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How a teen magazine botched a North Korea tweet and set the internet ablaze

For internet pundits, divisive opinions are the ultimate currency. Be it arguingthat an obsession with male rompers couldactually be sexist, or that the recentBachelor in Paradisescandal could co-optreality television asa vehicle usedtoexplore sexual assault, the more nuanced the angle and the greater the risk, the greater the retweets.

But what hot takes and those attracted to writing them often don’t grasp, or perhaps care to grasp, is that there are boundaries. Like maybe don’t usethe tragic death of 22-year-old University of Virginia student Otto Warmbier, who had been imprisoned in North Korea for over a year, to chime in about privilege and race.

Affinity Magazine, a “by teens, for teens, always controversial” social justice site launched in 2013, had the wrong tweet about the tragic storyand founder and Editor-in-Chief Evelyn V. Woodsen, a 20-year-old from Baltimore, is now trying to walk back from the burn. Sort of.

When Washington PostcolumnistJosh Rogin on Monday tweetedan interview with Warmbier’s roommate from his trip to North Korea, Woodsen chimed in.

“Otto Warmbier was an innocent kid tortured by an evil regime. Read my interview with his North Korea roommate here,” Rogin wrote, prefacing a link to the story.

Woodsen, however, believed Warmbier wasn’t a “kid,” nor was he “innocent,” having been detained as an adult for the alleged anti-state offense. So through the Twitter account for her publicationwhich employs more than 400 writers (though only half are active, as teens have other commitments) and averages500,000 page views per monthWoodsen struck back, writing: “Watch whiteness work. He wasn’t a ‘kid’ or ‘innocent’ you can’t go to another country and try to steal from them. Respect their laws.”

Woodsen’s opinion prompted backlash and outrage across social media. However, she insists her messages were not a show of support for North Korea, and were intended to provide context onother social justice issues.

In a second tweet, Woodsen refuted the idea that Warmbier’s death was justified, but wrote, “…the punishment was harsh, but also you have to respect the laws in other countries.”

Woodsen’s message was criticized throughout the next day by Twitter users who took issue with her attempt to further politicize the death of Warmbierand were stunnedby what appeared to be support for North Korea’s authoritativeregime. She ultimately deleted the first tweet.

Woodsen denies that any part of her message was meant to show support for North Korea, nor its treatment of Warmbier while he was imprisoned.

“We do not in anyway condone North Korea’s human rights violations or the way they callously treated Otto. Condolences to his family,” Woodsen told the Daily Dot via Twitter. “This tweet was very insensitive and the timing was very off.”

Instead, Woodsen said the tweet was meant as a critique on how we frame young Americans in the media.

“The tweet was a response to someone saying was a child and innocentimmediately I thought of all the black children like Tamir Rice who weren’t extended the same veil of being seen as a child. Tamir was only 13, and Otto is 22,” Woodsen said.

“What people don’t understand is being black in America means you always have to be cautious of your every move. Black kids are taught early don’t do anything that might get you in trouble. I wish I could have expressed that in 140 characters but I couldn’t… I just wish that people are more outraged by black people getting killed in their own country.”

Woodsen publishedseveral other tweets related to North Korea, though not necessarily tothe death of Warmbier, which she’s kept online.

Woodsenhas a point about the double standard afforded to white men. But the context in which she made her argument made little sense: North Korea’s mistreatment of Warmbier and the United States’ treatment of black peoplearen’t mutually exclusive, after all. It’s a common social media foul, fusing two (unrelated) trending stories into one false equivalence.

Woodsen effectively managed toco-opt Warmbier’s storyto promote a different political discourse. Sherefuted another person’s reality to make a point about her own.

Woodsen didn’t intend to support the systems that led to Warmbier’s death, but her assertion that he should have “respected the laws” of the country remains baffling.

It’s an argument often used against refugees and undocumented immigrants seeking solace or a better life in the U.S. For a publication focused on social justice, it made more sense for Affinity Magazine to questionthe parameters that landed Warmbier in prison. (The magazine has previously questioned the U.S. immigration system for being difficult to navigate.)

She called her publication “unfiltered media,” because she said it isn’t tethered to a parent corporation or advertisers (Woodsen said teen contributors have been able to leverage unpaid experience into opportunities with VICE, Teen Vogue, ABC, and more).As an independent news source, she saidshe feels a duty to the “overlooked” sides of a story.

“I’ve been to a number of Asian countries and I always encounter foreigners treating the countries as a dumping ground and just running wild, it’s truly disheartening. I think it makes sense, many people don’t know what’s happening in the world. Especially our teen readers, I think it’s important to highlight those issues with Affinity,” Woodsen said.

Despite being given the chance to rethink her assertion that Warmbier should have followed the rules, mimicking similar argumentsmade aboutvictims of police brutalitythat they should have acted differently to avoid being assaulted by policeWoodsen, like most internet dissenters, did not back down. She instead conflated speaking out against racial bias with putting the onus on the victim.

“I think this all relates to police brutality in America. The same way people say, ‘Hey, he should have put his hands up,’ is the same way people are saying Otto should have followed the laws. I personally think all of this discourse surrounding Otto is hypocritical. I just wish more people paid attention to the same violations happening in their country. The same way Otto was killed over a flag, Trayvon was killed over an Arizona and Skittles. I believe the fact that I am a person of color really shapes my perspective differently, but it isn’t with malice, just misunderstanding,” Woodsen said.

Affinity wasn’t the only publication called out for similar arguments made in light of Warmbier’s deathSalon, HuffPost, Bustle, and other outlets have been criticized for articles published in 2016 after the student’s arrest, their posts pointing to Warmbier’s perceived naivety, rooted in upper-class privilege.

But during our exchange, Woodsen seemed to grasp at straws. By invoking ongoing societal perils, she tried to bolster the context of her doomed tweets.

She also asserted that it was Twitter’s architecture of 140-character thoughtsthe medium is always the dissenter’s friend until it isn’tthat prevented her from fully explaining how police brutality and white privilege related to Warmbier’s death. She said she deleted the tweets she did because she feltit was the right thing to do.

In the meantime, Twitter continues to do what it does best: Call out Affinity’s insensitive logic until another more controversial take comes along.

Read more: https://www.dailydot.com/irl/affinity-magazine-north-korea-otto-warmbier/

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