Cancel culture

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secret squirrel
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Re: Cancel culture

Post by secret squirrel » Fri Jul 10, 2020 4:05 am

lpm wrote:
Thu Jul 09, 2020 6:24 pm
There are absolutely 100% orchestrated mobs, who collate behind the scenes and organise concerted attacks. It includes emails and in-person action. For example, the petition re. Steven Pinker wasn't conducted on twitter.

I'm surprised so many people are minimising it, given those who will lose the most will always be the most vulnerable or isolated or powerless fragments of the population.
The petition against Pinker was certainly orchestrated, but it was hardly a mob. I don't see anything wrong with a group of professionals organizing to send a letter to their own professional body asking them to reconsider their professional relationship with someone. You don't have to agree with their argument, but if you can articulate a principled defense of Pinker's right to free expression that doesn't cover this kind of thing too then I'd like to hear it.

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Re: Cancel culture

Post by lpm » Fri Jul 10, 2020 7:27 am

Freedom of speech around the world is subject to restrictions in democracies. These typically would include:

- protecting the reputation of citizens
- prevention of disorder or crime
- national security
- privacy, e.g. medical records
- copyright
- judiciary/perjury
- obscenity

In the UK, hate speech laws outlaw "threatening, abusive or insulting words or behaviour that causes, or is likely to cause, another person harassment, alarm or distress”. It covers racist, religious, sexuality etc hate. In the UK, the communications act outlaws the sending on the "public electronic communications network" messages that are considered "grossly offensive, or of an indecent, obscene or menacing character."

I don't think this is as challenging as you make out. It would be fairly easy to make an argument giving someone like Steven Pinker free expression, while simultaneously denying a group of his opponents freedom of expression, on the grounds of being intended as harassing, or being likely to cause distress, or being menacing, or obscene abuse, or to protect his reputation. This lies squarely within the grey area - would need to be looked at case by case - rather than there being some magic rule that requires the award of identical freedoms of expression.
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Stephanie
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Re: Cancel culture

Post by Stephanie » Fri Jul 10, 2020 7:29 am

Millennie Al wrote:
Fri Jul 10, 2020 1:42 am
Stephanie wrote:
Wed Jul 08, 2020 3:27 pm
So what meaning of "you reap what you sow" do you think he meant in this context?
It seems that the situation is rather more complex than portrayed. Ash Sarkar is known for humour - it's mentioned on her Wikipedia page, and she has said things which she would have known (and likely intended) would wind up people who disagree with her views, such as racists and right-wingers. In the incident in question she posted a photo of her eating an orange lolly with three orange symbols. This was just after three people were murdered in a knife attack in Reading and it appears that some people thought that the three oranges symbolised the three murder victims and the photo of her enjoying herself was some sort of endorsement of the murders. If someone thinks that she has been deliberately ambiguous to be provocative in the past, they might view this misunderstanding of her tweet as only to be expected for not previously being entirely humourlessly plain and direct in her tweets (I'm not familiar with her tweets, so I cannot say if she has been ambiguously provocative in them in the past). That might be what was meant by "you reap what you sow". It might be observational rather than malicious or gloating.

See https://mobile.twitter.com/AyoCaesar/st ... 29/photo/1

But regardless, Twitter should never be more than a starting point for a discussion as it does not provide space for carefully presented arguments - nor carefully presented responses. It's very nature makes for grotesque oversimplification.
The photo was taken before anything occurred so only in the minds of fevered conspiracy racists could it mean anything about the attacks.
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El Pollo Diablo
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Re: Cancel culture

Post by El Pollo Diablo » Fri Jul 10, 2020 7:40 am

Millennie Al wrote:
Fri Jul 10, 2020 1:51 am
El Pollo Diablo wrote:
Thu Jul 09, 2020 8:19 am
Edit: Just another point - you might not like it, but someone writing to an employer, whether officially or on twitter, demanding they be fired is itself freedom of speech. The employer is free to acquiesce, investigate, refuse or ignore them. Or are you saying that freedom of speech should only apply to people who write extraordinarily popular books about wizards?
Obviously the making of the demand is exercising freedom of speech, and no supporter of freedom of speech can condemn it without hypocrisy, but the employer taking action, unless that action consists solely of speech, is not exercising freedom of speech, so a supporter of freedom of speech can consistently claim that an employer disciplining or firing an employee solely because of something they said - even if it resulted in numerous complaints - is infringing freedom of speech.
Indeed. But this is where the interplay between capitalism and free speech comes in. Employers are concerned about their reputation, their ability to make money, whether from customers, other businesses, sponsors, etc. Sometimes overly so.

Freedom of speech isn't freedom from the consequences of speech. Being fired because an employer deemed something you said to be gross misconduct or whatever isn't infringing on free speech - people are still free to say things if they want to - but it might provide some consequences for doing so.

