The SoA view — on hate, harassment and personal attacks on authors

17 August 2022

Reiterating our position on personal attacks on authors

Illustration © kkgas/Stocksy

In a statement to the Times yesterday (16 August 2022), SoA member JK Rowling spoke of an escalation in the bullying of authors over the past few years. She is quite right. They include the authors she mentioned, but also many others — authors of colour, LGBTQ authors, authors with a wide range of experience, background and views.

There are plenty of issues on which these authors will disagree but the one thing that unites them is that they have been vilified, repeatedly and viciously, for expressing their views.

We condemn any type of personal attack on any author — whether physical, verbal, legal or political — for exercising their right to express themselves freely.

The Society of Authors and its Management Committee, chaired by Joanne Harris, is absolutely committed to this. What we have seen time and again over the past few years is that polarised viewpoints have become the norm, and that so many exchanges on complex issues are happening in online forums where nuance and meaning are lost.

The SoA membership includes authors from every background, working at every career stage in every genre, who between them are driven by a full spectrum of experience and opinion.

We support them through their interests as authors, regardless of what they believe or create.

Our approach to promoting freedom of expression and preventing harassment and threats has consistently been:

  1. We support the right of all authors to hold and express opinions, and we condemn violence and the threat of violence unequivocally.
  2. We condemn any kind of racist, hate or unprofessional speech. We have a professional code of behaviour, outlined in our Dignity and Respect policy and the cross-industry Commitment to Professional Behaviour in Publishing, We encourage any Society of Authors member to make a complaint under our Dignity and Respect policy if they are concerned about another member’s behaviour.
  3. We do not get involved in individual debates, or in disputes between authors.
  4. While we deplore bullying, trolling and personal attacks, we don’t usually speak out publicly on individual cases – especially if we have not been asked by the author to do so, and particularly on social media which is not a sufficiently nuanced forum for such debates. We provide guidance on dealing with online abuse, harassment and bullying
  5. We will always provide private support for authors targeted, both emotional and practical, including correspondence with publishers.

Following the attempted murder of Sir Salman Rushdie on 12 August 2022, it is more important than ever that authors find ways to cooperate, regardless of their views, to protect the fragile freedom of expression that we all depend on.

This is no time to surrender to polarisation and hate.