Okay, so I’m going to start this with a disclaimer: I totally love Twitter.
I didn’t used to be such a fan. When I first started using the microblogging platform in 2014, I really didn’t get it. I was naturally inclined to be a private person anyway, so the idea of sharing every infinitesimal thought with a bunch of strangers didn’t just jar with my world view – it was also a vulnerable act. To the uninitiated (me), it also just seemed like a giant waste of time.
Thankfully, I decided to give it another go in 2016, and I am so glad I did. What I discovered was that there is an incredible community of writers and readers on Twitter who are happy to support each other. I always worried that I wouldn’t be able to do enough to reciprocate in supporting fellow authors, which kept me from interacting for a long time. Like, if someone asks me to read their work, I start wondering when the hell I will be able to fit that into my schedule and panic that I won’t be able to.
But I’ve found Twitter’s writing hashtags to be replete with fellow writers who are similarly time-poor and exhausted, but also aspirational, driven and optimistic.
We don’t all necessarily have time to read each other’s work. But we chat, like office workers around a water cooler (or these days, one of those lightning-fast hot/cold taps they install at the sink). We relate the struggles of our day jobs and the challenges we face with our writing. We favourite, we retweet, we reply to each other and celebrate one another’s achievements and successes.
As an indie author, Twitter is a nice place to be. I’m stoked I gave it another shot, because I really enjoy interacting with the new people I’ve met through Twitter.
So, why would I suggest in the title of this post that Twitter could be toxic?
Well, not every corner of Twitter is such a cool little oasis in the middle of the Sahara.
Some hashtags are nicer than others.
Some segments of the community are nicer than others.
And, unfortunately, some segments of the Twittersphere are really bloody negative places to be.
They’re the rest of the Sahara: fiery swarms of hellish heat and fury; sand that burns your feet and stings your eyes; chilling, icy wind that cuts your skin at night.
An article on Vulture by writer and journo Kat Rosenfield got a lot of people in the writing and publishing sector talking about Twitter culture this week.
Rosenfield’s article “The Toxic Drama of YA Twitter” discussed the phenomenon of mostly adult users subjecting new YA novels to some pretty nasty critiques.
No, critiques is the wrong word. Critiques are useful and are written with the author, the reader, and culture in mind. The idea is to provide a critical assessment of the book and its’ worth and contribution to the literary canon.
What Rosenfield identified – and linked to – were not critiques.
They were actions by some pretty nasty activists – nay, professional bullies.
These people are mostly activists concerned with the typical angles of cultural Marxist critique: gender, race, class, sexual orientation, ability.
While those discussions about representation and portrayal are so important, and valid, and happen all over the internet and in discourse in various forms (and rightly so!), these particular activists have taken it to another level.
Rosenfield talks about “callout culture” on Twitter. Users will scour new novels for the slightest indication of content that could be deemed offensive to anyone in any way, then decide to shame, blacklist and pile-on the poor author who has finally got their novel published. (Or in some cases, before they’ve even read it – they’re just assuming it might be offensive in some ridiculously confected way.)
The stuff described is basically mob mentality stuff: angry adult activists – universally on the left – band together to slam the author into oblivion. They callout and shame publicly; they tweet and retweet; they jump on Goodreads and Amazon and wherever else and give a slew of one-star reviews to attempt to annihilate the author and short-circuit their success.
I mean, this is nasty shit.
I really valued Rosenfield’s article, because this phenomenon is probably the worst trend in the literary community in the last decade.
There is now such a toxic culture online of not just shouting down ideas you don’t like, but actively seeking to destroy the reputation and name of both the offending book and the author, too.
I believe literary criticism – and, along with it, cultural criticism – should always be fostered and discussions about representation are valid and needed and must continue.
But this trend goes far beyond reasoned critiques or discourse: it is schoolyard bullying ramped up to eleven.
This kind of toxic callout culture is anti-art and anti-fiction, quite frankly.
As both a reader and an author, this has a chilling effect. The literary agent quoted in this article who says ‘spare yourself’ is quite astute. Most halfway decent people avoid these cruel, destructive pile-ons like the plague to save themselves. Sadly, this only means that the campaigns of hate and bullying come to completely dominate the discourse.
It’s a really disturbing trend, but I feel like Rosenfield’s article – and the ensuing online response to it – is a promising sign that people are recognising this toxic culture more and more.
I think it is important for all of us, as readers and writers, to speak our mind and say our piece. We must keep doing this.
We must also treat each other like human beings. We should engage in challenging dialogue when we disagree, but ultimately respect one another.
We should strive to be creators, not destroyers.