Obviously, not if you're a billionaire author of wizard fiction with three films to go of a thirteen film franchise, an immensely popular stage show, a huge readership and lots of followers on twitter, of course. It's hard to really get cancelled in that position - unless you count some meanies on fan website taking your photo down as being "cancelled". Which apparently she does. Even though it isn't.
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Re: Cancel culture

Post by El Pollo Diablo » Fri Jul 10, 2020 7:52 am

lpm wrote:
Fri Jul 10, 2020 7:27 am
Freedom of speech around the world is subject to restrictions in democracies. These typically would include:

- protecting the reputation of citizens
- prevention of disorder or crime
- national security
- privacy, e.g. medical records
- copyright
- judiciary/perjury
- obscenity

In the UK, hate speech laws outlaw "threatening, abusive or insulting words or behaviour that causes, or is likely to cause, another person harassment, alarm or distress”. It covers racist, religious, sexuality etc hate. In the UK, the communications act outlaws the sending on the "public electronic communications network" messages that are considered "grossly offensive, or of an indecent, obscene or menacing character."

I don't think this is as challenging as you make out. It would be fairly easy to make an argument giving someone like Steven Pinker free expression, while simultaneously denying a group of his opponents freedom of expression, on the grounds of being intended as harassing, or being likely to cause distress, or being menacing, or obscene abuse, or to protect his reputation. This lies squarely within the grey area - would need to be looked at case by case - rather than there being some magic rule that requires the award of identical freedoms of expression.
Cool. So, I, the Prime Minister, am therefore free to say that Robert Jenrick can talk to whoever he wants, regardless of conflicts of interest or the apparence of corruption, because of freedom of speech. Our opponents who called for his resignation are just mean harassers who want to harass him and make him feel harassed. The meanies. Because they're just harassy harassers, I'm going to ignore them. Case closed, job done, let's all quaff some absinthe.

However, it is absolutely right that Rebecca Long-Bailey be sacked for insufficiently handling a link to an article where someone was implicitly and unintentionally anti-semitic. Labour really do have a problem with this stuff, and we mustn't have the stain of this stuff on the political scene.

Grey areas are fun.

Your reference to hate speech legislation doesn't really work. The hate speech needs to be both "threatening, abusive or insulting" and "likely to cause another person harassment, alarm or distress". The Pinker letter fails on the first one. Calls for Jenrick to resign fail on the first one too.

It is strange to see you make such consistently poor arguments.
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Re: Cancel culture

Post by Stephanie » Fri Jul 10, 2020 8:20 am

Apologies, I've realised I accidentally locked this thread. I replied to a post here on my phone, went off to do yoga, found an interesting thread on twitter, came back to share and thought "what happened, why is this thread locked?". Checked the logs and saw I'd done it. Not at all sure how, but I'm really sorry!

Anyway, hopefully unlocked now, and here's the thread I read that I thought was interesting:

https://twitter.com/Millicentsomer/stat ... 34753?s=19
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lpm
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Re: Cancel culture

Post by lpm » Fri Jul 10, 2020 8:29 am

El Pollo Diablo wrote:
Fri Jul 10, 2020 7:52 am
lpm wrote:
Fri Jul 10, 2020 7:27 am
Freedom of speech around the world is subject to restrictions in democracies. These typically would include:

- protecting the reputation of citizens
- prevention of disorder or crime
- national security
- privacy, e.g. medical records
- copyright
- judiciary/perjury
- obscenity

In the UK, hate speech laws outlaw "threatening, abusive or insulting words or behaviour that causes, or is likely to cause, another person harassment, alarm or distress”. It covers racist, religious, sexuality etc hate. In the UK, the communications act outlaws the sending on the "public electronic communications network" messages that are considered "grossly offensive, or of an indecent, obscene or menacing character."

I don't think this is as challenging as you make out. It would be fairly easy to make an argument giving someone like Steven Pinker free expression, while simultaneously denying a group of his opponents freedom of expression, on the grounds of being intended as harassing, or being likely to cause distress, or being menacing, or obscene abuse, or to protect his reputation. This lies squarely within the grey area - would need to be looked at case by case - rather than there being some magic rule that requires the award of identical freedoms of expression.
Cool. So, I, the Prime Minister, am therefore free to say that Robert Jenrick can talk to whoever he wants, regardless of conflicts of interest or the apparence of corruption, because of freedom of speech. Our opponents who called for his resignation are just mean harassers who want to harass him and make him feel harassed. The meanies. Because they're just harassy harassers, I'm going to ignore them. Case closed, job done, let's all quaff some absinthe.

However, it is absolutely right that Rebecca Long-Bailey be sacked for insufficiently handling a link to an article where someone was implicitly and unintentionally anti-semitic. Labour really do have a problem with this stuff, and we mustn't have the stain of this stuff on the political scene.

Grey areas are fun.

Your reference to hate speech legislation doesn't really work. The hate speech needs to be both "threatening, abusive or insulting" and "likely to cause another person harassment, alarm or distress". The Pinker letter fails on the first one. Calls for Jenrick to resign fail on the first one too.

It is strange to see you make such consistently poor arguments.
But you've just repeated my argument! You've said just what I said. When it's in the grey area, you have to look at it case-by-case. You are disagreeing with secret squirrel, who seemed to imply it would be hard to defend an individual's right to free expression without extending that freedom to cover all others.

