Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Dealing With Trolls

Every self-published writer sooner or later has to deal with trolls. That's just the way the world is these days, unfortunately.  Part of being a self-published writer in the brave new world of ePublishing means going out and marketing books, which means drawing attention to your self. The downside is that sometimes that attention can be negative rather than positive.

Every writer gets bad reviews at some point, and while I've always said that I can learn more from a bad review than a good review, it's also true that some reviews are just plain malicious.  Writers can also get trolled on their blog, on social media, and on forums.

So what should you do when confronted by a troll, someone who wants to give you grief in public?

The best thing to do, by far, is ignore them. If you do, eventually they will realise that they are not provoking a reaction and move on to someone else. There is almost nothing to be gained by interacting with them. The same goes for reviews. If you get a bad review then read it carefully to see if there is anything helpful in it, but if it seems to me malicious, don't rise to the bait and reply.

Some of the best advice on dealing with trolls comes from self-publishing guru Joe Konrath. His mantra is - ignore them. –  ALWAYS GREAT ADVICE FROM JOE KONRATH

Prior to the ePublishing revolution, marketing was something that the publisher did on behalf of the writer. Publishers would arrange book tours, set up interviews with newspapers, magazines and radio stations, and arrange tours of bookshops. These days most self-published writers have to do their own marketing, and that means blogging or using social media. And the sad fact is, the more you use social media, the more likely you are to be trolled.

I’ve never really seen the point of Twitter. Most of the time it seems to be a lot of people shouting and no one listening. My first twitter account - @stephenleather – was opened by a fan a few years ago who said that he thought it would be an important marketing tool. He sent me the log-in details and gave the account to me.

While I do use it – and another account @firstparagraph – I have to say that I’m not a big fan and don’t use it much. I prefer to keep in touch with readers through my Facebook page or email.  But I do check in every day or so because some readers like to use Twitter to tell me their thoughts or ask about my work. The problem with Twitter is that it can be quite a cruel place at times. There is a lot of bullying and sheer stupidity on Twitter that in my humble opinion is a waste of time and best avoided. I have had my fair share of insults thrown at me on Twitter and I have learned from experience that they are best ignored. It’s a bit like having someone shout abuse at you in the street –there is almost certainly an element of mental instability involved and nothing good ever comes from confronting the abuser. Walking away is always the best thing to do!

What came as something of a surprise to me was the type of person who trolls on Twitter. You would think that the average troll would be young, ill-educated, possibly unemployed and with too much time on their hands. In fact in my experience it's very much the opposite - when I am trolled it tends to be by middle-class, middle-aged professionals with a university education.

Recently when I was on seeing if there were questions from fans, I noticed that someone I had never heard of had mentioned me. It was a chap called Howard Jones, and he posted a very strange Tweet. Someone had posted about a character called Mo Ansar being evasive  and Howard Jones then Tweeted ‘Makes Stephen Leather look easy to pin down.’

I had never heard of Howard Jones but according to his Twitter profile he is a barrister, politician, historian and cricket lover.

Now I was worried, because when a barrister says that you are hard to pin down, it suggests that he has met you and gathered that impression from something you had done. And I was very sure that I had never met Howard Jones, in his professional capacity or indeed in any capacity.

To be honest, I did worry that people might think that he had questioned me in court!

He obviously wasn’t an anonymous troll, he’s clearly a real person, and an educated one at that.  It could of course have been a case of mistaken identity, so I decided to make contact with Howard Jones just to check what on earth was going on.

I Googled him and the only ‘HOWARD JONES, BARRISTER’ appeared to be at the Carmelite Chambers in London, a venerable and much-respected firm. – CARMELITE CHAMBERS

This actually worried me even more – it wasn’t a random stranger casting aspersions on my character but a barrister from a leading City firm.

I sent an email to the firm asking if Mr Jones would please contact me but they didn’t reply, so I picked up the phone and called them. It seems that he doesn’t work there any longer and the charming lady on reception said she didn’t know where he worked now.

