Does Social Media know what I'm writing about?

Dear Scriverati,

following my publisher’s polite, yet insistent hints to become more »visible« as an author and participate in the relentless self-marketing that apparently makes up 70% of our job nowadays, I have recently joined the obscure platforms »Facebook« and »Instagram« in order to take pretty photos of my books’ covers next to cute animals and put them on the world wide web.
Now, I’ve discovered the »discover« tab in Instagram and it shows me lots of pictures of a certain brand of car that I mention quite frequently in my current manuscript. I am pretty sure, however, that I haven’t googled that car, let alone looked for it in social media. There was simply no need.
What I’ve done:

Write the manuscript in Scrivener.
Edit changes in Pages.
Save backups to Dropbox.
Mail chapters to my editor
Read the chapters aloud to myself (yes, I know …)

All of this on a Mac, in a password-protected WiFi network.

All of this possibly while being logged into the platforms mentioned above.
I’ve read a lot about social media spying on your every step, but this is still a bit scary. Have any of you experienced anything similar?
Best, JS.

Short answer: Yes
Long answer: Absolutely

Staying logged into the services makes you more vulnerable to leakage.

At Instagram’s (a Facebook Product) signup they have links to their ToU, Data Policy and Cookie Policy. There’s lack of clarity throughout. An excerpt from their Cookie Policy:

If you think you must use Facebook Products ( or other such services) and if you’ve not yet, it’d be worthwhile to slog through all documentation available so you can mitigate some of the leakage. It is what it is.

Thanks all, The Age of Surveillance Capitalism has been on my reading list for a long time, We Have Been Harmonised sounds intriguing. My first YA novel is released next week and apparently, you have to keep in touch with your readers, book bloggers, »bookstagrammers« and the like via social media, or you’re non existent. But I think that being enigmatic and not appearing on any platform could possibly be even more interesting, marketing-wise. Well, probably too late for that, I already have 80 »followers«, I’m a nano-influencer, advertising deals coming up soon (How about it, L&L?).

Will now change »Land Rover« in the manuscript to »sneezing puppy« and see if the Instagram feed changes accordingly …

I recently read about an experiment conducted by school kids (teenagers). They had two scripted conversations among themselves, one with their phones present in the middle of the group, and one with no phones present. The phones were idle for the entirety of the first conversation, just lying face down on the table. In the week after the second conversation (no phones), they noticed nothing unusual when browsing the internet. But after the first conversation each of them saw browser ads that were related to specific phrases used or items they had mentioned in the conversation.

Can’t carry on writing, out now to buy a Land Rover and / or puppy. Have to talk to publisher about advance for the next book, can’t afford this lifestyle on a shoestring. Will read »Crime and Punishment« out aloud next to my smartphone, let’s see what I need to buy next …

I’ve always found ‘social media’ to be very little Social and too much Media. So my personal ‘opinion’ is no, certainly not! Social Media knows absolutely nothing about your actual written word. Unless it’s about a flying cat, or the latest in political speak, which is very much the same as when Nixon was president, although much, much less intelligent.

Please, please, please don’t buy into this. I’ll give you a scenario.

There is a local publisher where I live. They got writers rallied to them, lots of them. Flashy expensive covers, multiple forms of editing, but with stricter contracts for all their “investment” into the authors, and all this meant they didn’t give their books a budget for marketing. They expected the authors to build a platform to make up for it, and continued to provide “Social Media Lessons” for those authors. Result?

Less writing. More author marketing. A lot of hype. Virtually none of their authors doing well. Blame? Placed on the authors. Not the reality that they shouldn’t have published 80% of those books. When the CEO and I went out to lunch, to see what they could change, I put him in a bind. He knew his company’s marketing push of so-called benefits to authors would soon be seen as liabilities. Same shit, different package, with a bow. He knew he had to make the decision to change the culture of his publishing company or continue to milk the dreams of authors while actually rubbing a dry a udder hoping the teats would drip. Suffice it to say, they learned the hard way. Most local authors prefer not to publish with them now.

We live in a world where being prolific matters more. Being visible means having multiple books available. Where readers can binge. This is contrary to marketing manager’s/publishers advice of being visible. They believe social media matters more.

The truth is, most readers don’t actually want to engage with the author, not at first. They only want to engage when they KNOW completely trust that those authors can and do deliver a consistent product they enjoy. And at that point, Social Media becomes much easier. You set the boundaries. You’re not exploring them to find out what works.

There is an inherit bias in publishers and their marketing department. Most have paid a fortune on their education. Most are trying to prove it was worth it for them and their employer, since they hired them. But in writing, there are few things that actually help writers make it. They are: writing and more writing.

After that, it’s really about being able to engage with public in a presentable and polite way. About holding true to your convictions. But you cannot and should not be at your fans beckon call or in the business of appearing that you will be. It is counter-productive to your purposes. So, until you have established a platform of exceptional books, a social media strategy such as Pressfield’s (mentioned in other threads) or various others, is more a gimmick than a help.

But to your overall point, yes, if you have Alexa or other devices that listen and you play text-to-speech, or read your work aloud near them, they can and do know what you’re writing. A friend of mine who writes WWII historical fiction and alternative history was writing a lot about divorce for one of her characters. She kept reading it aloud for flow. Sure enough, ads for divorce attorneys started showing up in her feed. She had some explaining to do with her husband (happily married) as it caught him blind-sighted.

This is the reason I have a computer completely disconnected from social media in an office where WiFi cannot penetrate. I don’t like listening devices. Not. One. Bit.

It seems that all our private info is not private enough

Thanks! It cheers me up to know that my paranoia is justified. But that even the basics like tape on selfie camera, location turned off, are not enough. I’m off to buy a Land Rover with the (shouting at computer) “BOX OF FREE CASH SENT TO ME BY MICROSOFT WINDOWS 10.”