Thoughts on the YA Twitter Exposé and Bad Dialogue

Posted August 8, 2017 by Ellen in Discussion Post / 4 Comments

Yesterday, “YA Twitter” started trending. This little corner of the Twitter universe, devoted to the news and promotion of YA literature, was spinning with distress., 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…

It 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

Because 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

My 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.

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