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Thursday, November 23, 2017

When Internet Activism Goes Offline

The Toxic Drama on YA Twitter

"Led by a group of influential authors who pull no punches when it comes to calling out their colleagues’ work, and amplified by tens of thousands of teen and young-adult followers for whom online activism is second nature, the campaigns to keep offensive books off shelves are a regular feature in a community that’s as passionate about social justice as it is about reading...

Based almost solely on Sinyard’s opinion, the novel became the object of sustained, aggressive opposition in the weeks leading up its release. Its publisher, Harlequin Teen, was bombarded with angry emails demanding they pull the book. The Black Witch’s Goodreads rating dropped to an abysmal 1.71 thanks to a mass coordinated campaign of one-star reviews, mostly from people who admitted to not having read it. Twitter threads damning the novel made the rounds, while a Tumblr post instructing users to “be an ally” and signal boost the outrage racked up nearly 6,000 notes. Sinyard kept a running tally of her review’s circulation; “11,714 views on my review of THE BLACK WITCH and .@HarlequinTEEN and .@laurieannforest have not commented,” she tweeted. (That number eventually swelled to 20,000.)

Positive buzz all but died off, as community members began confronting The Black Witch’s supporters, demanding to know why they insisted on reading a racist book. When Kirkus gave the novel a glowing starred review, dozens of commenters demanded a retraction; the uproar was so intense that Kirkus ran a follow-up essay by editor Vicky Smith on the difference between representation and endorsement: “The simple fact that a book contains repugnant ideas is not in itself, in my opinion, a reason to condemn it,” Smith wrote. “Literature has a long history as a place to confront our ugliness, and its role in provoking both thought and change in thought is a critical one”...

[The] campaigns... are almost always waged in the name of protecting vulnerable teens from dangerous ideas. These books, it’s claimed, are hurting children.

But a growing number of critics say the draggings, well-intended though they may be, are evidence of a growing dysfunction in the world of YA publishing. One author and former diversity advocate described why she no longer takes part: “I have never seen social interaction this fucked up,” she wrote in an email. “And I’ve been in prison.”

Many members of YA Book Twitter have become culture cops, monitoring their peers across multiple platforms for violations. The result is a jumble of dogpiling and dragging, subtweeting and screenshotting, vote-brigading and flagging wars, with accusations of white supremacy on one side and charges of thought-policing moral authoritarianism on the other...

It’s worth noting that my attempts to report this piece were met with intense pushback. Sinyard politely declined my request for an interview in what seemed like a routine exchange, but then announced on Twitter that our interaction had “scared” her, leading to backlash from community members who insisted that the as-yet-unwritten story would endanger her life. Rumors quickly spread that I had threatened or harassed Sinyard; several influential authors instructed their followers not to speak to me; and one librarian and member of the Newbery Award committee tweeted at Vulture nearly a dozen times accusing them of enabling “a washed-up YA author” engaged in “a personalized crusade” against the entire publishing community... With one exception, all my sources insisted on anonymity, citing fear of professional damage and abuse...

One prominent children’s-book agent told me, “None of us are willing to comment publicly for fear of being targeted and labeled racist or bigoted. But if children’s-book publishing is no longer allowed to feature an unlikable character, who grows as a person over the course of the story, then we’re going to have a pretty boring business”...

[She] scrapped a work in progress that featured a POC character, citing a sense shared by many publishing insiders that to write outside one’s own identity as a white author simply isn’t worth the inevitable backlash. “I was told, do not write that,” she said. “I was told, ‘Spare yourself’"...

Just reading a so-called problematic book in order to judge its offensiveness for oneself is considered by many to be beyond the pale...

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. But others are pushing back: Sierra Elmore, a college student and book blogger, expressed her frustration in a tweet thread in January, writing, “[Being] in this community feels like being in high school again. So much. No difference of opinion allowed, people reigning, etc… I and other people I know (mostly teens) are terrified about speaking up in this community. You don’t get a chance to be wrong here.”"


Why does this sound so familiar?

Poor maligned conservative Christian fundamentalists
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