Fact-Checking My Facebook Feed

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After a few hours of post-convention surfing last Monday I unfollowed people on Facebook the first time ever. Historically if I disliked what someone said or did, I have unfriended and possibly blocked. Friend or not-friend. It’s a binary. I like binaries.

I also like variety. Big picture, many lenses. I like seeing things that challenge my worldview. I find shifting perspective to be a neat exercise. Maybe I’m weird, but I don’t enjoy being surrounded by what I already know and believe. There’s nothing to learn there.  So I rarely unfriended, and never over differences of opinion.

The kink in the system is that I now use social media as a professional channel as well as personal connection.

The more I use FB professionally, the more  public-only acquaintances I collect.

It felt awfully harsh to unfriend someone who was never a true-held bosom friend to begin with, but I needed to clean up. My FB feed has been increasingly flooded with posts that deeply offend my sensibilities. Thus I’m giving the unfollow option a whirl.

Now, I didn’t do it to get rid of conservative posts or liberal ones. Tthere’s a lot of territory between an echo chamber and a hostile,  unhealthy life environment. See above re: many lenses.

No, what had to go were the posts that offended me as an analyst, a scientist, and a rhetoric competitor trained in the simple art of reasoned debate. The slippery slope into the contra-factual swamp got a lot steeper this year.  I’m clinging to higher ground by eliminating the stench of bad data.

Wondering if I unfollowed you? Well. Did you knowingly & un-ironically share material from white supremacy/socialist-propaganda/conspiracy theory sites/false news/parody sites and present it as factual?  Did you leave said material up after verified rebuttals from respected sources were posted to the comment thread? Did you defend lies by insisting opinions were persuasively equivalent to facts?

I only unfollowed someone when I saw those intellectual failures committed multiple times within a few days, and it was still a depressingly high number of people.

I understand viewpoints that oppose mine. Empathy and critical thinking are skills I practice daily. I can see from other positions. I respect differences of opinion.

But when opinion is stapled to horrific bullshit labeled and defended because “it’s from a reputable source” when the source is anything but reputable? That’s when my emotional wheels come right off.

someone-is-wrong-on-the-internet I’m tired of being a spectator at a parade of willful ignorance. I do not have the energy to run around placing little fact towels over bouncy, dangling embarrassments posted by acquaintances. I cannot afford to be the internet’s unpaid correction coverage service.

I’ve tried, I have. But from now on I will avert my eyes from the ugly naked lies and say good day. Good DAY. No mess, no fuss, no awkwardness in comment threads.

I am also removing contrafactual posts other ways. F.B. Purity is a useful extension, and I filter out a lot of sites that pitch their sticky, smelly lies at the interwebs. Articles from those sites need to be read fully and carefully and their sources independently verified before sharing, and I don’t have the energy.

I added to my FBP filter  list recently with the help of this:  False, Misleading, Clickbaiting & Satirical “News” Sources.  (edit 11/22 12:00 CST: the list itself has been pulled and is being expanded & revised — I recommend bookmarking the google doc. If you would like the original texts I copied, email me at pub dot rigger at gmail dot com.)

The list is neither exhaustive nor neutral, but you’ll find examples for from the left, the right, the blue, the red, and everything in between. Some of the sites are on there for being biased rather than false, so YMMV, but many of them are run by outright lying liars.

I also always suggest checking unfamiliar “news” sites against RealorSatire.com  and vetting specific stories on Snopes.com (What’s that? Snopes has a liberal bias? Blah,blah, bullshit, blah. Check your sources there. Yeah, no.)

The big problem is both sites are well behind the news distribution curve, overwhelmed by the seething floods of misinformation. By the time they post investigative results, the misinformation is everywhere being trumpeted as FACT-FACT-FACT!

I won’t be party to that, and my eyeballs can no longer bear it. So I’ve purged and I’m filtering…but the mobile app doesn’t filter.

So I’m begging, here. Read first. Check second. Wait third. THINK. If an article passes all 4 hurdles, then share. I know Google and Facebook have claimed they’re going to do a better job of curation and control, but if you believe that, I have some prime waterfront land in Tibet to sell you.

