USA Today asked me to talk about the John Green “Tumblr Incident” (their words, not mine), and I agreed to as long as my comments weren’t edited. Well, they didn’t change my comments, but they were cut down severely for length without my input, which … is editing. Omission is perhaps one of the more strikingly effective tools we have for changing meaning.
So here is the short piece, but here is what I actually said, in full:
Could you tell me more about the situation- what exactly happened and how did it come to your attention?
I think I oughta say, up front, that I know John Green no better than most of the rest of the planet. I’ve read three of his books; I follow him on Twitter & Tumblr; I once passed him in the hall at a literary conference; our interactions are all out there on Twitter for the world to see. Some of his real-life author friends have swept to his defense already, but that’s not my perspective: we are friendly colleagues. I make this clear because I would like to shout: this is not about John Green. This is about being a public creator on the internet. John Green just happens to be the unlucky subject of this specific incident.
Cassie Clare and I had just done an MTV interview on the challenges of being a public creator with a fandom when I first saw Green’s response to the posts. There’s a lot of outrage on the internet these days — everything is a kerfuffle, everything is binary right/wrong, everything is an emergency — so ordinarily I would have just scrolled right past. But this post in particular caught my attention because John Green was tagged in it. For those not familiar with Tumblr, tagging means that it pings that person; they get a notification telling them to look at it.
This post was not just outrage. It was hate, hand-delivered to the creator, hate as performance art. They wanted him to see it. “It” = a series of posts accusing John Green of possibly the worst thing you could accuse a teen author of: writing for underage kids because you are sexually attracted to them.
I had to say something. Not because of the nature of the posts, although they were distasteful and borderline libel. But because the grotesquerie was being force-fed to the author.
What are your thoughts about the Tumblr posts insinuating that John Green sexually abuses children?
It doesn’t insinuate that, actually. I encourage everyone interested in this to actually read the original post, not secondhand accounts. The very first post says this, in its entirety:
“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.”
The other posts add “also his writing is some booboo” and “lets get this enough notes so he has to address it and try to defend himself lmao.”
These posts don’t constitute valid accusations. This is not justice; it’s sport. “lmao.” Laughing My Ass Off. Justice and truth are not served through Tumblr notes. For the last nine months, there were entire Tumblr blogs intent on proving that Benedict Cumberbatch’s wife was faking her pregnancy. Does the sheer scale of that gossip lend it legitimacy?
On Twitter, victims of sexual abuse tweeted to me about how non-accusations like the original post about pool-dads hurt those who are genuinely abused.
Because Tumblr posts and tagging are not how we take down sexual predators in this country. The police are a good start. An author’s publisher is another possibility. In this case, that won’t happen, because you cannot prosecute a feeling.
To those folks who say that John Green makes them feel uncomfortable in any way: John Green is not in their house, or school, or real life. If he makes you feel uncomfortable; easy fix — watch something else, read something else, don’t go to his author events. I don’t like Woody Allen; I don’t watch Woody Allen movies; I don’t read Woody Allen interviews; I would not frequent a blog written by Woody Allen.
Everything about John Green’s Internet presence is voluntary attendance.
That’s what makes this post facetious. Walk away, Internet.
What are your thoughts on John Green’s response on Tumblr?
There’s a lot to work through there. It’s not what I would have done — I wouldn’t have jumped to sexual abuse from those posts. He talks about the cycle of outrage, and how unproductive it is, and how damaging it is to use the language of social justice lightly; I agree. But the real takeaway for me, as a fellow author, is this:
“I think at this point it’s impossible to continue to use tumblr in the way I’ve used it since 2011.”
When I first became an author, non-interactive websites and blogs were the norm. Authors had stationary websites with updated original content. Blogs lived on platforms that didn’t allow easy responses to each comment (with LiveJournal the notable exception — also notable because those blogs were often friend-locked, so that you chose who could see your content and comment). Slowly the world shifted to an interactive model, like we have now. Readers can interact with authors one-on-one; it’s dynamic and exciting.
But the world has changed, or our role in it has changed: we’ve become celebrities. Every week there is a new “kerfuffle” or “incident”; the internet is our tabloid and authors at all levels find themselves on the front page. Are we being held accountable or are we being served up for the entertainment factor? It’s impossible to tell the difference in a world where real problems and gossip are addressed using the same language. It’s hard to tell the difference between asking folks to be more thoughtful and silencing marginalized voices.
So I understand John Green’s impulse to back away. A lot of authors are, and I can easily imagine a future where I, too, have turned off my comment sections and disabled my inboxes and returned to that simpler, colder world. It’s a world where I call out original content into the void, not listening for the response. It’s a world where I am discussed — not one where I am asked to discuss myself. It’s a more sterile world, but safer. Less poisonous.
I can also imagine a future where exhausted readers and bloggers do the same: retreating again into password-protected forums and making their Tweets friends-only.
The internet is facing a toxic Apocalypse. Everyone’s either mutating or locking their doors.
ETA: my last comment on this.