales, although the impact might mean more to a small press.

  7. Eric Ashley says:

    It is more complicated than I said.
    There is a reason the East Coast and West Coast overshadow. For one check Harvard’s endowment.

    Yes, there are religious schools. I went to one. But again, five thousand students hardly compares to a public campus.

    And, in the South, consider Duke, home of innocent lacrosse players.

    To ‘Nope’. For a long time, the folks at Baen knew they had no chance of winning an award. In fact, they were long past anger, and on to wry amusement at the injustice involved. So, no, the Puppies did not start this. But then you knew that already.

    Hola, Vox, according to Larry Correia has a first job that makes a ton of cash. So, this messing with the Hugos is a minor quibble in a hobby for him. He’s just having fun.

    Also, Mr. Modestit is correct. The Hugos, from what I’ve heard, mean about zilch in sales. But it did not use to be so. Maybe if the Puppies win, they can help restore the Hugos to a place of honor, instead of Tor’s private toy.

    And thank you for your reply, Mr. Modestit. I was glad to talk to you. You’re in my top ten favorite authors.

    1. As for university sizes, just here in Utah there are three other state universities, besides the University of Utah, with enrollments over 20,000, and two others with enrollments of between 5,000 and 10,000, and all are predominantly conservative in outlook. Brigham Young is private, religious, and ultra-conservative… with an official enrollment in 2014 of 29,672… and lots and lots of Church cash behind it. Conservatives tend to overlook areas and institutions such as these. Again, I’m not denying a predominance of “liberal” thought in universities as a whole, but I’ve seen a similar conservative ideological stranglehold in not just a handful of colleges and universities, but in what I’d call a significant minority.

  8. Dann says:

    Mr. Modesitt,

    My ~40 year old SFBC copy of The Fires of Paratime is moderately worn after multiple readings only because I enjoy re-reading it so much that it is always treated well. I’ve read and enjoyed some of your other work as well.

    I am a first time Hugo voter this year courtesy of the Puppies’ response to exclusionary behavior exhibited by some of the major publishing houses.

    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?

    I respectfully disagree. Intransigence and intolerance are the common modes of leftists; most everyone else can figure out how to coexist reasonably well. Refusal to consider other opinions and excluding dissent have been increasing due to creeping leftism.

    The SP movement began when Larry Correia discovered people refusing to consider his work because of his politics and his prior business selling legal guns to legal consumers. It is a movement that is a response to the idea that there are issues to storytelling that take precidence over telling the best story possible.

    This sort of thing has been creeping in our culture for decades. It was a trend long before we had social media. As I like to say about this kerfuffle….Han shot first.

    It has been suggested that Heinlein couldn’t win a Hugo for any of his Hugo winning work in today’s SFF environment. I think it is equally probable that Orwell couldn’t win a Hugo for his Hugo winning “Animal Farm” in today’s SFF environment. The obvious criticism of socialism wouldn’t be tolerated by the Gallo-minded people that seem to enjoy influence within the major publishing houses (and colleges, etc. etc.).

    Yes, I know that Orwell considered himself a socialist.

    As for me, I’m taking this year’s nominated works one by one and evaluating them based on my 40 years as a reader of SFF. There will be some below “no award”. All of the works will get an honest evaluation regardless of any political message they contain and regardless of the politics of their respective authors. Like a lot of good SFF, some of them do have very pointed messages.

    It is a pity that Larry Correia’s work could not have enjoyed the same courtesy.

    Regards,
    Dann

    1. I have to partly disagree with you. Extreme leftists exhibit intransigence, as you pointed out. Unhappily, as I could fill pages detailing, based on 17 years in Washington, D.C., and 22 in Utah, so do extreme rightists. Intransigence seems, at least to me, to be a characteristic of all extremists, regardless of the nature of their extremism.

  9. Dann says:

    I agree that extremists exist in many political dimensions.

    Wholeheartedly.

    My problem is that supporting the Constitution as it is written has been somehow redefined as “extreme”….

    …by the leftists who frequently end up as the sole arbiters of what is extreme.

    FWIW, I found the gay marriage decision to be well within the Constitution as it is written and the Obamacare decision to be well outside of it.

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