So-Called “Cancel Culture”, Social Media and Bullying

I’m not a huge believer in the so-called “Cancel Culture” thing but I periodically see the Twitterverse explode on someone. I have heard of Doxxing and seen reports of groups of demonstrators going to homes of political leaders or interrupting their private gathering at restaurants.

First amendment issues aside, do these behaviors meet a reasonable definition of “bullying?”

To me, it seems like they do. Am I missing something?

I would probably use the word “harassment” but I tend to agree. I tend to think of bullying as intimidation for its own sake, though these people generally have what they perceive to be a moral mission. I think it crosses a line to invade a politician’s private space with public issues. If they want to protest in front of the Capitol, OK, but if they trespass on a state official’s lawn, not so much. (In the cited case they were probably fully expecting to be arrested. They might cite civil disobedience, but if they did I would disagree. This is not Rosa Parks refusing to sit in the back of the bus.)

You are lumping a wide variety of behaviors together under one umbrella. Do you see all these behaviors as morally equivalent:

  1. The CEO of Goya heaps praise on Donald Trump. Because I believe that Trump has actively encouraged racism against Latinx people, I find this particularly repugnant and do not wish to engage in activities that contribute to the wealth of a man whose financial success rests largely on the purchases of the very people Trump has denigrated. I exercise my choice to stop buying Goya products and encourage my like-minded friends to do the same.

  2. An anonymous individual on the internet makes statements that make me, and a lot of other people, very angry. After a little sleuthing I find their personal information, including full name and address, and I make this information widely available to everyone with an internet connection.

  3. A powerful decision-maker whose policies I believe have directly and knowingly contributed to the death of thousands of innocent people dines at a restaurant where I am employed. My fellow employees and I ask the owner to please request the diner to go elsewhere.

  4. I am a diner at the same restaurant as that powerful decision-maker whose policies I believe have directly and knowingly contributed to the death of thousands of innocent people. I accost their party and make a huge scene.

  5. I go to the house of a government official who is personally responsible for policies that harm children, and leave dog poop on their doorstep.

I don’t see these acts as automatically carrying the same moral weight, though I am in agreement with Thoreau on the acceptability of illegal actions against an unjust government. If it it just some ditzy celebrity spouting ill-informed support for a moronic politician, unpleasant actions against that individual are probably harder to defend.

  1. OK
  2. Not OK
  3. OK (e.g., see Red Hen)
  4. Not OK
  5. Not OK

For myself, I’m likely to establish the same parameters for behavior as CookingWithGas. But in certain circumstances I might support others who make different choices.

For example, let’s say a low-level security officer at an immigrant detention facility has personally witnessed child abuse there. Complaining to the person in charge yielded no results.

If that person chose to put dog poop on the front steps of the PIC, get arrested for it, and use the arrest as an opportunity for a coordinated outcry against inhumane policies, then I would see that individual’s actions as admirable.

I can see that, and it’s a grayish area, but I would also think that demonstrating in front of the facility, even to the point of disruption and possibly getting arrested, might make the point as well.

How about, on Scenario 2, you call this person names and issue threats? Bullying or no?

I agree, essentially, with CookingwithGas, up to the dog poop.

Of course it is bullying. Even if I don’t do it personally - but my actions lead directly to someone else doing it - I bear responsibility.

But I don’t consider that all “cancel culture” is bullying. The people who organize not to buy Goya? That’s totally an exercise of their freedom to chose what brands they buy, for whatever reasons are important to them. I find it laughable to hear people complain that by doing so they are infringing on the first amendment rights of Robert Unanue (CEO of Goya). The first amendment works in both directions, folks.

Or maybe your terms need to be more clearly defined. Perhaps you don’t think the boycott of Goya should be included in cancel culture?

My apologies. I don’t consider a corporate boycott “bullying.” I’m not a believer in boycotts as effective tools, but, as they say, it is a free country and you can boycott Goya or Chic-fil-a or Starbucks to your heart’s content.

Calling them names is rude. Issuing threats, depending on the threats, may be criminal.

I agree with you. But, insofar as I understand the term (and maybe I don’t fully), “cancel culture” includes things like boycotts. If so, we would agree that not all cancel culture equates to bullying - just some of it.

If Victim did what Rando The Cancellor alleges, then it’s a form of social justice and probably more reliable than our current official system. It ain’t libel/slander if it’s true. So it’s not bullying any more than being arrested and sent to jail for violating a law is being bullied. Want to exercise your right to free speech? Do so. Just please don’t start crying when you have to deal with what others think about what you said–reflect on what you said and either apologize or double down.

I agree with that. Corporate boycotts were not part of the examples in the OP and I thought I mentioned that earlier. I think boycotts, however misguided or futile, are a different deal.

Doxxing is actually something I struggle with morally. On one hand, I think there is value in being able to say things you want to say, but would get in trouble for. You can express how you really feel a lot better if you are anonymous.

But, on the other hand, I think that social consequences are what put limits on the level of hateful toxicity people would engage in. And not just the bad people who lack empathy but are restrained due to societal norms. But just general you and me, and how much meaner we can wind up being when angry, because that additional limit isn’t there.

I know that angry me on Facebook is much, much more restrained than angry me here–to the point that I come off like an idiot here at times. On the other hand, I can much more easily say how I really feel here, without worrying that anyone taking it out of context or misunderstanding will actually impact me in any real way.

So it seems to me that there must be some point where the damage of doxxing, while great, is less than the damage of allowing things to continue as is. But I can’t for the life of me figure out where that would actually be.

Maybe at those who issue threats? But I could also argue that it should law enforcement who actually outs them–and we just report. But, then again, law enforcement is having trust issues right now, to say the least.

That said, I don’t tend to consider that when I think about so-called “cancel culture.” The term is more used for those who are already in the public eye, in my experience. And it refers to people just voicing criticisms, or choosing who to support.

Harassment, violent threats, and doxxing are in a separate category, and only the latter am I ambivalent at all about.

Yikes. Did you never attend high school? ‘Social justice’ doesn’t come with presumption of innocence and there is no concept that the punishment should fit the crime. Mobs are seldom reasonable or proportionate in their actions and this applies equally to online mobs. Bullying isn’t justice.

I don’t see it as bullying, as it usually is quite the opposite, it is the ones not in power are grouping together to stand up to the one in power. In other words it’s people who have been bullied enough, and banding together to stand up against the bully.

In some cases maybe, but by no means are the victims always powerful or even particularly famous. There was a decent article about cancel culture recently in the Sun of all places:

A good TED talk here about the menace of outraged online mobs and the damage they can do. 17 minutes long, but people who favor mob “justice” ought to take the time to watch it.

Thanks for sharing that. Very timely despite it being 5 years old.

The same guy wrote a book, So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed.

Edited to add, here is a New York Times Magazine article (paywall warning) that is an excerpt from the book and tells the story of one person who was publicly shamed.