November 17, 2017

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Diversity Hashtags Hijacked

hashtag4The subject of diversity has gotten a lot of attention in recent years in children’s and YA publishing. While movements including We Need Diverse Books have propelled the conversation, there is agreement that characters of diverse backgrounds are still underrepresented in the genre, doing a disservice to children of color, LGBTQ youth, non-neurotypical kids, and a host of other readers.

Last month, the conversation took an unpleasant turn on social media, with author A.C. Thomas wading into the online debate over diversity in literature.

Thomas’s highly anticipated debut YA novel, The Hate U Give, draws inspiration from the Black Lives Matter movement and was the subject of a bidding war involving 13 publishing houses earlier this year. It will be published by Balzer + Bray on February 28, 2017. When Thomas took to Twitter calling for better representation of diverse backgrounds among characters in children’s and YA lit, asking others to rally around the hashtag #IStandforDiversity, she found plenty of support:

#IStandForDiversity because there isn’t nearly enough representation in books. —Karen Kincy (@karenkincy) September 7, 2016


#IStandForDiversity because some day when I have kids, I don’t want them to know the world based on only one type’s experiences/opinions. —Veronica Park (@VeroniKaboom) September 7, 2016


Still so much work to do. And we all need to be a part of it. #WeNeedDiverseBooks #kidlit #ISupportDiversity pic.twitter.com/2J3lA0RLt7 —Ali Standish (@AliStandish) September 14, 2016

Within hours, though, trolls had co-opted the hashtag. While it’s worth noting that the #IStandforDiversity tag had respectful detractors who criticized the phrasing as ableist, most of the flak emerged from conspiracy theorists and white supremacists who make up the so-called alt-right:

It’s time to focus. We must envision #TotalAryanViktory and see our enemies destroyed. #AltRight #MAGA #ImWithYou #IStandForDiversity —Fourteen EightyEight (@AltReich1488) September 9, 2016

 

Beyond the hashtag hijacking, Thomas experienced a barrage of online abuse that is becoming sadly familiar to authors, activists, and others promoting diversity and inclusion on social media. The harassment—which included online death threats—got bad enough that Thomas set her Twitter feed to private. (The author declined to comment for this story.)

She wasn’t alone, either.  Another debut YA author, Laura Silverman, spoke up about trying to address the same issues, only to find herself swamped with threats on Twitter, as well as a flood of negative reviews on the GoodReads page for her upcoming novel, Girl Out of Water. Coming out on May 1, 2017, from Sourcebooks, it’s not yet available for review, But that didn’t stop trolls from setting up dummy accounts to leave scathing “reviews.”

Hate campaigns such as these are becoming increasingly common and visible on social media. Twitter, in particular, is where largely anonymous trolls go to attack those who raise their ire, rendering the platform useless to their targets. Those targets are frequently women and people of color. Two recent high-profile victims of sexist and racist attacks on Twitter were Leslie Jones, star of Ghostbusters, and Olympian Gabby Douglas.

The social media platform, which, according to reports, may be sold to another tech or media company, has come under significant fire for not doing more to prevent harassment by and of its users. Last year, a memo from CEO Dick Costolo to employees at the company obtained by The Verge read, in part, “We suck at dealing with abuse and trolls on the platform and we’ve sucked at it for years.”

Silverman and Thomas have both set their accounts to private mode in order to avoid harassment and threats. The #Istandfordiversity hashtag, as well as a related one, #isupportdiversity, remain mélanges of concerns about representation and troll memes.

Eighteen months after Costolo’s memo, it appears not much has changed. If anything, abusers have become more brazen.

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