I sure it was an accidental agreeing with me. Don't worry, I won't tell anyone.
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Re: Cancel culture

Post by lpm » Fri Jul 10, 2020 8:31 am

Stephanie wrote:
Fri Jul 10, 2020 8:20 am
Apologies, I've realised I accidentally locked this thread.
It didn't matter, EPD was still able to post, and he was quite happy to sit in here alone talking to himself.
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Re: Cancel culture

Post by bob sterman » Fri Jul 10, 2020 9:09 am

lpm wrote:
Fri Jul 10, 2020 7:27 am
Freedom of speech around the world is subject to restrictions in democracies. These typically would include:

- protecting the reputation of citizens
- prevention of disorder or crime
- national security
- privacy, e.g. medical records
- copyright
- judiciary/perjury
- obscenity
In the UK (as in much of Europe) we've added an extra restriction not present in some other countries - "protection of morals".
Article 10 of the Human Rights Act: Freedom of expression

1) Everyone has the right to freedom of expression. This right shall include freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impart information and ideas without interference by public authority and regardless of frontiers. This Article shall not prevent States from requiring the licensing of broadcasting, television or cinema enterprises.

2) The exercise of these freedoms, since it carries with it duties and responsibilities, may be subject to such formalities, conditions, restrictions or penalties as are prescribed by law and are necessary in a democratic society, in the interests of national security, territorial integrity or public safety, for the prevention of disorder or crime, for the protection of health or morals, for the protection of the reputation or rights of others, for preventing the disclosure of information received in confidence, or for maintaining the authority and impartiality of the judiciary.
Given the changing and subjective nature of "morals" this allows for restrictions on all sorts of things that might be permitted in other jurisdictions.

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Woodchopper
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Re: Cancel culture

Post by Woodchopper » Fri Jul 10, 2020 9:11 am

I think that the talk about rights is a bit of a distraction. Of course someone has a right to call for another person to be removed from Twitter, not invited on TV or even sacked etc.

The discussion is about norms - what behaviour is considered to be reasonable or unreasonable. Most of the time people don't exercise all of their rights to free speech, because in some contexts to do so would be to behave like an a..hole.

There will likely be negative consequences from a call to 'cancel' someone - eg loss of income for some people, public humiliation, stress and anxiety (especially if they may be fired). Those consequences may be reasonable if that person has done something despicable. But if they haven't then 'cancelling' is unreasonable.

The question is where normatively we draw the line.

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Woodchopper
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Re: Cancel culture

Post by Woodchopper » Fri Jul 10, 2020 9:14 am

plodder wrote:
Thu Jul 09, 2020 7:12 pm
lpm wrote:
Thu Jul 09, 2020 6:24 pm
There are absolutely 100% orchestrated mobs, who collate behind the scenes and organise concerted attacks. It includes emails and in-person action. For example, the petition re. Steven Pinker wasn't conducted on twitter.

I'm surprised so many people are minimising it, given those who will lose the most will always be the most vulnerable or isolated or powerless fragments of the population.
Yes, there’s some really dreadful behaviour.
Yes and there are also examples of the orchestrated use of thousands of fake accounts to amplify attacks on individuals.

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Re: Cancel culture

Post by secret squirrel » Fri Jul 10, 2020 9:16 am

lpm wrote:
Fri Jul 10, 2020 8:29 am
But you've just repeated my argument! You've said just what I said. When it's in the grey area, you have to look at it case-by-case. You are disagreeing with secret squirrel, who seemed to imply it would be hard to defend an individual's right to free expression without extending that freedom to cover all others.

I sure it was an accidental agreeing with me. Don't worry, I won't tell anyone.
We're not talking about 'all other' situations though. We're talking here about the specific situation of a group of professionals writing to their professional body to explain why they think that body should reconsider its honouring of a particular person.

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Re: Cancel culture

Post by Woodchopper » Fri Jul 10, 2020 9:30 am

Bewildered wrote:
Thu Jul 09, 2020 11:06 am
Tessa K wrote:
Wed Jul 08, 2020 12:10 pm


On no-platforming: It's not as if people are being denied any public access at all. Refusing to debate someone doesn't silence them entirely and it is better to have opinions out in public where they can be countered if necessary. I wouldn't debate a Creationist for example because that would imply some parity between their beliefs and science but that doesn't stop them spreading their beliefs elsewhere.
This is entirely correct, but I feel like it ignores far more than it addresses. yes no platformimg is not censorship and they can speak in other ways, but it does inhibit the free flow of ideas and control them in ways that do not really depend on the correctness of those ideas. It may be easy to think it is fine because they can communicate in other ways and important to deny bigotted views a platform when it is ideas you hate that are having the oxygen removed from them. However when it is ideas you support, or literally yourself, you may well feel that this strategy can be appllied to any ideas and is a dangerous way for a minority of people to prevent ideas they dislike from getting the exposure they need.
That's an important point.

If people who hold certain beliefs are excluded then the the people who share those views are less likely to hear different points of view. The problem is that people who have been excluded won't be quiet. Instead they'll find ways to talk to each other, and add a belief that they've been persecuted. If views are held by a large proportion of society the'll get their own newspapers and TV channels etc with associated celebrities (eg Fox News).

I'm not suggesting that every view is acceptable. I support excluding extremists (eg lets not include holocaust deniers in discussions on history). But if certain views are already widespread then 'cancelling' people who hold such views from some media outlets may mean that their audience just switches to other outlets where there are far fewer opportunities to see counter-arguments.

