I’ve been pretty quiet about the John Green brouhaha. Mostly because I’m a black, female, midlist author and there is zero benefit to me saying anything about a rich white dude who is well-established in publishing. Secondly because I just didn’t see the issue at the heart of the matter as others saw it. Most folks saw it as further proof of authors becoming victims of their fandoms, and to a degree it was. It seems to be a recurring theme that when a fandom reaches a certain size it tries to devour its own. But it was also an issue of space and boundaries.
So I was going to leave this dog lie, but after the past few days and some interactions on tumblr, I’m even more convinced we need to have a conversation about drawing clear and firm lines of acceptable behavior.
Namely: set limits and respect other people’s limits.
The internet tends to do funny things to boundaries. It blurs the lines, so that the people have an equal voice, or at least the opportunity to be heard (or read) equally. This is great for stuff like social justice, where marginalized voices don’t often get an available platform. Finally, a person of color can be heard on important issues and not just in a sound bite edited by a local news program more interested in ratings than reality. Trust me when I say this is a good thing.
But that lack of boundaries and elevation of single voices can also make everyone feel closer than they are. It makes your favorite personality, whether an author or a movie star, more accessible. You don’t have to shout at Taylor Swift from row 100, you can tweet at her, and it’s like having a conversation in the same room. On the receiving end it can make a few pointed comments feel like the entire world is coming after you. You don't know these people. Why do they care about your thoughts on the latest internets drama?
Not only does the internet blur those demarcations between friends and acquaintances it can also blur the lines of reality. And this isn’t always a good thing.
Drawing boundaries on the internet, making clear statements about what is and is not okay, should be step one for anyone joining social media. The person you follow is not always your friend. They don’t owe you a damn thing. Similarly, you don’t owe anyone anything. You always have the right to leave an uncomfortable situation. Always.
You can redefine your stance as time goes on, but it’s also important to be firm. Use the block button. Unfollow people that make you unhappy. Boundaries are good.
And they are absolutely vital when the other person is a child.
It’s important to remember that a good portion of the people on the other side of those avatars are probably kids. Especially in the YA community. After all, when you write YA your audience is first and foremost teens. That should always be taken into consideration. It is crucial you set boundaries and limits when there are kids involved. Even the smartest teen doesn’t have the life experience of a thirty year old, those extra years in which the adult has (hopefully) learned something about life and interpersonal relationships. When those boundaries start to blur, when teens act like adults and adults act like teens, it can lead to lapses in judgment and some pretty terrible outcomes. It’s only been a year since the YouTube scandal, even if we pretend like it’s been a lifetime. The things that happen when kids and adults share spaces are magnified on the internet. That is an issue, and one adults, not kids, have to be cognizant of. The onus is always on the adult.
I hope now that the dust has settled a bit (it’s settled, right? I feel like it’s settled) we can all think about our own personal boundaries and think about the boundaries of those we interact with. I guess mostly, when in doubt, treat the internet like it was real life. Be firm, be clear, and restate as necessary.
Hopefully we can all coexist a little easier.