What Do We Mean By ‘Cancelled’?

Online criticism takes many forms & has many purposes, and we confuse them to our peril.

The differences fall upon several dimensions:

  • is the target a public person (such as a celebrity) or a private person?
  • is the criticism an illustration for the purpose of discussion, or do we want to motivate some kind of action?
  • if we want to motivate action, are we trying to spread awareness so that people can individually decide whether they want to support someone, or are we trying to organize a no-platforming campaign? Or, are we looking to inform authorities of a crime? Or are we trying to minimize future harm in the face of a pattern of abuse by informing people who might otherwise become victims?
  • are we condemning an action as foolish, or as malicious? Are we condemning it as dangerous?

While it’s possible for a particular person to intend a particular instance of ‘cancellation’ to fall anywhere on any of these spectra, there are natural clusters. For instance, a public person who spreads dangerous disinformation with malicious intent will justify a no-platforming campaign; a public or private person who commits a dangerous crime (whether out of ignorance or malice) in the course of their work will tend to have their bosses informed; a private person who acts foolishly will generally merely be the subject of discourse.

There is a lucrative industry specializing in misinterpreting all forms of ‘cancellation’ as the most extreme form: the no-platforming and firing of private persons for foolishness. We should be careful to talk about cancellation in such a way that these folks find this misrepresentation more difficult, and in such a way that people who don’t understand the nuances (and perhaps have lent their ears to this particular brand of huckster, coming away with misconceptions) will not easily misunderstand our intent.

(Adapted from a thread)

Written by

Resident hypertext crank. Author of Big and Small Computing: Trajectories for the Future of Software. http://www.lord-enki.net

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