The end result may be more polarization.

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Re: Cancel culture

Post by Woodchopper » Fri Jul 10, 2020 9:37 am

Tessa K wrote:
Thu Jul 09, 2020 12:16 pm
Bewildered wrote:
Thu Jul 09, 2020 11:18 am
Tessa K wrote:
Wed Jul 08, 2020 6:34 pm

And perhaps people who want to express what they know will be contentious opinions should choose more carefully what medium they express them in. Twitter is never going to be a good place for any opinion that requires space for nuance and clarification. Anyone posting there surely knows by now what kind of response they will get, rightly or wrongly. If you're any kind of communicator as a career, judging the audience is/should be part of your skillset. The climate at the moment has reached fever pitch and anyone stoking the flames shouldn't be surprised when they get burnt. That doesn't mean it's right but it's disingenuous to Tweet and then flap your hands in horror.
I am not sure if you intend it this way, but this seems to be expressing a very similar sentiment to the tweet LPM brought up "reap what you sow"

I think people on twitter should not feel it is their own fault if they mis-speak and then get twitter-mobbed and lose their job, suffer an absurd amount of stress etc. i do think people, especially people in power and influence, should be careful about what they write and how it may affect others. Indeed twitter mobbing is just another example of how words can harm, as are the many of the things the mobs are complaining about.
No, that wasn't my intention. I meant that people need to be more aware of the likely responses to their words, think VERY carefully about how they frame their opinions, what words they choose and so on rather than just posting their first thoughts and then acting surprised. I am most definitely not in favour of Twitter mobs

There should be a social media equivalent of the carpentry/dressmaking advice: measure twice, cut once.
I'm not sure what you mean here. But we should avoid victim blaming.

If someone receives receives abuse on Twitter then in principle its no different to anywhere else. The fault always lies with the abuser. Especially given that so much of the most vile abuse is directed at women we shouldn't suggest that the victims are in some way responsible for that abuse because they went somewhere or behaved in a way that others found to be provocative.

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Re: Cancel culture

Post by lpm » Fri Jul 10, 2020 9:45 am

secret squirrel wrote:
Fri Jul 10, 2020 9:16 am
lpm wrote:
Fri Jul 10, 2020 8:29 am
But you've just repeated my argument! You've said just what I said. When it's in the grey area, you have to look at it case-by-case. You are disagreeing with secret squirrel, who seemed to imply it would be hard to defend an individual's right to free expression without extending that freedom to cover all others.

I sure it was an accidental agreeing with me. Don't worry, I won't tell anyone.
We're not talking about 'all other' situations though. We're talking here about the specific situation of a group of professionals writing to their professional body to explain why they think that body should reconsider its honouring of a particular person.
Yes. But it could be:

Professor P says X
Group says X is racist and the professional body should expel members who write racist tweets
We look into the case, find that X was racist, and seek to limit Prof P's freedom to write racist tweets

Or it could be:

Professor P says X
Group says X is racist and the professional body should expel members who write racist tweets
We look into the case, find that X was not racist, and seek to limit the group's freedom to libel someone's reputation

Given the practical issues and the risk of disproportionate punishment, it seems highly unlikely that a group petition like this would be justified against a professor whose job is basically to explore outside the box and who typically seeks out enormous quantities of data rather than merely spewing out claims. The group should certainly need to come up with better examples than "he said 'urban crime' which is a racist dog whistle" - if only because crying wolf reduces later power to cry about actual wolves.

When JK Rowling wrote a 3,692 word article, there were people on this forum who wanted to ignore it and concentrate on 280 character tweets. Pinker has written two notoriously fat books packed with evidence for his arguments, yet this petition appears to have sought out clumsy or hasty tweets (going back to 2015 in their dredging operation). No matter how careless the wording of a tweet, it's a valid argument to say US police shoot too many people and recommend people read an article on whether African-Americans are being killed disproportionately. It is always valid to tweet a link to an opinion piece in the NY Times written by someone else. How can anyone find the following tweet to be evidence of racism (for context, Lawrence Bobo is black and presumably appreciated getting a plug for his article):
Steven Pinker wrote:Harvard Social Science Dean Lawrence Bobo did the research I’ve cited on the decline of overt racism in the US. Here he reflects (w cautious optimism) on race relations in the the context of police killings of black men https://news.harvard.edu/gazette/story/ ... black-men/ via @Harvard.
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Re: Cancel culture

Post by warumich » Fri Jul 10, 2020 9:51 am

Hi, sorry I haven't read most of this thread, so I might be repeating some stuff, or waffling off topic, or something. I suppose that demonstrates that being able to say anything you like is one thing, but it doesn't mean people will listen to you...


Anyway, this whole thing made me think of an anecdote from a couple of years ago, which I will then skillfully weave into a larger point that I hope makes some sense.

My uni, god knows what possessed them, had invited Katie Hopkins to give a talk. She was then at the height of her infamy, with a column in the Mail and what not, and fresh off from some controversy about not letting her children play with anyone called Keisha or something. Anyway, our student union wasn't particularly pleased, but instead of lobbying to have it cancelled, en masse applied for tickets for the event and then on the day turned their back and then walked out as soon as Hopkins opened her mouth. It was glorious, I was so proud of our kids. And of course, Hopkins used her newspaper column to complain about how she was being cancelled, and her right to free speech and yadda yadda.