Oh–if you want to see how distorted the same information can get in a real echo chamber even before misinformation is added to the mix, take a look at this article:  Red Feed Blue Feed

It’s problematic in some ways, and not representative of any real social media feed, but it does a good job highlighting polarization of perspective. And it emphasizes the importance of thinking critically before dismissing or distributing news.

Okay. Done ranting now. Can we please endeavor to be more excellent to each other?

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What Silence Says

Silence says, “Apathy wins.”

Before I elaborate on that, let me share a comment I received today, the day I released a new story to the usual resounding lack of interest. It went more or less like this: “You’re a published author. That is so incredible. I don’t buy that kind of thing, but it’s not like you need my support.”

This is the kind of remark that hits me like a kick to the solar plexus. It inflicts an instant, desperate, breathless panic. There is no quick snappy retort for it, no ready defense against it. There is no suave way to say, “Whose support do you think I have? I need all the fucking help I can get.” Instead of snarling and snarking, I smile tightly and change the subject.

(And then I remind myself that I am supported by some wonderful, generous people who unfortunately do not share geographic proximity. I have a fan base of 15 readers. Pathetic perhaps, after a year of publication, and not the numbers my outrageous ego believes my writing deserves, but it’s what I have. I cling to a sense of gratitude even while drowning in an ocean of zeroes.)

I am not here to shame the speaker, who was only being honestly apathetic out loud.  I’d like use that experience as an excuse to  talk about the importance of advocacy. And, yeah, I need to rant, because I was frustrated and hurt and infuriated by that reminder of apathy’s lethal power.  I could have responded today. One doesn’t, if one is polite, but the opportunity existed. When people send the same message with silence, there’s no fighting it. Apathy wins. Art loses.

Silence says, “Sure, I know you, but I wouldn’t cross the street to help. You matter less than, well, anything. I cannot be bothered to spend one minute of my precious time on you. Not even to admit how little I care.” Silence destroys more creators than harsh reviews ever will.  Silence is the assassin of creative energy. It smothers ideas in their cribs. Silence whispers, “Why bother?” in the most poisonous of voices.

Independent creators all need help, in oh, so many ways. The delicious irony of it all is that I’m not talking about financial support. Buying things is the last and least important point, not the first and foremost. I periodically have to squelch a nigh-irresistible urge to shun everyone I know who can’t put a checkmark against any action from the following list:

  • offered a compliment/asked a question about the content of my work rather than its existence.
  • voted for positive reviews or voted for my profile page on Amazon or elsewhere.
  • shared a promotional link or shared a link to my blog or my Amazon sales page
  • written a review anywhere (this includes offering to review for a free copy)
  • asked their library to buy a copy of the work or suggested that a retailer to carry it.
  • bought a copy for someone else as a gift
  • bought a copy to own

Guess how many of my surprisingly extensive social circle would have to answer “none of the above, ever?” Yup. That many. My Amazon page has 22 likes, because people can’t be bothered to go online and click a flipping button. Is it any wonder I’m becoming a bitter cynic? Is it any wonder that I am regularly wracked with doubt about the quality of my art? Is it any wonder that I suspect most of the people I know just don’t give a flying fuck whether I exist, or would be happier if I didn’t? (No. It isn’t.)

One major side point: advocating for art isn’t a one-time achievement, any more than an artist only creates a single piece in a lifetime. (Harper Lee and other one-hit wonders aside) Don’t pat yourself on the back if you wrote one review ever, or mentioned your artist friend once. That gets you off the shit list. It doesn’t make you clean. (edit: just in case, let me clarify that I’m using “you” in that second-person universal sense, not a personal one. I am unreasonably lucky that you who support me at all, support me fully. That’s not common in this community of creation. Not in the least.)

Oh, sure, there are other ways for us artists to interpret silent apathy. “People are busy,” is a popular choice, followed by, “I know they’ve been meaning to,” “It’s on their list,” and my personal favorite, “They don’t know how.” Because saying, “Hey, I want to be supportive. How do I do that?” would be cheating? Uh-huh. My bullshit meter just hit maximum too. We’re making your excuses for you. We accept your excuses. They’re still excuses.

Life makes demands on everyone. Art doesn’t happen. It takes time too. If anyone you know creates art, they’re pouring heart and soul and time into it. The least you can do is sacrifice a little time of your own to appreciate their effort, even if the final product is not your kind of thing.

