As use of social media soars, the possibilities of communication are endless. We truly live in the age of information. Our understanding of issues such as racism, sexism, ableism and more has become completely enriched with access to a diverse sample of different lifestyles, perspectives and experiences. A knock-on effect of this has been an increase in awareness of social justice issues and inequalities in society. I believe social media is largely responsible for the recent rise of veganism, for example. People are able to connect with others that they would never have come across in person in their daily lives, and learn in ways that were never possible before.
Of course, an increased awareness of social issues leads to an increase in debates and discourse, since more people take it upon themselves to ‘call someone out’ when they say or do something deemed as problematic, or, shall we say, anti-social-justice. This can be anything from the use of a racial slur to the support of unethical businesses. Surely, the intent of ‘calling someone out’ should be to challenge their behaviour and to engage in a discourse that ultimately leads to a change in behaviour, and perhaps an apology for previous problematic behaviour. In theory, this should be a great thing, and highly progressive even. In the land of retweets and likes, however, this concept very rapidly snowballs into what is known as ‘Call Out Culture’.
Call Out Culture refers to the concept described above, but it is usually something which is made very public. On Twitter, for example, this is usually done through quote-retweeting in order to challenge someone, rather than a more subtle reply or direct message. Quote-retweeting means that you share the tweet as well as attaching your own words to it. This means that all of your followers will see what, and who, is being called out. There are pros and cons to doing this. Pros: more people will witness the discussion, leading to a larger discussion and a wider education regarding social justice. Cons: harassment, humiliation, and pile-ons. Quote-retweet call-outs usually lead to various people joining in the conversation, and this doesn’t always remain respectful and civilised. Other people ‘pile-on’, rarely adding anything of substance to the discussion. It can become a battle of belittling someone into silence. Users are quickly unable to access their social media without nastiness in their notifications.
Sometimes Call Out Culture can lead to people deleting their Twitter accounts, to many people’s delight. I’m not sure that it’s something to be entirely proud of though. Rather than an improvement in understanding, it is simply one person being shamed. People use it as an opportunity for virtue signalling, and to demonstrate just how oh-so smart they are. Despite its supposed intention to call out toxicity and problematic behaviour, Call Out Culture has become toxic and problematic in itself. Sometimes, it is rarely short of being online bullying. It becomes a meme to overtly criticise and humiliate somebody. I still see people that made mistakes literally years ago being mocked and shamed on Twitter. Sometimes an apology is not deemed good enough. This person must be punished and ridiculed for eternity. I think that eventually, in many cases, people eventually forget why they are even criticising a person. I’m not sure how progressive that really is.
I have definitely been engaged in Call Out Culture before, on all sides. I have been called out. I have called people out. I have piled on. And sometimes, I do think it is necessary. We could all do with being humbled sometimes. And if I’m behaving in a way that is harmful or oppressive, I would like to know about it so that I can stop as quickly as possible. However, nobody is perfect. Nobody came out of the womb fully clued up on social justice issues in society. We are only human, all of us. This is not to imply that we ought not to call out toxicity and problematic behaviour at all. Clearly, we cannot stand for prejudice and intolerance. If someone is being racist, intentionally or otherwise, they ought to be informed. If someone is being sexist, intentionally or otherwise, they ought to be told. There are definitely times where people are simply being prejudiced and openly so, with little to no care for who their behaviour hurts. There are times when I feel very little sympathy for those being called-out.
Sometimes, though, it really is just a case of a silly mistake. A stupid, thoughtless joke, or just plain ignorance that unfortunately leads to prejudiced beliefs. A one-to-one respectful conversation would be far more effective in these circumstances rather than a public crucifixion. Quality, not quantity. Hostility only leads to defensiveness and that means that people turn to stubbornness, an unwillingness to listen or change in order to protect their pride. What good is that for social justice and equality? Keep having debates, keep having discussions, keep questioning problematic behaviour. Stop the bullying, stop the harassment, stop the opportunistic pile-ons for likes and retweets. Let’s keep the social justice movement effective and progressive, and free from the toxicity it intends to confront.