So of course Hopkins was not stopped from making her points in general, she was only stopped from making her points on the day. My students, on the other hand, only managed to make their points because of this stunt, which then led to a few of their quotes and viewpoints being published in non-Mail newspapers. If they hadn't done this, their viewpoints would have been confined to the room on the day, but never found wider purchase. On top of that, on the day, it would have been highly unlikely to have been an edifying discussion between Katie and our students, more like a monologue from her on the podium, with our students being confined to quips from the audience.

And that is the real cancelling that is happening. Free flow of ideas is all dandy in theory, but like the spherical cow in the physics joke, it's an idealised situation that makes the theorising easy but is never actually encountered in real life. Because the free flow of ideas is subsumed into the wider network of power structures within society, and this constrains the effectiveness of free speech just as monopolies and cartels etc constrain the in-theory fantastic spherical cows of the free market. We are one of the most diverse pre-92 universities in the country, our kids have names like Keisha, and Ali and Taiwo and Nando. We're not Oxford, and our students will not waltz easily into positions of influence in later life, they have to find creative ways of making their points heard. Cancel culture, or non-platforming are by themselves a way of exercising free speech because this quite often is the only way some people - people called Keisha - have of bringing their concerns onto the agenda.


When people talk about 18th century Habermassian coffee houses as the birthplace of civil society and free speech and all that, it is often forgotten that we needed the right social infrastructure to make it happen in the first place. And that means not just building coffee houses, but also having a wider network that ensures people can participate in that culture and the the discussions that happen there don't just stay there but find purchase in the wider political sphere. And Habermas' coffee houses had always been spherical cows to begin with, because they excluded a large section of society, not to mention the enslaved and colonised people who produced the coffee and the sugar that was consumed there. As a theoretical sociologist, Habermas was interested not so much in the actual history, but the theorising on what is needed to produce civil discourse, so I don't necessarily fault him here, and he is of course only one of several free speech theorists people have build their gospel around. But by idolizing these theorists, people tend to forget that free speech is not an end in itself, but a tool to build a better society, and there are major assumptions being made about what "free flow of ideas" is, should be, and realistically is able to achieve, that are rarely scrutinized further, not theoretically (because nobody outside my profession reads all 900 pages of "the theory of communicative action"), and certainly not empirically.

And even with all that, without the physical and cultural infrastructure to make it happen, no free speech. We're at the moment in a place where the contours of this infrastructure is being debated and drawn up, and we are in danger of ending up with coffee houses for some, and gin dens for the rest of us. If the denizens of the gin dens are to be heard, the people in the coffee houses need to shut up and listen once in a while.
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Re: Cancel culture

Post by secret squirrel » Fri Jul 10, 2020 9:56 am

lpm wrote:
Fri Jul 10, 2020 9:45 am
secret squirrel wrote:
Fri Jul 10, 2020 9:16 am
lpm wrote:
Fri Jul 10, 2020 8:29 am
But you've just repeated my argument! You've said just what I said. When it's in the grey area, you have to look at it case-by-case. You are disagreeing with secret squirrel, who seemed to imply it would be hard to defend an individual's right to free expression without extending that freedom to cover all others.

I sure it was an accidental agreeing with me. Don't worry, I won't tell anyone.
We're not talking about 'all other' situations though. We're talking here about the specific situation of a group of professionals writing to their professional body to explain why they think that body should reconsider its honouring of a particular person.
Yes. But it could be:

Professor P says X
Group says X is racist and the professional body should expel members who write racist tweets
We look into the case, find that X was racist, and seek to limit Prof P's freedom to write racist tweets

Or it could be:

Professor P says X
Group says X is racist and the professional body should expel members who write racist tweets
We look into the case, find that X was not racist, and seek to limit the group's freedom to libel someone's reputation

Given the practical issues and the risk of disproportionate punishment, it seems highly unlikely that a group petition like this would be justified against a professor whose job is basically to explore outside the box and who typically seeks out enormous quantities of data rather than merely spewing out claims. The group should certainly need to come up with better examples than "he said 'urban crime' which is a racist dog whistle" - if only because crying wolf reduces later power to cry about actual wolves.

When JK Rowling wrote a 3,692 word article, there were people on this forum who wanted to ignore it and concentrate on 280 character tweets. Pinker has written two notoriously fat books packed with evidence for his arguments, yet this petition appears to have sought out clumsy or hasty tweets (going back to 2015 in their dredging operation). No matter how careless the wording of a tweet, it's a valid argument to say US police shoot too many people and recommend people read an article on whether African-Americans are being killed disproportionately. It is always valid to tweet a link to an opinion piece in the NY Times written by someone else. How can anyone find the following tweet to be evidence of racism (for context, Lawrence Bobo is black and presumably appreciated getting a plug for his article):
Steven Pinker wrote:Harvard Social Science Dean Lawrence Bobo did the research I’ve cited on the decline of overt racism in the US. Here he reflects (w cautious optimism) on race relations in the the context of police killings of black men https://news.harvard.edu/gazette/story/ ... black-men/ via @Harvard.
Pinker's books are notoriously bad scholarship, but that's a different topic. The point is that whatever the merits of the case against Pinker made in the letter, there's nothing wrong with trying to put a case forward in that way.

