Before I get started, let me tell you that I’m not going to name any names. That would be contrary to the entire point of this post. People will only be called by their roles in this event. If you want more information about exactly who was involved, you’ll have to look it up on Google.
Several days ago, a well-known YA author (The Author) called out a student (The Student) on Twitter. The Student was reported as saying that they joined the committee that chose the book all first-year students at their college had to read specifically to stop the committee from choosing one of The Author’s books. Which, as a writer, I can imagine was hard to read. That's tough.
In a nutshell, the basic context was that The Student felt that The Author’s books weren’t a good fit for all first-year college students to read. But the problem was that The Author called The Student out very publicly on social media, ignoring that context and saying that this was an awful thing to say about a writer and how The Author was going through a lot of difficult stuff at the moment. While The Author did black out The Student’s name in the screenshot posted to Twitter, there was plenty of content left in the screenshot that a simple Google search would have turned up The Student’s name and school. Which, as we all can probably guess by now, is a recipe for harassment. And indeed, The Student was harassed. People praised The Author for speaking up, calling The Student names and piling on her personal social media account. Truly disappointing.
But see, the thing is, this all seemingly happened because The Author was upset that someone really didn’t like their work. Admittedly, it’s a tough pill to swallow. It’s really hard to have someone say that they don’t like your writing, something you’ve spent years working on and perfecting. It’s hard to develop a thick skin and to shrug this sort of thing off. In the midst of the querying trenches, I even had a moment like this, where I got some criticism from an agent who’d requested my full manuscript. They told me that the voice was too young, that it read like MG instead of YA. I was pretty upset about that. I popped over to the Operation Awesome chat group and complained, saying that this agent clearly didn’t know what YA was supposed to sound like. Fortunately, the OA team talked me down, reminding me that this agent was only one person and that none of my betas, critique partners, or other readers had given me the same note. This agent was just one person.
I can’t speak for The Author, but someone of their caliber and name recognition has clearly had their fair share of detractors and critics. It’s odd to think that this one person – a student, no less, and not someone like a professional book reviewer – should be shouldered with the responsibility of not making The Author’s life harder. It’s not The Student’s responsibility to keep The Author’s feelings in mind. As someone who creates art, it’s vital to know and understand that not everyone is going to like your work. No single writer is writing stories that appeal to everyone, nor should anyone feel required to do so - unless maybe if you work for Disney or something. (Feel free to change my view on the former point in the comments.)
However, it’s also important to note that navigating social media can be tough as well. When you have a large platform and a lot of followers, you have to be more conscientious of what you post. (I mean, you should always take a second to ask yourself if you really want to post something, if you have 1 follower or 1 million.) A lot of writers use their social media platforms to talk about difficult or important topics, which is awesome. And a lot of other authors only use their social media platforms to talk about their books, which is also awesome.
What’s not awesome is using your platform to call out someone with no reasonable way of defending themselves.
On the other hand, there’s a lot of pressure that comes with being a celebrity, or a social media influencer, or anyone else in the public eye. You say one wrong word and immediately trolls will pile on. Buzzfeed News reported on an 18-year-old YouTube personality who burst into tears during a video over the pressures of being perfect and always being a good role model. Cardi B has said she’s done trying to be a role model for young women, because it was forcing her to act in a way that made her not feel like herself. When you’re a public figure, every misstep is criticized and blown out of proportion, and it’s nearly impossible sometimes to do anything without being called out by someone.
In the end, The Author did apologize, but they received a lot of backlash for their actions, justifiably so. Hopefully they learned a bit about the power social media can have and how influential their words and actions can be. So what is the takeaway here? What have we learned from this? I really don’t know. The best I can tell you is, don’t use social media to tear down other people. It’s not a good look on anyone.