According to Google,  Howards Jones’ last case through Carmelite appears to be back in September 2010 – there is a newspaper article about it here -

I wasn’t sure what to do as I didn’t want to send him a public Tweet but then I noticed that he was following my @firstparagraph account.  I was following him and he was following me, and when two people follow each other they can send each other a direct message, a Tweet that only they can see. A private Tweet. So I sent Howard Jones a private Tweet, just for his eyes, saying that I wanted to get in touch with him.

Unfortunately, instead of getting in touch as I’d asked, he then fired off four public tweets, for everyone to read.

In the public Tweets he said that I had been putting some time and research into trying to get in touch with him. That’s a bit of an exaggeration as I spent just one minute on Google and one minute on the phone. Ten seconds to send him a private Tweet.

And he made it seem as if I had been doing something wrong in following him –  completely ignoring the fact that he was following me.  If he hadn’t been following me, I wouldn’t have been able to send him a Direct Message.

But what really worried me was his public comment – “Should I expect grief or do you have to be a fellow writer to get grief?’

I was stunned that a barrister would think it appropriate to ask such a leading question in public.  It’s on a par with the legendary ‘how long have you been beating your wife’ question. I doubt any judge would allow such a question in court and I don’t understand why he felt it necessary to say that in public. All I wanted to do was to talk to him, to ask him why he felt that I was hard to pin down when he had never even spoken to me. Why would I want to cause him grief?  It looks like I’ll never know because I certainly don’t want to start a conversation with him in public and he’s clearly not interested in talking to me man-to-man.

As I said, I’m not sure where Howard Jones works now. His last chambers said they didn’t know where he had gone. I did notice that not long after he sent the Tweets, he changed his profile to say that he was a non-practising barrister.

Howard Jones is now determined to follow a career in politics. Hopefully he'll feel able to talk directly to voters and won't insist on communicating through Twitter.

So why did a middle-aged, middle-class, university-educated professional seek me out to cast aspersions on my character in a public forum? But refuse to interact with me as in individual?  I'll probably never know. But Howard Jones isn't alone.

Not long afterwards, another middle-aged, middle-class, university-educated professional took to Twitter to have a go at me.

I have to say that it's a very middle-class way of attacking me, and I guess that most of my readers won't even know who Johann Hari and Mo Ansar are.  But trust me, when Mobeena Khan sent that Tweet she wasn't trying to do me any favours!

Now, I didn't know Mobeena Khan, I've never met her, never spoken to her or about her, and until she sent that Tweet I had no idea who she was.

It turns out that Mobeena Khan is the editor of the journal of the Public and Mobile Libraries Group for Hertfordshire Libraries and has a BA and an MA in Literature, so she is clearly well-educated. I am a huge fan of libraries. I spent much of my youth in the local library and these days I do whatever I can to support the library system. I'm also very proud of the fact that I am one of the most borrowed authors in UK libraries. So why would a librarian decide I'm fair game for abuse?  Mobeena Khan is also the Chair of the Dagger in the Library Judges for the Crime Writers Association. I have no doubt that if I met her at a dinner party or in a bar I'd find her articulate, pleasant and polite.  So why would a middle-aged, middle-class professional decide that it is acceptable to cast aspersions on the character of someone they have never met, in public? The same goes for Howard Jones. I have no doubt at all that neither Howard Jones nor Mobeena Khan would behave like that if they actually met me.  But there is something about social media that encourages people like Howard Jones and Mobeena Khan to behave badly.

Mobeena Khan, like most middle-class middle-aged trolls on Twitter, is also a hypocrite. For example, this is a recent post of hers -

See that?  She thinks it's wrong to pick fights with strangers.  Yet she is quite happy to attack me, and trust me, I had never heard of her before she took a swing at me. Mobeena Khan says one thing, but does another, which is pretty much the definition of a hypocrite.

It's also significant that Mobeena Khan is tweeting to Jeremy Duns - it was to the same Jeremy Duns that Howard Jones sent those defamatory tweets.  In fact Jeremy Duns, Mobeena Khan and Howard Jones have all attacked me at one point or another so I suppose it is not surprising that they are Twitter friends. Several people have accused Jeremy Duns of being an online bully.


Another middle-aged, middle class, well-educated woman who has trolled me on social media is Suw Charman-Anderson who likes to describe herself as a journalist and writer but who is less than successful in both fields and recently announced she was giving up self-publishing after a number of setbacks.  You can read about that BY CLICKING HERE

Despite claiming to be a professional journalist, Suw Charman-Anderson recently posted this on Twitter.