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Re: Cancel culture

Post by Tessa K » Fri Jul 10, 2020 10:40 am

Millennie Al wrote:
Fri Jul 10, 2020 2:02 am
Tessa K wrote:
Thu Jul 09, 2020 12:16 pm
I meant that people need to be more aware of the likely responses to their words, think VERY carefully about how they frame their opinions, what words they choose and so on rather than just posting their first thoughts and then acting surprised. I am most definitely not in favour of Twitter mobs
That's basically saying most people shouldn't post. There's a very good reason why people are advised to get legal representation when being questioned or when in court. Most people are not very good at expressing themselves and need someone else to help them. In some cases the way people express themselves can give a completely false impression. You are effectively saying that only the most articulate are entitled to express their opinions without fear and intimidation.
Absolutely not. I also said that people who are claiming to have knowledge of a subject should check they're right before posting; don't forget the rest of my post. I was, in context, talking about high profile people with many followers, not ordinary people although it is a feature of Twitter that it's too easy to write something without thinking it through even on a most basic level. I suspect in the olden days when people wrote letters to the newspaper they thought more because it physically took longer to write so the process was slowed down. And yes, social media does democratise communication but we can see from Insta and some other platforms that young people are being encouraged to think twice before posting something that may be hurful so it's not like it's just me saying this.

https://www.theguardian.com/technology/ ... -post-this

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Re: Cancel culture

Post by plodder » Fri Jul 10, 2020 11:03 am

warumich wrote:
Fri Jul 10, 2020 9:51 am
Hi, sorry I haven't read most of this thread, so I might be repeating some stuff, or waffling off topic, or something. I suppose that demonstrates that being able to say anything you like is one thing, but it doesn't mean people will listen to you...


Anyway, this whole thing made me think of an anecdote from a couple of years ago, which I will then skillfully weave into a larger point that I hope makes some sense.

My uni, god knows what possessed them, had invited Katie Hopkins to give a talk. She was then at the height of her infamy, with a column in the Mail and what not, and fresh off from some controversy about not letting her children play with anyone called Keisha or something. Anyway, our student union wasn't particularly pleased, but instead of lobbying to have it cancelled, en masse applied for tickets for the event and then on the day turned their back and then walked out as soon as Hopkins opened her mouth. It was glorious, I was so proud of our kids. And of course, Hopkins used her newspaper column to complain about how she was being cancelled, and her right to free speech and yadda yadda.

So of course Hopkins was not stopped from making her points in general, she was only stopped from making her points on the day. My students, on the other hand, only managed to make their points because of this stunt, which then led to a few of their quotes and viewpoints being published in non-Mail newspapers. If they hadn't done this, their viewpoints would have been confined to the room on the day, but never found wider purchase. On top of that, on the day, it would have been highly unlikely to have been an edifying discussion between Katie and our students, more like a monologue from her on the podium, with our students being confined to quips from the audience.

And that is the real cancelling that is happening. Free flow of ideas is all dandy in theory, but like the spherical cow in the physics joke, it's an idealised situation that makes the theorising easy but is never actually encountered in real life. Because the free flow of ideas is subsumed into the wider network of power structures within society, and this constrains the effectiveness of free speech just as monopolies and cartels etc constrain the in-theory fantastic spherical cows of the free market. We are one of the most diverse pre-92 universities in the country, our kids have names like Keisha, and Ali and Taiwo and Nando. We're not Oxford, and our students will not waltz easily into positions of influence in later life, they have to find creative ways of making their points heard. Cancel culture, or non-platforming are by themselves a way of exercising free speech because this quite often is the only way some people - people called Keisha - have of bringing their concerns onto the agenda.


When people talk about 18th century Habermassian coffee houses as the birthplace of civil society and free speech and all that, it is often forgotten that we needed the right social infrastructure to make it happen in the first place. And that means not just building coffee houses, but also having a wider network that ensures people can participate in that culture and the the discussions that happen there don't just stay there but find purchase in the wider political sphere. And Habermas' coffee houses had always been spherical cows to begin with, because they excluded a large section of society, not to mention the enslaved and colonised people who produced the coffee and the sugar that was consumed there. As a theoretical sociologist, Habermas was interested not so much in the actual history, but the theorising on what is needed to produce civil discourse, so I don't necessarily fault him here, and he is of course only one of several free speech theorists people have build their gospel around. But by idolizing these theorists, people tend to forget that free speech is not an end in itself, but a tool to build a better society, and there are major assumptions being made about what "free flow of ideas" is, should be, and realistically is able to achieve, that are rarely scrutinized further, not theoretically (because nobody outside my profession reads all 900 pages of "the theory of communicative action"), and certainly not empirically.

