News for Authors

Dealing with Conflict on Social Media

by Emily Hughes|November, 2017

Please note that the advice provided here is for informational purposes only. If you are dealing with serious threats to yourself and your family, or threats of legal action, you should consult with a lawyer.

To start, it’s important to note that Penguin Random House will never tell you what you can or can’t say on social media. Freedom of speech and expression are our paramount values. Your platforms are your own, and this article contains suggestions that you can take, leave, or modify as you see fit.

On PRH social platforms, we don’t block, hide, report, or ban users for leaving negative comments unless those comments cross the line into hate speech, threats of violence, or obscene language. But on your personal social media accounts, you get to determine where the line is.

This article will focus on tips for Twitter and Facebook, but all social media platforms have similar privacy and anti-harassment techniques and policies, which should be explained in each platform’s help center.

Everyday moderation of your accounts

  • Facebook’s “Hide” feature lets you hide any individual comment on any of your posts, which prevents that comment from being seen by all users except the commenter and his/her friends. This allows you to tailor what is seen in the comments on your posts without resorting to blocking users or deleting comments.
  • Similarly, Twitter’s “Mute” button gives you the option to stop individual posts, conversations, users, or even select keywords from appearing in your feed and in your mentions. A notable difference from Facebook here, though, is that while muting an account or tweet will prevent you from seeing it, it does not remove the account or tweet from Twitter, and other users can still see it.

On any form of social media, authors can run into negative reviews. Whether you find such a post organically on your feed or you get tagged or mentioned in a negative review, the best practice is not to engage. (Other authors and many marketers will even suggest you not read your book’s reviews at all, though the temptation is understandably strong.)

Essentially, if you are pressed into a conflict, altercation, or interaction with a rude person, hide/mute (if you wish), ignore, and move on.

Online altercations because of something you’ve said or done

We all make mistakes. If you’ve inadvertently used offensive language, accidentally taken someone else’s intellectual property without credit, made a joke that didn’t land the way you intended, or even faced a preponderance of criticism on an issue you hadn’t considered before, you may want to apologize sincerely to your followers.

Due to the many “trolls” (people who post inflammatory messages online with the intent of provoking readers) out there, your defenses on social media might go up whenever a negative comment comes your way. But it’s important to understand the difference between a troll and a reader with a sincere criticism of something you’ve posted.

If you’ve made a mistake, it’s best to acknowledge what you did wrong, sincerely apologize, and, if applicable, explain what steps you’ll take to make sure it won’t happen again in the future. If the criticism against you alleges that you violated the law (e.g., your post was defamatory or infringed on someone else’s intellectual property), you may want to consult with a lawyer before responding.

Talking about politics, news events, and tragedies

In the current political climate, everybody has an opinion, especially on social media. And it’s completely fine to share yours. That said, if you engage in political discussions or discuss current events, you’re likely to get pushback—no matter what your beliefs are.

After a tragic event such as a natural disaster or mass shooting, it’s of course acceptable to send condolences, raise money for charity, or discuss the related issues that stem from the tragedy. However, make sure you are aware of any posts you have scheduled to go out after a tragedy that might be potentially insensitive or overly promotional. It’s always good to reschedule these posts for a later time.

What to do when commenters cross the line

Here are a few examples of what we mean by “crossing the line”:

  • Doxxing (revealing personal info: name/address/phone number/email)
  • Threats of violence against you or your loved ones
  • Hate speech (slurs, harmful stereotypes based on race, religion, ethnicity, etc.)
  • When one troll becomes many
  • When a one-off insult becomes a protracted campaign of harassment

When lines such as (but not limited to) these get crossed, you may feel that muting or hiding doesn’t cut it. As soon as this happens, consider taking the following steps:

  • Screenshot all pertinent posts (yours and others) to keep for your records.
  • Report the user and the comment/post/tweet. (All social media platforms have their own reporting systems—there should be an easy-to-find link near the original comment or post.)
  • Block abusive users from seeing your posts or profile.
  • Escalate the issue: bring it to the attention of your marketer, publicist, or editor—including screenshots and links wherever you can—and ask any of them to send it up the chain to Emily Hughes.

In the end, everyone is entitled to an opinion (even if you wholeheartedly disagree with it), but the tips in this article will help you tell the difference between complaints and targeted harassment. If you’re not sure about any situation, reach out to your marketing team.

Emily Hughes is Manager of Content Development & Social Media for Penguin Random House