It is amazing that anyone who considers herself to be a serious journalist would behave like that in public. Though to be honest she doesn't do much journalism these days and recently gave up her blog which was attached to the Forbes website. She's very clever in that her CV says that she "blogs about publishing and crowd funding for" - in fact they don't employ her. It's just a blog. And not a particularly well read one, either)

What's interesting is the way that trolls often band together in their attacks. Some time after Howard Jones attacked me in Twitter, Mobeena Khan twitted in his defence, even though the two have never met and don't know each other.

Another respectable middle-aged middle class chap who has attacked me on twitter is the writer Lloyd Shepherd.  Again I have never met Lloyd Shepherd or read any of his books, but he seemed to think it acceptable to call me a scumbag in public.

I haven't heard of Grant Shapps, but I have heard of Johann Hari, a journalist who has had his fair share of on-line trolls, as has Mo Ansar.  I don't know why Lloyd Shepherd decided to lump us all together and describe us as scumbags, but would he say that to our face?  I doubt it. I really doubt it.

This is Lloyd Shepherd, author of The English Monster, published by Simon and Schuster -

Why did Lloyd Shepherd, a man I have never heard of, decide to call me a scumbag in public?

Maybe it has something to do with him being a social media contact of Jeremy Duns.

That is the same Jeremy Duns that Howard Jones enjoys talking to on Twitter. Jeremy Duns is also a close friend of horror writer Steve Mosby, who Mobeena Khan enjoys talking to. You can read more about Jeremy Duns BY CLICKING HERE   I am sensing a pattern, aren't you?

The Mobeena Khan-Steve Mosby link is an interesting one. She was on the judging panel of the Crime Writers Association Dagger In The Library award in 2012 - the year that it was awarded to Steve Mosby. The award is presented for a body of work but in Steve Mosby's case this meant six books that had sold in very small numbers in the UK and which represented a tiny tiny fraction of library lending. In fact his name has never appeared in the top 250 of borrowed authors in the UK. Despite this Mobeena Khan and the other judges gave the award to Steve Mosby.

Oh, and would it surprise you to learn that Steve Mosby and Lloyd Shepherd are Twitter friends?

And remember that tweet Mobeena Khan sent to @joannechocolat about not picking fights with strangers. Well, @joannechocolat  is the writer Joanna Harris.

And look at which writer has given Lloyd Shepherd a nice plug for his new paperback!

And I'm sure it isn't a coincidence that Lloyd Shepherd is a social media pal of Suw Charman-Anderson. They often chat on Twitter.

And of course it's no surprise that Suw Charman-Anderson is a Twitter pal of Steve Mosby.

In fact Steve Mosby is connected in some way to pretty much every troll who has had a go at me over the past two years. When I have time I'll go into that in more detail.

Anyway, a lot of the trolls I have come across do seem to be readers of the Guardian, so maybe it is significant that Lloyd Shepherd used to work for them. And it is definitely significant that he is a friend of Jeremy Duns. And a friend of Suw Charman-Anderson.  And has a mutual friend with Mobeena Khan. I just think it's sad that nice middle-class, middle-aged Guardian readers think it's acceptable to gang up and attack people they don't know on social media.

Lloyd Shepherd is also something of a hypocrite. Back in 2013, he blogged this -

You can read the full blog BY CLICKING HERE  See what he says there? "Be kind. Be honest. Do unto others as you would be done by".  Then he goes and calls me a scumbag in public. Shame on you, Lloyd Shepherd. Shame on you.

So, going back to the question of dealing with trolls. Generally they are a nasty bunch and tend to act in packs, so you can't win by engaging with them. In the case of the likes of Steve Mosby and Jeremy Duns, they go out of their way to whip up a lynchmob mentality.  Ignoring them is by far the best thing to do. Or blog about them so that others can see them for what they are.  Whatever you do, do not engage with them directly, because that's what they want. DO NOT FEED THE TROLLS is sound advice.  Oh, and if you can develop a thick skin, that will help!

No comments:

Post a Comment