And a postscript:
Advocating for someone without sharing your efforts with the beneficiary is like writing a text and forgetting to hit send. Messages that don’t reach the recipient are as silent as those never written.

My cat approves this message.

Does font matter?

I’m dragging my social media experience into my blog once again, because comment threads can only support so much exposition  before they collapse under their own wordiness. Here in blogland, I have space to stretch and rant, and I feel a powerful need to rant. 

My rantiness has been roused by seeing the same wrongheaded sentiment in multiple venues on a single day. “Font doesn’t matter,” one person said outright. Another expressed doubt that readers cared what font a publisher used, while another claimed (rightly) that a reader should be focusing through the words to the unfolding story, not noticing the letters themselves. I was nodding along with that one right up to the moment that Times New Roman was suggested as a good font for publishing a novel.

No.

Rant, RantRantRant, Rant RANT!

I don’t want readers to notice my fonts, but going one step beyond the word processor default is a must for any author who wants to be taken seriously. Only publishing electronically for friends or fellow fans? Sure, fine, whatever, use any font that suits your fancy. Electronic reading platforms provide glorious flexibility. Readers can choose their preferred fonts, sizes, and even page colors.  If you’re publishing professionally, in contrast, (i.e. asking for money in exchange for dead trees) then your work should look professional. In the world of print publication, using a font like Times New Roman for the body text of your novel is like wearing a big sign like this around your neck:

There are rules to visual presentation

Professionals treat their work with respect. When it comes to printing a novel, that means studying  the fundamentals of typography and graphic design before publishing–or hiring a pro to do the work.  Just as I wouldn’t share my writing without running a spell-checker first, I won’t share it in print form without polishing its shoes and combing its hair. So to speak. It’s the least I can do before sending my baby off to its first party.

My little example above uses Comic Sans, a font that tops every typography “Most Hated” list I’ve found on the internet. (No, I did not do exhaustive research. I quit after the first dozen lists.) Times New Roman ranks up there in the most-hated lists too. (Using red type on a bright background is another design no-no, by the way. It destroys reading comprehension)  Even if an author only puts in a bare minimum effort, the results can improve by leaps and bounds.

Eye-catching does not mean flashy

The trick to font choice is keeping the impression low-key but positive.  It’s a subtle thing, but it makes a difference, like so many, many other little details involved in this writing gig. There are excellent websites that cover font styles and explain what ones are good for what uses. Here are a few pages that also have links to more:
http://thedeependdesign.com/how-to-choose-the-best-fonts…/
http://www.prepressure.com/fonts/interesting/important-typefaces
http://www.prepressure.com/fonts/interesting/most-hated

The basics:

1. Less is more. Pick one font for main text, and one for headers & title. Word processors offer tons of options, but I don’t have to sample every choice on the smorgasbord. I didn’t even use two, in my first stab at printing. I had to pick my battles with my ancient software, and I ceded the field on that one detail. If I bother with a second edition, I would use a second font for the titles and headers. Something clean and crisp.

2. Choose wisely. A book should stand out from its fellows, but still be recognized as a member of the club. I tracked down novels that were similar to mine in content and to see which typeface the publisher used. (How? Easy! I checked the page with the cataloguing info, on the reverse of the cover page. Not all publishers mention what typeface was used, but a remarkable number do.  I could not get the perfect font I wanted without forking over money, but I got a feel for the look I wanted, and picked the closest match from what Word’s catalogue.

I went with Garamond. I’m writing science-fiction. Garamond is modern-looking like Times, so it doesn’t make people look twice, but it kerns (spaces) tighter than Times New Roman, which kept page length down without affecting readability. Also, it isn’t fussy like Georgia or Palatino. If I wanted to evoke a steampunk/antique feel, I might go with Baskerville. If I ever write a classic epic fantasy, I will  check on the font used in The Last Unicorn and my 1967 printing of Tolkien.

Will anyone notice what font I used? I hope not. Does it make a positive impression? So far, so good.
 The fate of the world does not depend on font choice, but why ignore any good weapon when you’re off to fight the publishing wars? Don’t like that violent analogy> What about this one: your book is about to be the belle of the ball. Dress it up properly for its debut.

Okay. That’s enough boring grumpiness for one post.

/kicks soapbox back under the couch to visit with all its friends.