And even with all that, without the physical and cultural infrastructure to make it happen, no free speech. We're at the moment in a place where the contours of this infrastructure is being debated and drawn up, and we are in danger of ending up with coffee houses for some, and gin dens for the rest of us. If the denizens of the gin dens are to be heard, the people in the coffee houses need to shut up and listen once in a while.
Lovely stuff. I mentioned upthread about the structures of different types of social media and the way that these will drive certain sorts of discourse and what you've said here chimes with that. Communication is being democratised, which is great, but also funneled, which is more problematic.

Addressing the funnels is why I think existing social media should be scrapped, broken up and made open-source. This will allow for multiple competing cross-compatible platforms which will help solve the "funneling" problem.

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Re: Cancel culture

Post by Tessa K » Fri Jul 10, 2020 11:10 am

plodder wrote:
Fri Jul 10, 2020 11:03 am
Lovely stuff. I mentioned upthread about the structures of different types of social media and the way that these will drive certain sorts of discourse and what you've said here chimes with that. Communication is being democratised, which is great, but also funneled, which is more problematic.

Addressing the funnels is why I think existing social media should be scrapped, broken up and made open-source. This will allow for multiple competing cross-compatible platforms which will help solve the "funneling" problem.
What do you mean by funnelled in this context?

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Re: Cancel culture

Post by Bewildered » Fri Jul 10, 2020 2:55 pm

El Pollo Diablo wrote:
Fri Jul 10, 2020 7:40 am
Millennie Al wrote:
Fri Jul 10, 2020 1:51 am
El Pollo Diablo wrote:
Thu Jul 09, 2020 8:19 am
Edit: Just another point - you might not like it, but someone writing to an employer, whether officially or on twitter, demanding they be fired is itself freedom of speech. The employer is free to acquiesce, investigate, refuse or ignore them. Or are you saying that freedom of speech should only apply to people who write extraordinarily popular books about wizards?
Obviously the making of the demand is exercising freedom of speech, and no supporter of freedom of speech can condemn it without hypocrisy, but the employer taking action, unless that action consists solely of speech, is not exercising freedom of speech, so a supporter of freedom of speech can consistently claim that an employer disciplining or firing an employee solely because of something they said - even if it resulted in numerous complaints - is infringing freedom of speech.
Indeed. But this is where the interplay between capitalism and free speech comes in. Employers are concerned about their reputation, their ability to make money, whether from customers, other businesses, sponsors, etc. Sometimes overly so.

Freedom of speech isn't freedom from the consequences of speech. Being fired because an employer deemed something you said to be gross misconduct or whatever isn't infringing on free speech - people are still free to say things if they want to - but it might provide some consequences for doing so.

Obviously, not if you're a billionaire author of wizard fiction with three films to go of a thirteen film franchise, an immensely popular stage show, a huge readership and lots of followers on twitter, of course. It's hard to really get cancelled in that position - unless you count some meanies on fan website taking your photo down as being "cancelled". Which apparently she does. Even though it isn't.
Just for some clarity though, do you agree that there should be some protections for employees against being fired for exercising their free speech, even if you think there are exceptions? I agree that free speech doesn’t mean there can be no consequences for what you say, but if it is easy for an employer to fire an employee for exercising their free speech outside of work, then for people who need to keep that job to survive, support their family or maintain their immigration status, that free speech is little more than an illusion.

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Re: Cancel culture

Post by lpm » Fri Jul 10, 2020 3:09 pm

plodder wrote:
Fri Jul 10, 2020 11:03 am
warumich wrote:
Fri Jul 10, 2020 9:51 am
And that is the real cancelling that is happening. Free flow of ideas is all dandy in theory, but like the spherical cow in the physics joke, it's an idealised situation that makes the theorising easy but is never actually encountered in real life. Because the free flow of ideas is subsumed into the wider network of power structures within society, and this constrains the effectiveness of free speech just as monopolies and cartels etc constrain the in-theory fantastic spherical cows of the free market. We are one of the most diverse pre-92 universities in the country, our kids have names like Keisha, and Ali and Taiwo and Nando. We're not Oxford, and our students will not waltz easily into positions of influence in later life, they have to find creative ways of making their points heard. Cancel culture, or non-platforming are by themselves a way of exercising free speech because this quite often is the only way some people - people called Keisha - have of bringing their concerns onto the agenda.

And even with all that, without the physical and cultural infrastructure to make it happen, no free speech. We're at the moment in a place where the contours of this infrastructure is being debated and drawn up, and we are in danger of ending up with coffee houses for some, and gin dens for the rest of us. If the denizens of the gin dens are to be heard, the people in the coffee houses need to shut up and listen once in a while.
Lovely stuff. I mentioned upthread about the structures of different types of social media and the way that these will drive certain sorts of discourse and what you've said here chimes with that. Communication is being democratised, which is great, but also funneled, which is more problematic.

Addressing the funnels is why I think existing social media should be scrapped, broken up and made open-source. This will allow for multiple competing cross-compatible platforms which will help solve the "funneling" problem.
My concern is the bit in bold and what Warumich calls the gin dens vs coffee houses infrastructure. This division already exists. There's enormous inequality in ability to be heard, with deep foundations within class, race and wealth structures. When everyone gets shouted down and told to shut up, it's the gin den people who lose more. The coffee house people will always retain their physical and cultural infrastructure, even if it gets bombed a bit, while the gin den people are erased.

