Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Thoughts on the YA Twitter Exposé and Bad Dialogue

[dropcap]Y[/dropcap]esterday, "YA Twitter" started trending. This little corner of the Twitter universe, devoted to the news and promotion of YA literature, was spinning with distress. Vulture.com, an entertainment news outlet, had published an article by Kat Rosenfield that threw the virtue of this book-obsessed hive mind into question. The biggest line from the piece?

"I have never seen social interaction this fucked up. And I’ve been in prison."

Some contributors to YA Twitter expressed sadness over the situation. Most, however, expressed their outrage. And for almost every tweet of ire that I read, I found myself growing more and more exasperated.

One tweet said, "can you imagine writing about the race and representation controversies on YA twitter and, like, only interviewing white people?... which leaves me bemused. There is zero indication in Rosenfield's article that she interviewed only white people. In fact, her most heavily quoted sources preferred to remain anonymous. Who is to know their race? What makes this tweeter assume the worst of Rosenfield?

Another reads, "Imagine being like 'I'm going to fix the toxic drama of YA twitter by putting a bunch of teens on blast yep I'm a logic expert'." Having actually read Rosenfield's article, I know that the writer didn't, in fact, rake teenagers through the coals. In actuality, she focuses on the adults on YA Twitter. Rosenfield says:

The teens who make up the community’s core audience are getting fed up with the constant, largely adult-driven dramas that currently dominate YA. Some have taken to discussing books via backchannels or on teen-exclusive hashtags — or defecting to other platforms, like YouTube or Instagram, which aren’t so given over to mob dynamics. 

To me, this quotation is absolute proof that the article's critic did not "critically" read the piece. He or she, ironically, is proving Rosenfield's point — that dialogue is broken on YA Twitter because of rampant assumptions, abysmal snap-judgements, and F-minus reading comprehension. 

In the Interest of Full Disclosure...

[dropcap]I[/dropcap]t wasn't on YA Twitter, but I have found myself wheezing under a dogpile after attempting to join a racial discussion on a pop culture message board. Twice. 

In one instance, I shared some thoughts about Trump voters, post-election. Perhaps not all Trump voters are racist, I mused, but nonetheless engaged in "soft racism" by voting for a person who promotes racist policies. 

[Update 8/15/2017: If you STILL support Trump, you are a racist. You have no excuses. You are a white supremacist.]

The backlash was swift and it was brutal. Replies were expletive-ridden and personally accusatory, making my eyes sting and face blush. My creation of the term, "soft racism," I gathered, was absolute and total fuckery in the eyes of the room.

I tried to explain that my words, "soft racism," stemmed from the established term "soft sexism," and that it wasn't an absolution, but part of an attempt to classify a spectra of racist behavior. I only dug myself deeper with that one, and got to endure more verbal spankings.

If someone had, with reason and politesse, explained to me why they found fault with my point, I would have appreciated it. But that kind of dialogue was impossible in the climate I was in.

A few months passed and my memory of the annihilation lapsed. I went back to the message board and (stupidly) entered another discussion. In this case, I shared my (white) experience of trying not to make tense racial interactions "all about me." My response? Sudden and immediate death by GIF.

I don't visit that message board anymore. It became plain to me that, in that forum, my voice was not an acceptable sound. 

Use Your Reaction-Media Responsibly

[dropcap]B[/dropcap]ecause of these experiences, my mind sometimes goes through these cycles: [1. Primary Thought] [2. Punishing Reaction Thought] [3. Resentful Reassertion of Primary Thought].

For example: [1. Oops, I accidentally used a Black Twitter hashtag and joined in a discussion that's not applicable to me.] [2. I'm so embarrassed.] [3. It was an accident. If anyone tweets back and tries to humiliate me, then they're a rude person and I hate them.]

To be quite clear, I'm not happy with the resentment that lives inside me like an angry seed. But it only grows more roots whenever I witness a damaging dialogue taking place. For clarification, to me, a damaging dialogue includes any of the following:

  • Personal attacks.

  • Temperamental tones.

  • Recurrent misinterpretation.

  • An abusive use of handclap emojis.

Because all of those things makes people feel uncomfortable, hurt, attacked, resentful, and, ultimately, even more set in their own opinions.

