Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Lessons from Journalism in the Age of Twitter (Tumblr, Whatever)

So most of you probably have heard about the John Green events last week, but in case you haven't, in a nutshell, this is what happened:

A young woman on Tumblr Posted:

I bet John Green thinks people don't like him because he's a dork or a nerd or whatever, when in reality it's because he's a creep who panders to teenage girls so that he can amass some weird cult-like following. And it's always girls who feel misunderstood, you know, and he goes out of his way to make them feel important and desirable. Which is fucking weird. Also he has a social media presence that is equivalent to that dad of a kid in your friend group who always volunteers to 'supervise' the pool parties and scoots his lawn chair close to all the girls.

Hard to find the guy not smiling. Honestly, he looks nice to me
And then a bunch of internet instigators kept tagging John Green demanding he defend himself (not to mention several very famous authors defending him). Finally he'd had enough, and he DID respond with this:

His entire response, btw, which included a note that he didn't want anyone sending hate to the OP:

"You want me to defend myself against the implication that I sexually abuse children?
Okay. I do not sexually abuse children.
Throwing that kind of accusation around is sick and libelous and most importantly damages the discourse around the actual sexual abuse of children. When you use accusations of pedophilia as a way of insulting people whose work you don’t like, you trivialize abuse.
I’m tired of seeing the language of social justice–important language doing important work–misused as a way to dehumanize others and treat them hatefully.
So we all seek (and seek to share) the jolt that accompanies outrage and anger. As studies have shown, the complicated dopamine rush that comes with righteous indignation is very powerful, and I’m indulging it simply by responding to the outrageous accusation that my work is somehow evidence of sexual abuse.
But the outrage cycle is exhausting, and while there are wonderful examples of outrage fueling long-term, productive responses to injustice–We Need Diverse Books and the UPLIFT both come to mind–too often the Internet moves from jolt to jolt, from hatred to hatred, ever more convinced of our own righteousness and the world’s evil. And getting caught up in that is very painful.
I realize that will seem privileged to many of you (and it is), or like an excuse (maybe it’s that too), or lacking in empathy (maybe so), and I’m sure there is plenty here to deconstruct and reveal my various shortcomings (which are legion).
But this stops being a productive place for me to be in conversations if I’m not allowed to be wrong, if my apologies are not acknowledged alongside my misdeeds, and if I’m not treated like a person.
I think at this point it’s impossible to continue to use tumblr in the way I’ve used it since 2011. My life is different (in ways that are both good and bad); this community is different (in ways that are both good and bad); the world is different (in ways that are both good and bad).
So if this blog begins to look more one-way, with more original content and less reblogging/commenting/answering asks/etc., that’s why.
I want to emphasize that I am ridiculously lucky to work on stuff I love, from Crash Course to The Art Assignment to writing books. And I trust that many nerdfighter communities–whether vlogbrothers or Dear Hank and John or the Wimbly Womblys or the kiva group–will continue to be open and collaborative and constructive. Also, I’m not angry or anything like that. I just need some distance for my well-being.
Thanks for reading. DFTBA.

EDIT: To be clear, sending hate to people who say this stuff is counter-productive and only continues the outrage cycle, so please don’t abuse anyone. Thanks."

And then he started getting a bad time about being insensitive to the poor girl and yelled at not to victimize her again...

Erm yeah...

So here is my assessment of all that (because I'm wise and all that):

A young woman perceives what she perceives and has a right to that. But there are things you say about people that fall into hurtful territory at least and slanderous at worst. So the girl DID deserve to have the effect of her words explained.

But see John is a video guy... he is used to his four minute platform, a chance to build up his audience and educate us. I think that training failed poor John here. See, his response WAS thoughtful and educational. By the third paragraph. He GOT to the kind lesson. But he was offended first and in the age of the tweet, THAT was what people responded to.

So here are some things that could have saved the pain:

REMEMBER we are in a 140 Character Age! That doesn't mean he couldn't post his whole response, but it makes the order critical. In fact ideally he gets in a full summary in the first sentence and THEN expands:

“I'm sorry your experiences make you feel people who care about young adults are creepy, but your hurtful words suggest something untrue.” (135 characters—took a little work)

There is only the room there is...
REMEMBER the Journalism Rules!

One of my first degrees is journalism and unlike ALL other forms of writing, journalism rules require you to start with the MOST important details and trickle from there. The reason was that made the guy formatting the paper's job easier—if he needed an extra inch, he could just chop the last inch of any article. But the reason it applies HERE is we've all developed such short attention spans. You never KNOW when a person is going to quit reading, but you better bet it is before the end. Front load the main message.

REMEMBER the Image You Want to Present!

Do you want to be the guy on the defensive? Or do you want to be the patient teacher? Are you the ranting loon or the author who rose above it all? A statement of compassion right up front buys a lot of good will.

So there you go. Now you're smarter. Or something... Anybody else have advice to add or cases where a fiasco might have been saved with a bit more thought?


Escape Artist Linda said...

Holy Shit! I live in a bubble. I did not see any of this.
Thanks so much for sharing, and maybe we need to all do a little less sharing on social media.
I have like 100 viewers or some such, so I'm still in the arena of saying what I want, for now anyway, and within reason of course. ; )
Thanks again! Wow!

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

I didn't see any of it either.
His response was well thought out and delivered, but I understand what you mean by writing as if writing for an article in a newspaper. Get the point across immediately and then fill in details afterwards.
The part about the outrage cycle is right in line with Anne R. Allen's post this past Sunday about cyber-bullying and the mob mentality.

