Haters, Pseudonyms, Reputation Lies and the 90/10 Rule

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I think about writing, my writer friends, and what it means to be a writer, quite a lot. I think that there is much to be gained from looking at writing from as many sides as possible.

I’ve read a few articles about writing lately that are worth reading. Even if you don’t think of yourself as a writer, you should. Why? because even if you just make a Tweet or a blog post or even just send an email you spent more than three minutes to consider, then you are a writer. In a way, we’re all writers now.

Some of us are more invested or driven than others, but I’ll bet most of you reading this have had to deal with haters or people lying about you online at least once, no matter what you do for your career. I’ve personally dealt with extreme situations – and had to decide what to do. And because of the grueling combination of being female, a sex writer, and “in tech,” I’ve often found myself in uncharted territory.

The moral landscape of online haters – particularly in the comments of mainstream media news sites – have often shown the horrifying extremes of putting human hatred into words. Jeff Pearlman’s Tracking Down My Online Haters shows what happened when the writer took the time to stalk one of his CNN comment trolls and give them a call – directly confronting the hater. This article was muchly passed around amongst writers for the various outlets I write for, and on press guild mailing lists that I’m on. Everyone wanted to find something to hold on to with this article.

Sadly, while interesting, “Tracking Down My Online Haters” does not give us many answers. The view from a female angle is very different. Like other SFGate columnists, I received bonafide, report-to-the-police death threats and more in the comments, and had regular haters threaten me repeatedly, some making good on their threats. This was documented. I can tell you that if Pearlman was a woman, his experience would be much different. We need to ask ourselves: would a woman do what Pearlman did? If not, then: why not? So then what kind of a society does that make online writing? It is very much a man’s article, completely outside the female experience – interesting but absolutely useless until more than a narrow field of vision is shown.

Sam Harris’ A Response to Critics resonated strongly for me – it might for you, too, if anyone had ever lied about you online and it spun out of control. Harris writes about trying to figure out how to counter the lie – which was so sensationalistic it got picked up by gossip media – and trying to decide if to just ignore it and move on. He tried many different strategies.

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It reminded me of my experience when a porn performer changed names a few times and settled on using mine, then used my name and sometimes my likeness for work, and occasionally dressed up like me to make “appearances” and do “signings” and started to branch out into sex ed. Blogs and trolls repeated statements that she was a “poor, single mother” – and the court was shown that she was neither indigent nor unmarried. Incorrect online porn databases had her first appearance in 1999; we showed the court that her first actual use of my name was in a film released late 2001. Never mind that I had dates and proof from far earlier. The examples of misrepresentation and inaccuracy were many. We quietly won the case. The point is, my side of this story was never told or shown. I know what this is like. So what do you do when that happens?

No matter; like Harris I had to decide between squandering my time broadcasting facts or representing both my character and the facts of the case when direct opportunities arose. Not surprisingly, and like with Harris, few opportunities did, as the truths were not as click-generating as a quick character assassination. However, the tides against Harris are especially ongoing and vicious: it is a very interesting essay about online misrepresentation no matter where you stand with his work.

My favorite of this post’s thought-provoking writers’ links is our very own Thomas Roche’s article, The Ninety-Ten Rule. In it, he explains a theory about writing that is for genre fiction but is actually quite interesting. The rule basically states that readers want 90 percent of what they already know, but 10 percent new information: the article explains the rule better than this. But I found that the rule is strangely resonant when applied to journalism, non-fiction writing in general, and online content writing. I think it’s a theory worth adding to online strategies when you seek to engage readers in both the long and short term, especially for feature content. Or perhaps, it’s something already in place on successful non-fiction feature sites, but it’s best explained (revealed) in the context of genre fiction writing.

When I edit writers, a significant number of the people I work with use pseudonyms. They do so for a wide variety of reasons, even when they are not writing about sex. As an editor, keeping track of everyone’s pseudonyms (and many writers have more than one; some have dozens) is challenging.

But I can only imagine what it’s like to have one, let alone several – each with distinct backstories, bios, and styles. It seems like a lot to keep track of for the writer. Some writers find themselves in situation where they must decide to use a pen name or not. That’s why I found Jean Marie Stine’s article for WriteSex Pseudonyms: When To, And When Not To very eye opening in that it helped me understand what writers are evaluating when they write under a different name.

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