Unless you live under a rock, you probably heard the sad, weird, and controversial story of Keaton Jones, the young boy whose post about being bullied in school went viral. Within just a matter of days, the post had been viewed millions of times and celebrities had pledged their support for the kid. A GoFundMe campaign started up and everyone and their brother was offering well wishes to the kid and his family.
It emerged that the family had posted some things which many construed as racist on their social media platforms. Things got ugly from there. People piled on the family, the GoFundMe was halted, and people began questioning whether it was all about the money and the fame and not really about the bullying.
I’m not going to argue whether or not the kid was really bullied, or whether the family is racist. At this point, the waters are so muddied that no true judgment can be made. Besides, it’s not my business to judge any of the involved parties.
But I am going to use the incident to caution my fellow writers to be careful about who and what you support on social media.
I’ve written before on the inadvisability of getting too controversial on your blog or social media platforms. However, you not only have to be careful to keep your own posts uncontroversial, you need to be careful which posts from other people you associate with yourself and your “brand.”
In the first days of the Jones story, famous athletes, celebrities, politicians and others rushed to support the kid and wade in against the bullying. That’s a fine and noble impulse and it’s wonderful when people step up to address problems. However, by day three of this mess, I suspect that many were regretting their involvement. Yes, the bullying was terrible, but by associating themselves with this clusterf&*$, they risked damaging their own brands.
Granted, most of them are so famous it won’t matter one iota. Even if they lose twenty percent of their fans, that’s hardly significant to them. Most of us aren’t so fortunate, however. If we associate ourselves with the wrong people, causes, etc., we risk damaging our careers. We don’t want to alienate people because we inadvertently got involved in a hoax, or in an issue that later turned into an ugly mess.
I’m not saying that you shouldn’t support things that are important to you. You absolutely should. Just be careful and vet anything you get involved in. This means not jumping on the bandwagon the moment something goes viral on the web. Wait a couple of days and see how it pans out.
How many things have later been revealed to be hoaxes, scams, or something more than they appeared to be at first glance? How many people have ended up backtracking their support for people, causes, and issues once it was revealed that those issues weren’t what they first appeared to be?
You don’t want to hogtie your name (which is your brand if you’re an author) to something that goes sideways. I know it’s hard to resist the siren call of viral posts. You want to be involved and your dopamine-driven brain wants all the likes and shares you’ll gain from jumping onto the cause du jour.
But as in real life, not everything is as it seems on the internet. It can take a couple of days for the truth to come out. The phrase, “Trust, but verify,” should be your mantra before you automatically share, retweet, or post your support of anything.
The world won’t pass you by if you wait a couple of days for the truth to emerge. (And it always does. Eventually.) Your support and well-wishes will still be meaningful, even days later. Possibly even more so, because by then the bandwagon will have moved on and the person in genuine need might be feeling low and forgotten.
Don’t assume that just because something is viral that it’s true or worth your support. Some things absolutely are. But, and I know this makes me a cynical individual, many of them are not. Not that the issue at the core of the thing isn’t worth your support, but the manifestation of the issue is a hoax or carries a lot more baggage than you can see at first glance. Wait. Then post, share and tweet all you want. If it still seems worth it.
(Photo courtesy of geralt)