Elizabeth Spann Craig said...

Oh wow...first I've heard of this. But I was on vacation with no wifi! Thanks for getting me up to speed. I like your ideas for better-handling of this type of thing.

Chrys Fey said...

I did hear about this, but I didn't know he responded. If all authors' works were looked at closely, we could all be accused of something wrong just because we wrote about it or our antagonists did something bad. But writing about these things doesn't mean that we do them or are justifying them. I have written about drug dealers, murderers, and even rapists, but I am the nicest person you could ever meet and don't stand for those things. The girl's accusation was really off-base. John's statement was thoughtful, but I can see what you mean by how he started off being offended. If he had left out the beginning, it would've been much better.

Andrew Leon said...

I disagree. You are removing all responsibility from the reader, and that's not really okay. The reader, if s/he wants to respond, has the responsibility to read the entire thing, not just jump in after a couple of sentences.
It's never the victim's fault.

VR Barkowski said...

I rarely do Tumblr, so I didn’t see this, but I have to agree with Andrew. John is the victim here. His first instinct was not to engage the bully, but he was accused of pussying-out and pressured into responding. Next, he defends himself and again he’s criticized. This time for his choice of words. Sure, he could have been more empathetic and succinct in his opening. But let’s be honest. If he’d written something akin to “I’m sorry your experiences make you feel people who care about young adults are creepy…”, he would have been solidly trounced for his condescension and patronizing superiority.

It’s a no-win situation, so he’s stepping away. Smart man.

VR Barkowski

Hart Johnson said...

See, I agree that he was the victim of how this went down--I'm not saying he's not, but I AM saying we need to look at how the world really is and so approach can save us all a lot of later pain.

Roland D. Yeomans said...

Leon and VR have a point: John was the victim/he was attacked for both not responding AND responding. Your point is also valid: in this world of diminished attention spans, we have to realize most will zone out after a few words ... unless, of course, they are THEIR words!

Long distance verbal attackers feel safe in being unfair and cruel. But the internet is forever. Those attackers words may come back to haunt them.

I had not heard of this: my life of late has been hectic and chaotic. Great post. :-)

Liz A. said...

I heard snippets of this, but I've tuned it out because it's just more outrage on the internet. Someone gets upset and...

Good point about front loading the message. Something to keep in mind. Of course, he writes fiction, so he's used to teasing out the message.

Stephanie Leland said...

I don't know, I liked his response a lot, but then I'm not a stop at 140 characters type. You make excellent points about how he could have responded to better approach the situation. I do feel smarter :-)

It does make me sad that people are dumping on the guy over completely unfounded rumors and accusations, but I guess I'll have to get over that.

Sarah Ahiers said...

This was a great, thoughful post, Hart.

The whole thing just pisses me off

Susan Gourley/Kelley said...

I kind of missed that whole dust up. Every form of social media has it's hate spats going on now and then. I hear Tumblr is especially nasty. I don't have an account there for that reason. I've heard of some celebrities getting hate stuff on there just because someone doesn't like a character they play in a movie or TV show. How creepy is that?
Great point about how lots of people only read the first paragraph and it needs to have the important stuff there.
Susan Says

Helena said...

I'm as usual out of it so I didn't hear about this controversy. I agree with you about front loading replies because, sadly, attention spans have shrunk but also because we are so inundated with info that we can turn off the source too quickly. The "young woman" of that post was also making an accusation that bordered on libel, and one of these days there are going to be a few libel lawsuits stemming from posts on social media, which might be a good thing. With free speech there must also be responsibility.

G. B. Miller said...

I'm pretty sure you meant Twitter, as Tumblr is a blogging platform that a good chunk of entertainers use, as well as the normal folks like you and I (I have two Tumblr blogs, btw).

Again, it does seem like a hive mentality (aka dogpile on the naïve) going with this person here. The problem is that the original commentator was simply having a hissy fit and in today's world, hissy fits are now the new legitimate outrage.

Pathetic if you really think about, because when a hissy fit takes center stage, any and all constructive dialogue about a serious issue (in this case child sexual abuse) gets thrown into the trash.

My Week In Blogging

Anonymous said...

I completely agree. As a former TV person, MAKE YOUR POINT FIRST if you want people to get it and read it. And I agree with everything else too. :D

Misha Gericke said...

Honestly, I think John Green had all the right to write what he did, but it might not have been very wise to respond.

Because response was like chumming the waters for all the trolls out there.

I think, though, that the girl and the people tagging John Green actually deserved to be banned for personally attacking someone like this. It was typical trolling an bullying behavior.

Because at the heart of it, no matter what people might say to defend her, she committed hate-speech towards a person with no proof and with no reason other than the fact that he, as a reasonably famous person, presented an easy target.

See free speech is an interesting thing. Yes, it's a basic right, but that DOES NOT FREE US FROM THE RAMIFICATIONS OF WHAT WE SAY.

That's not the most annoying thing to me, though. In the back and forth since his response, people are making this about harassment and pedophilia and sex and all sorts of drama, when really it's about someone who DOES NOT KNOW ANYTHING ABOUT WRITING A BOOK, casting aspersions on how someone wrote a book. And she went about the worst, possibly most damaging way in which to do it.

Maybe she didn't know how far this would go when she made that post. But then this should be a morality tale with the message that just because the Internet makes it possible to say anything that pops into your mind, doesn't mean you should.

But sadly, this girl probably won't learn a thing because she's being enabled by people who aren't thinking before they're posting. Just like she possibly didn't think before she posted.