Bloggers have tons of tools at their disposal for promoting content, for engaging in conversation, for working through some of the tricky issues that emerge. There is a great community for seeking feedback from, for getting knowledge from, and for connecting, period. The collective knowledge and experience and the willingness for people to share and talk with one another is precisely what makes this a community.
But repeatedly — repeatedly — people talk about how the YA blogging community has a not-so-good reputation. That because of the drama surrounding any number of different things, this community is somehow poorly seen, poorly valued. That because issues come up and rather than talk about them, the community reacts, rather than reflects.
I don’t necessarily think that there’s a poor reputation about bloggers, specifically YA bloggers, but I do think some who do blog in this corner of the internet like to think there is. They enjoy being part of the drama and they enjoy driving it forward, rather than talking about it. There are certainly people in the blogging world who love talking about issues, who love pulling them apart and thinking about them critically before reacting. But for some, the thrill is in acting, rather than in digesting. That, in my mind, is where the problem lies.
There’s a lengthy and thoughtful post over at Smart Bitches, Trashy Books about a recent discovery of potential plagiarism in the YA blogging world, along with relevant links. But this isn’t really about that. This is much more about the reaction following that blog post. I’ve been watching both the comments and my Twitter stream with fascination this morning, as people have begun sharing their personal feelings about the blogger very openly. They’ve accused this person of everything under the sun, whether fairly or not, and the person has yet had a chance to defend herself. In psychology and communication, this behavior of bringing everything up at once is called kitchen sinking — rather than stick to discussing the issue at hand in a problematic situation, every other concern is pulled out and thrown down. It’s a pretty destructive communication method because it breaks away from the original problem at hand. The issue here is plagiarism.
The other problem — the one I think is worth talking about once the person in question gets a chance to respond as she needs to — is that some have taken this as an opportunity to be happy. To celebrate someone’s potential fault, their potential crash. Not everyone has. But what could and should be a legitimate discussion of plagiarism has turned into a way for some other people to share their feelings about a person and their work in a way that is unconstructive. That’s just straight mean and childish, even. Rather than discussing the real consequences and problems of plagiarism and using this as a jumping off point, some have instead turned to celebration.
If you’ve wondered why YA blogging can sometimes get the reputation it does, why people believe there is even a reputation, this may be all you need to know. When a valid and important topic worth having a dialog about emerges, so often it devolves, turning into mud-slinging, rather than discussion. Drama, rather than discourse. Having all of these tools at our disposal to have these conversations turn into means for guessing, assuming, devaluing.
I hate watching it so, so much.
Twitter and blog commenting may seem like they’re private forums, wherein we can have these conversations because we’re communicating among friends, but remember: they’re public. They’re not a private discussion with a person. These things are open and accessible. Remember what happened earlier this year when discussion about a book review on Goodreads was believed to be a private conversation between an agent and an author? What was intended to be private and an opportunity to vent turned into a public reviewer discussion which hurt everyone involved — author, agent, reviewer, friends of all parties — either directly or indirectly. The same thing happens when it’s a member of our own community. Your messages are still public. These comments reflect not only on you, but on the community as a whole.
I do not for any reason believe we should hide things when they’re found to be true. If the plagiarism accusation is accurate, I absolutely believe it needs to be addressed, and I believe the blogger in question needs to address it publicly on her blog. I believe bloggers have a responsibility to own their actions and their words. I believe being honest about this situation is necessary and proves point and for all that plagiarism is a big thing. But what I don’t believe is that this is an opportunity — that any big issue like this is an opportunity — to trash talk someone so openly. To celebrate their making a mistake.
When we do that, all we do is continue perpetuating a reputation, whether we want to or not. And for a community that wants to be taken as legitimate, as professional, as a real tool in the book world, we have a responsibility to speak only when we have something thoughtful to add to conversation.
Kelly Jensen is a former librarian turned editor for Book Riot. She's the author of IT HAPPENS: A Guide to Contemporary Realistic Fiction for the YA Reader and the forthcoming Feminism For The Real World (Algonquin Young Readers, Spring 2017).