I'm reading a book right now called Change of Heart: What Psychology Can Teach Us About Spreading Social Change.  It's written by a psychologist for an audience of social activists. The author, Nick Cooney, warns against using abusive or harsh tactics to initiate change:

"As a general human characteristic, people accept inner responsibility for a choice only in the absence of a strong external pressure to make that choice... If we can get decision-makers to change policies with just a small amount of pressure, they're more likely to attribute that change to their own desire to do so and are therefore more likely to maintain the new policy in the future. If the pressure exerted is extremely high, then even if they do change, they'll see their decision as nothing more than a response to pressure — meaning they're more likely to backslide when pressure is no longer placed on them."

Cooney cites Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. as a person who used extremely effective, change-resultant strategies. King's strategy, explains Cooney, was "escalating," meaning that he would begin his push-backs gently, and grow gradually more firm in response to opposition. 

Such a strategy may not be swift and overwhelming, but it is deceptively powerful.

YA Twitter needs to take note. Their progressive ideals are good and right, but they're promoted with a metaphorical shotgun — overwhelming, loud, and largely target-inaccurate. Many of these twitter activists for social change are being bullies, and effectually shooting their objective in the foot.

"You Don't Have the Range; Stay In Your Lane."

Maybe it's satisfying to put certain people in their place. But the onlookers to that exclusionary and discourse-snuffing language are getting disturbed. 

I remember, maybe half a year ago, seeing a teenage book-blogger break down to her friends on Twitter, because the "YA" corner of the site was making her feel sick and discouraged. This incident was so long ago, that I don't know where to begin in tracking it down. But it stayed with me, because this kiddo hadn't done anything to provoke people's ire. She was merely reacting to the climate in which she was trying to discuss books.

A Call To Action

[dropcap]M[/dropcap]y Call-To-Action for this post is for people to consider their goal when they interact with someone or something they disagree with. Most of us, I would gander, don't want to embarrass or punish others, but to instigate a change in their hearts and minds. The best way to do this, both science and history shows us, is to be gentle, calm, and true.


  1. To be honest, I don't think the article was too bad. There have been times when I haven't put in my opinion about a certain book because I don't want to face backlash. But shouldn't a discussion about why a book is problematic happen instead of people just denouncing the people reading the book, or the author and book itself? I feel like there are just times when the book community in general realizes that a book is problematic and just completely shun it. Like for the case of The Continent or Carve the Mark. Many people have said that both have underlying racism and Carve the Mark is triggering for self harm. But can't problematic books like those actually help us realize that there is underlying racism that some people aren't aware of? I'm sure that the authors and the team that went behind publishing those books weren't trying to be racist, and it was more because of the society we live in where racism is a constant theme, whether it be in your face or not. Seeing the YA community tear down books or authors when they weren't trying to do any harm is disheartening. We talk about being accepting, and then yet the community can't forgive?

    The one thing that the article didn't do right (in my opinion) was ask permission to use people's tweets. Yes, tweets are public, but in such a controversial and hard-hitting article like this, it must have been shocking to find themselves mentioned.

    Thanks for making a discussion post about it! Many people are just on twitter ranting and I actually wanted to see someone's full thoughts on it.

  2. Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts, Genni! I agree wholeheartedly with you. We can express doubts, disagreements, and disapproval in a manner that facilitates a productive conversation. I know we have it in us! Full-on boycotting a book and leaving terrible reviews (without reading the book itself) is turning out to be so unproductive.

    Your point that Rosenfield was wrong to directly quote and screenshot tweets is something that I agree with. Those tweets probably were not written with such exposure in mind. "Shocking" is the right word to describe what it would feel like to be mentioned in that article for everyone to see and examine. When I wrote this post, I wanted to quote a few tweets, but I refrained from screen-capturing the actual tweets or mentioning their authors, despite being very critical of them in my writing. I suppose someone could search for the tweets I mentioned, but I hope they don't do that.

    Again, thanks so much for leaving your thoughts. I appreciate it so much!

  3. I missed all the drama and I'm glad I did. I so don't need unnecessary drama in my life, social media or otherwise. More often than not I find that I have to not read what authors and even some book bloggers write on Twitter because more often than not it changes my opinion of them and sadly that isn't always a good thing. In fact I've unfollowed quite a few authors because of it and some I've even stopped reading their books. It just isn't worth it sometimes to participate in stuff like that. It usually just saddens me more than anything else.

  4. You're telling me, Ali. I don't really belong to YA Twitter, so usually I hear about all the drama, days or weeks or months later. This latest controversy was the rare instance that I saw things unfold in real time. I almost always disagree with what's going on. Usually when a book gets skewered for being problematic, it makes me pick it up so I can read it and make up my own mind. But even doing that is criticized by people.