Social Media & The Algorithm of Fear
authors, creatives, and reliance on community
It’s been a while since I’ve felt the very real effects of stress pulse from my body in the middle of the day; a quiet but steady stomachache, a dull throb above my left eyebrow, a tightening in my chest and shoulders all remind me that my daily rhythm has been infused with too much stress and not enough care.
But this is how it works for us as authors, when the quiet, steady, behind-the-scenes work suddenly becomes pre-order season, when we begin pushing our books out into the world asking others to take a chance, to order them, to read them, to support us.
It’s as terrifying as it is beautiful, honestly, sending our stories out there with our fingers crossed hoping you’ll think us worthy. We rely fully on our community of readers to show up and take us into your daily lives. What a relationship!
But what happens when social media doesn’t work the way we want it to? What happens when our communities aren’t seeing our posts and don’t have the capacity to interact?
What happens when the commodification of even our presence online means things get more and more toxic every day?
I’m calling this the algorithm of fear, and I’ve experienced it plenty this last week. Authors (especially BIPOC) are consistently getting shadow-banned on Instagram, algorithms are changing and we struggle to keep up, and Twitter under Elon Musk’s new regime is imploding.
I noticed that sharing news about my book was reaching less than 2,000 people per tweet, and as I continued to gaslight myself into thinking it must just be me, I decided to ask others. I tweeted:
As an author launching a new book, Twitter has been pretty frustrating lately. It's my biggest platform & has the least engagement of all my social media. I don't know if people are seeing anything I'm sharing. And I don't know how to fix it.
Other authors and creatives showed up to say hello and share their own frustrations; some folks told me they hadn’t seen my tweets in weeks or months, and by the next day, that tweet had been seen by 84,000 people.
No, it wasn’t in my head.
Yes, of course we rely on social media as authors and creatives.
Yes, of course it’s exhausting.
And no, I still don’t know how to fix it.
While the social media algorithm we are stuck with seems to have its own agency sometimes, this algorithm of fear is felt most deeply inside of us, in our hearts and our heads, and gives us rules and regulations for how we honor ourselves well. It forces us to ask questions born out of that fear:
Will anyone see this tweet?
Why are my views so low?
Are Indigenous voices being banned regularly here?
No one has commented yet. Are they not interested?
Will I reach any of my goals?
Are people going to join the launch team?
What if the reviews are bad?
Are my words really worth sharing about if no one cares?
Does anyone care?
Throw some “prone to anxiety” or “highly perfectionist and hard on ourselves” energy into the mix and things can get even worse from here. The algorithm of fear is the space where we feel we cannot control what happens to us in the marketplace, no matter how hard we try. Is it true? Maybe, maybe not. But the feeling of failure seeps in nonetheless.
I shared a video with my Instagram audience about this, because surely if I am feeling it, artists of all kinds are feeling it, too.
“You are more than your social media spaces,” I said.
But, we live in a consumerist economy, and no matter how hard we try, we cannot escape it as folks who create. For our words to matter, they must be consumed, and in order for consumption to happen, we have to give more and more of ourselves when and where it’s expected.
Do we, though?
And what happens if we don’t?
There’s a tradeoff, it seems. More time for ourselves, our people, our communities and care means less time online. Is our health worth it, and can we beat the algorithm of fear?
In 2020, a few months before my second book, Native, came out, a controversy with me at the center of it drove me to Twitter, and the most beautiful, tender thing happened.
While this incident at a speaking event at Baylor caused backlash against me amongst conservatives and anti-Indigenous abuse online, the Twitter community rallied around me. While the university refused to acknowledge what had happened to me, my community showed up. They ordered my books, they encouraged me, they sent private messages reminding me of who I am and why my work matters.
Honestly, it was overwhelming to feel that much support from strangers who didn’t know my everyday life, but that’s the mystery of social media. It can be a terrifying, toxic place, but it is also community.
We are human beings. We cannot escape one another, no matter how hard we try.
That’s the lesson I learned in 2020, and in 2023, as this algorithm of fear sneaks in and I feel my body shouting for me to slow down and find a better way of living out my daily rhythms, I’m going to remember that lesson.
We beat the algorithm of fear by loving one another well.
We beat the algorithm of fear by remembering who our people are.
We beat the algorithm of fear by returning home to ourselves and our gifts.
We beat the algorithm of fear by remembering that our words matter in every aspect of our lives.
We beat the algorithm of fear by breathing deep, taking a step back, and honoring the journey.
We beat the algorithm of fear by remembering that the human journey is a vulnerable one, and that’s okay.
We beat the algorithm of fear by being in community with one another and supporting each other along the way.
We beat the algorithm of fear by living into daily rhythms of care and holy resistance.
Will social media change for the better anytime soon? Probably not.
So, in the meantime, we keep resisting.
Thank you so much for supporting me so far as I launch Living Resistance into the world!
A few things:
There are still a few days left to join my review/launch team! Just pre-order the book and then fill out this form to join.
I was featured in Oprah Daily yesterday! You can check it out in this piece, 10 Ways to Embrace Wholeness Every Day.
Pre-order the book here.
Share The Liminality Journal with a few friends, and make sure you follow me on Twitter and Instagram where I’ll be sharing more about the book and the writing journey!
Check out the Freedom Rising Conference with Middle Church in New York, the last weekend of April! I’ll be speaking alongside my dear friend Rabbi Danya Ruttenberg. You can grab tickets here.
Thank you for this much-needed encouragement. I might even print out the last part of it to remind myself daily. Trying to connect with readers via social media feels nearly impossible right now. But I still have hope that our persistence will make some kind of difference and that God will make it all possible. Thanks for persisting and for bringing us along with you on the journey.
I realy love this post. My brother and now our youngest son is a writer, and know all too well the anxiety and fear you speak of. And I expect all of us social media users grapple with these questions: does nyone care? Is anyone reading or listening? I will say that since discovering your writing right at the outset of the pandemic, I have been lifted, inspired, chalennged, amazed, humbled and moved by your words, in your two books, your essys, and your posts. Your writing and presence have been some of the most beneficial and inspiring things I have read and found in my many years, and have truly helped my community of spirit and faith through some challenging times. As a minister in a progressive tradition, I find your insights, writing and perspectives some of the most inspirational, thought provoking and evocative spiritual ritings that I have found. I reallly cannot imagine this pandemic journey without your sharing and your gifts. Thank you deeply and sincerely.