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Saturday, November 16, 2019

All that is wrong with Twitter, in one story

In 2017, an undergraduate at a college in South Dakota joined the selection committee for the schools' Common Read program because she did not want a certain YA author's book included, because YA is not what college students should be studying, and preferred one of several books on social justice. Last week, the local paper runs a story about the Common Read program (2019 is its 10-year anniversary), including a quotation from that undergrad (who is now in grad school) about joining the committee.

The following ensues:

• The criticized author took to Twitter to say "I’m having a really hard time right now and this is just mean and cruel. I hope it made you feel good."

• The author's YA-author friends took to Twitter with such incisive comments as "Fuck that fucking bitch" and "fuck that RAGGEDY ASS fucking bitch." Another author friend suggested the student's comment reflected the same idea that allowed Larry Nasser to prey on women athletes.

• The university publicly apologized to the author for its former student having a negative opinion about her work. The school explained that it was afraid of harming its relationship with a different author in the wake of the graduate's pointed comments. That tweet is not being received well; apologies for the apology no doubt in short order.

• The grad student has been harassed off social media and is worried about career backlash.

• Starting sometime Friday, everyone began deleting many of these tweets.

• The original author apologized on Friday afternoon. But her apology used a first-person pronoun 11 times and never explained what she had done or who she had hurt and how. (Judging by the Twitter responses, the apology did not work).

• One of her author-friends apologized, explaining that she "didn't read the article" that had started the controversy (uniquely ironic from authors who consistently fight criticism from people who have not read their works).

• A third author--the one who compared this to MeToo and Larry Nasser and had on Friday insisted she had "zero regrets" about calling the student out--apologized late Friday. She did slightly better, including promising to reach out to the student (whom she had named in various online comments). But she did not acknowledge the problem with her Larry Nasser rhetoric. Nor did she acknowledge doubling down and having "zero regrets" two days earlier.

• A fourth author-friend apologized and explained that she had tweeted what she meant to DM.

Two more followed on Saturday, although only with the generic "to all who have been hurt" for "my part" and with such bad-apology disclaimers as "I didn't know the person involved was a college student" and "it upsets me."

The last set of apologists capture why Twitter sucks. Authors used to gather or correspond privately) and, among themselves, complain about critics and call critics names; over a bottle of wine, they felt better. Twitter allows (nay, encourages and incentivizes) them to complain and call-out critics in public. But they use the same language they had used in private. And that language reaches hundreds of thousands of people, who have no qualms, given the distance and anonymity of Twitter, of going after the original critic in a personal and aggressive manner. The two from Saturday insisted they were trying to support a friend and do not encourage or condone targeting and harassment. But what did they think was going to happen when they said things like "fuck that bitch" and "you are as bad for women as Larry Nasser"? Did they not think people would run with that?

Finally, note that no one apologized until beginning Friday afternoon and continuing to today. What happened? Beginning Friday morning, The Guardian, Washington Post, Slate, and New York Magazine picked up the story, moving it from the Abderdeen News to the national scene. Unlikely to be a coincidence.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on November 16, 2019 at 01:32 PM in Culture, Howard Wasserman | Permalink

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