What was the actual cost to Katie Hopkins? Zero. She got extra publicity, a new angle to write about, a new controversy to promote her career. She didn't end up being cancelled by this sort of protest - but by cold hard commercial decisions made by white men in newspaper and radio offices with "Editor in Chief" written on the door. And, like assassinating the leader of Hamas, a new leader of Hamas pops up. Those white men in newspaper and radio offices with "Editor in Chief" written on the door just move on to hiring a fresh hate-stirrer (Laurence Fox, for example) and the process begins again. There's good money to be made. Like Doctor Who, the face changes but the role survives and the voice continues to talk.

What was the actual benefit to the voiceless students? Temporary. Let's take Reyansh, a young guy who got some comments into the national press following this protest against Hopkins. That's great. Reyansh wants to build a career as an academic with a bit of journalism/commentary on the side, hopefully leading one day to a book and a podcast and interviews in the media, followed by more books. He wants to have his voice.

But he's gin den by background. Daddy isn't going to introduce him to an editor at a coffee house and his godfather hasn't arranged a radio interview.

Reyansh has to grind out some publicity on twitter - which is currently the primary interchange of journalism chat and opinion. He's not there for fun, he's there to work, and it's a career requirement to get involved. Sure, it's a democratised platform and his discourse can be displayed, but it's also noisy. He's creative though, he works hard, gets heard above the clamour, gets his blogs on Medium read, gets a few articles in other publications, and he's delighted to be finally getting his concerns onto the agenda

Until one day he writes a hasty tweet. Reyansh meant to say that police violence against people of Indian origin was a real problem that was getting somewhat lost beneath the attention being paid to police violence against black people. But his wording implied people of Indian origin mattered more and the tweet could be taken to mean black people should shut up for a while. Outrage. The condemnation is universal. Older ambiguous tweets are dredged up and reinterpreted - once you know Reyansh is a racist, you can see his old racist dogwhistles and the implicit prejudice beneath words you previously thought innocuous. His friends receive demands to denounce the racist, a colleague gets abuse for being supportive and emails are sent to the editors who published Reyansh's recent pieces. There's no coming back from being branded in this way. His dreams are over.

When you are poor you are ruined by a hurricane trashing your beachside cafe, if you are rich you get a loan from your uncle and start again. Likewise, blunders in a young career tend to be temporary for the well-connected but fatal for the disadvantaged.

And in the meantime, Keisha never tried to embark on this career in the first place - she wanted to, but whenever she expressed controversial views on twitter she was met with obscene abuse and her mental health issues resurfaced. You never heard about her cancellation, or that of thousands of others, because she wisely chose to self-cancel before she ever started.

I simply don't believe that "cancel culture" enables the voiceless to bring their concerns onto the agenda or gets the people in the coffee houses to shut up and listen once in a while. I think it's the opposite. I think it's gas attacks that destroys countless privates in the trenches, while the officers watch from their coffee houses and occasionally profit by writing an article in The Times about how poor Captain Roderick Covington-Smythe lost his life during the 627th Battle of Ypres.
I'll miss him after he's died in the pandemic

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Re: Cancel culture

Post by egbert26 » Fri Jul 10, 2020 7:55 pm

Reading people's online responses to the original letter I've read some bizarre things. Apparently, Salman Rushdie's opinion on cancel culture and censorship is irrelevant(!) because he is rich and therefore can only be talking about his own personal rights rather than the rights of others.

In other news, a trans author initially signed the letter but then apologised after finding out that JK Rowling had signed. "I thought I was endorsing a well meaning, if vague, message against internet shaming. I did know Chomsky, Steinem, and Atwood were in, and I thought, good company. The consequences are mine to bear. I am so sorry." I think this shows what cancel culture looks like. It's a purity issue where someone fears being seen agreeing with someone if they don't agree with them about other things. Nuance is dead. There must be no common ground as a starting point.

I think my irony meter exploded today when this letter was published to counter the Harpers one.

"Many signatories on our list noted their institutional affiliation but not their name, fearful of professional retaliation."

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Re: Cancel culture

Post by plodder » Sat Jul 11, 2020 5:48 am

Tessa K wrote:
Fri Jul 10, 2020 11:10 am
plodder wrote:
Fri Jul 10, 2020 11:03 am
Lovely stuff. I mentioned upthread about the structures of different types of social media and the way that these will drive certain sorts of discourse and what you've said here chimes with that. Communication is being democratised, which is great, but also funneled, which is more problematic.

Addressing the funnels is why I think existing social media should be scrapped, broken up and made open-source. This will allow for multiple competing cross-compatible platforms which will help solve the "funneling" problem.
What do you mean by funnelled in this context?
Different online platforms reward (and don’t reward) different social behaviours. This funnels everyone doing it down particular routes. For example, I think twitter hate mobs are an inadvertent result of design decisions at twitter hq.

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Re: Cancel culture

Post by plodder » Sat Jul 11, 2020 6:07 am

lpm one specific point: what happened to Katie Hopkins (and Milo, and Tommy) was that their career trajectories went massively downhill, from a huge media platform to bankruptcy in the case of Hopkins.

I really think we need to see social media in a similar way to “msm” with specific reference to the degree of influence the proprietors have.

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