Getting Social - The use of Social Media in your novel (Part 1).
Welcome to this week's #TuesdayTip. For the next two blog posts, I am returning to the use of modern technology in your writing, focusing on Social Media. I previously looked at mobile phone technology (Tips 34 and 35) and these articles can be seen as a companion piece to those posts.
This week, I intend to discuss the pros and cons of using this technology in your book and then, below the cut, bring together a list of some of the more common social media platforms with key facts to help you avoid easy errors. I will be focusing on the Facebook-owned platforms this week.
Next week, I will look at other services such as Twitter etc, as well as more niche apps and darker issues such as End-to-End Encryption and cyber stalking, and the narrative opportunities these present.
Given the rapidly changing nature of this, topic, I may find myself returning to it in the future!
Should you use Social Media in your books? If you are writing modern crime novels, then the chances are you will have to address this issue. Criminals are like any other member of modern society; unless they are especially savvy professionals, they probably stumbled into committing the murder or other heinous act that your book investigates, and so up until then they will likely have been using mobile technology and social media the same way that you or I do.
Leaving aside the massive increase in workload from idiots using Twitter to commit hate crimes etc (which then have to be investigated), social media is becoming more and more useful as an investigative tool to police and intelligence services. Rightly or wrongly, both prosecution and defence lawyers have used interactions on social media in court, especially for cases such as rape that may rest on the believability of the parties involved.
If your story hinges around social media, then it is important to accept that it will date your story to some degree. A book written twenty-years ago with copious references to MySpace, can be somewhat inaccessible to modern readers. Try to avoid that and future-proof your books.
Don't assume that future readers will know what Facebook etc are. There is a fine line between over-explaining what Facebook is for the current reader, and reminding future readers of the inexplicable urge of people in the first three decades of this century to share everything - from what they had for dinner, to their online banking password hints - with total strangers and future world President Mark Zuckerburg. Perhaps slip a few subtle lines into the prose: "Check his Facebook to see if they know each other?" ordered DCI Jones. Hardwick opened the social media app on her computer, pulling up the victim's profile page. She navigated to his Friends List. "Yes, they were friends on Facebook. He liked some of the posts that he shared." There is still a need for the reader to be familiar with the concept behind social media, but even if Facebook suddenly disappears, its ubiquity today is such that hopefully this will be enough to jog memories.
Make sure that the platform existed when your book is set! You may be surprised just how recently they appeared; and often they started as niche applications, only available in the United States.
Make sure that the application had the features you are writing about at that time. The applications and services are constantly being updated and new features introduced. For example, WhatsApp didn't fully implement End-to-End Encryption on all devices until 2016, having started trialling it in late 2014/2015.
Be mindful of the workload on your detectives! Dedicated Social Media Units are becoming more common, but the sheer volume of data from these services is over-whelming, with an increasing backlog in its analysis. How will you match the narrative demands of your story with the need for realism? Could the time taken be used as a means to delay key reveals? If Suspect X and the victim were otherwise unconnected, then somebody stumbling across an online interaction between them halfway through the book could flip your investigation on its head!
Thank you for reading this far. I hope that the information was useful.
Given that you probably came here via a link on social media, I have decided to place the detailed look at different social media platforms below the cut, so feel free to skip if you are short of time.
Next week, I am going to explore End-to-End Encryption and the darker side of social media, such as cyber stalking. I am also going to look at non-Facebook services, such as Twitter and other more niche applications.
Then pop back on Tuesday 22nd for a special Christmas edition...
As always, feel free to comment here or on social media!
Take care, Paul
Click Read More for detailed information on different Social Media Platforms.