I’ve always been sensitive to the downsides of social media.*
And, in the past few weeks, I’ve run into multiple mentions of a downside I had not heard of before, (but, after reflection, know in my heart to be entirely true.)
A great many artists of our time admit if they had grown up in the age of social media, they would have never become an artist. The tidal wave of critical voices and online bullying–which many artists and non-artists alike face today–would have beat them down.
Of course this makes sense.
Artists are passionate about their art, (whether that be writing, painting, dance, poetry, cooking, design, etc.) An attack on their work always tends to feel like an attack on themselves.
In today’s online environment where your work is exposed not only to thoughtful criticism and debate, but also to random strangers who can essentially walk up and say, “THIS, is total ass. You are a hack. You should just go die,” it’s not surprising that, for some artists, the risk is just too great, the exposure too painful.
We joke about this sometimes–like how, for every beautiful performance on YouTube, there is always one troll in the comment section who says, “Eh. I’ve seen better.” And we know these naysayers have always been around. Winning over “the public” has always been a challenge for artists.
But “the public” did not have such amplified voices as they do now. Your dramaturg, not the person sitting across from you on the subway, was the one to give you feedback on the first draft of your play. Your dance instructor quietly informed you that maybe you didn’t have the chops to be a prima ballerina, not some guy named “Ballsnbeer69” who’s living in his mom’s basement in Vegas.
I worry because, like the woman in the video below learned, (around the 10:55 mark) people online are sometimes ridiculously cruel, (yes, they are also ridiculously supportive, but it’s the cruel ones who keep us up at night.)
I worry because trolls can not only destroy an artist’s art, but also an artist’s spirit. And that can have dangerous consequences. A lot of amazing work is born from an artist’s pain and suffering. When someone relentlessly tears apart that work, it makes it all that easier for a depressed artist to say, “See? I DO suck. I should just be dead.”
I’m not exaggerating when I say that, if I had grown up with social media, I’m not sure I’d be here today. Things like writing and performance got me through very dark periods as a teenager. If those things had been publicly torn apart, (at the same time as I was struggling with the painful real-life problems which attracted me toward the arts in the first place) I would have likely opted out.
So no, the title of this post is not just a fanciful thought written as link-bait.
I really want to know: will social media kill the artists of tomorrow? Figuratively? Literally?
Because if it will, how do we make it stop?
*Someone has to be. Far too many of my consulting/agency peers are so firmly aboard the social media “rah-rah train,” they wouldn’t jump off it even if it were barreling over the edge of a cliff.