Updated: Apr 24
How much better would Twitter be without the Toxic Left?
If you’re even a little active on Twitter, the sudden toxicity drop last year after the platform removed right-wing QAnon-connected accounts following the Trump-fuelled terrorist attack on Washington was nothing short of breathtaking.
One day, you saw the usual trending hashtags from trolls, cyberbullies, and bots from both ideological sides: #TrumpIsNotWell #TrumpSavesAmerica #TrumpForever #TrumpTrainWreck #Trump2020 #DestroyTrump #TrumpsMyBabyDaddy.
(Okay I made that last one up. Ha ha! No one has sex with Donald Trump anymore!)
The next day, you clicked your Twitter button, and trending topics spanned the sublime to the ridiculous: The latest news on the pandemic and public vaccines progress; politics involving people not named Trump; the never-ending British Royals; vacuous celebrity gossip; some musician’s or band’s latest album or video.
And of course, who’s getting cancelled for petty stupid crap, blown out of proportion mostly by younger generations riddled with depression, stress, anxiety, and dim prospects for their future; and that was before the pandemic. Now they’re forced to stay home, with even more time to take out their hostilities on anyone and anything.
With real villains like Harvey Weinstein, Bill Cosby, Derek Chauvin, and Jake Angeli in jail, and Donald Trump cowering in Mar-A-Lago, Generation Self-Esteem consoles itself for its unfortunate unspecial averageness by attacking others over perceived slights and insults, desperately seeking a holier-than-thou narcissism supply fix.
As Rowan Atkinson famously described cancel culture, it’s a ‘medieval mob looking for someone to burn.’
After enduring years of criticism for allowing too much fake news, conspiracy theories, disinformation and extremist views, not to mention having enabled the 2016 election to swing to a narcissistic manchild with troubling signs of dementia, social media responded by banning the right’s Great Orange God. Or now, officially, their Golden God.
Twitter banned over 70,000 QAnon-connected accounts, and the next morning, you could almost hear the birds singing and feel the sun shining down on Twitter. Almost.
Then Gina Carano and Chris Harrison got ‘cancelled’ for saying things that upset unemployed children. The grand irony about Carano is she got cancelled for making a ridiculous overblown comparison, of Republicans to Jews in Nazi Germany, by people who committed the same error, with an overblown comparison to Nazis, leaving actual Nazis to wonder, “Which side is ours?”
Harrison’s unforgivable crime? To defend someone whose old photos of her attending an Antebellum South party surfaced.
In the court of self-righteous, ‘social justice’ warriors’ opinion, the fifty shades of grey harm don’t exist. It’s Pass/Fail, and the punishment for failure is career and reputation execution.
For those of us in the Murky Middle, the Toxic Left reminds us that with the worst of the Orange God’s cult banished to the underground, now they were Masters of the Twitterverse.
Twitter makes me feel like a pre-9/11 Afghan caught between the Northern Alliance and the Taliban. No matter who’s in charge, it’s going not going to be good.
The good, the bad and the ugly of cancel culture
Cancel culture isn’t all evil. It plays an important role — sometimes — in addressing important grievances like sexual assault and racism. When people are guilty of genuine crimes or put others’ lives in danger, like ‘Karens’ with itchy 911 fingers, cancel culture serves the public interest by removing dangerous people from the public sphere and giving them something else to worry about than black birdwatchers.
Digging up someone’s hidden past is fair game for the same reasons, like with now-notorious celebrity sexual predators. Not so much for ancient grievances not quite on the same level as Bill Cosby. Like going to an Antebellum South party fifteen minutes before white people got ‘woke’ about slavery or being an un-woke mid-twentieth-century movie star like John Wayne.
Wayne was a product of his time; we all are. Many of us will find our views, values, and practices quite ‘unwoke’ for 2071. As for minor grievances like antebellum parties or blackface, sure, they’re offensive and we can call them out but no one needs to lose their job over it. Not even if they do it today.
Not everyone who offends the Toxic Left gets ‘cancelled’. They may get called out and shamed a bit but still keep their job and career. Sometimes, even, public shaming reveals ‘good to know’ information.
Like Armie Hammer’s violent and cannibalistic sexual fantasies. He hasn’t, to anyone’s knowledge, committed any actual crimes but it’s valuable for women to know this about a guy if the information’s available. Not many of us mortals are likely to get asked out by Hammer, but if I was a female celebrity with a brain and concern for my personal safety, I’d want to know.
Female celebrities don’t always draw warnings from important celebrity public service announcements, but whatever. Ya makes yer choices.
When does cancel culture cross the line?
Is cancel culture censorship? Was banning QAnon-addled Trumpers associated with the January 6th terrorist attack censorship?
I won’t address that debate here. Mostly because the Trump era pushed my lifelong support for the First Amendment to acknowledging we may need more limits on free speech than public safety and treason.
I haven’t made up my mind yet, but part of why I waver is this: Twitter is more delightfully boring than before the terrorist attack.
It’s less triggering to check in without 70,000 deplorable ‘conservatives’ and their bots pushing the most execrable views on the rest of us in a forum without the filters and controls of Facebook and Instagram.
Now, I find myself wishing, if only we could get rid of the thousands of deplorable ‘progressives’ and their bots looking for ever-stupider excuses to destroy other peoples’ lives over hyper-exaggerated harms. Today, all you have to do is be seen at an anti-Black Lives Matter protest listening, not participating, to lose your job. Sorry, but if it’s lawful and legal to stage a protest, however unpopular, you shouldn’t lose your job for attending.
Imagine if those professors lost their jobs for ‘being seen’ at a pro-choice rally by students from their conservative Christian school. Which would the über-lefty torches ’n’ pitchforks set cancel? The onlookers or their school?
Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported image from Topher Harless
Let’s remember: You can still voice unpopular opinions on Twitter. Trump’s fanboys and fangirls are still there, tweeting hateful comments and opinions, but that’s perfectly fair when the Toxic Left’s misogynist deplorables call J.K. Rowling a ‘transphobic cunt’ for daring to stand for women’s rights.
If destroying lives and property during a physical terrorist attack is good enough reason to ‘censor’ someone, then maybe it’s okay to do the same for those who would destroy lives and careers for middling reasons.
Us Murky Middlers are as tired of the Toxic Left’s moral Purity Police as we are of the sexually-repressed Christian Right’s crusades against female orgasms. Where do we set cancel culture’s limits?
How about ‘truth’ over ‘opinions’?
After the last four years and its inevitable conclusion at the Capitol, it’s become clear to rational minds that we need to return to ancient standards of journalism, factualism and truth-telling. (You know, like, the 1960s and ‘70s).
Nearly 600,000 Americans have died in the past fourteen months because a dangerously incompetent ‘President’ daily tweeted lies, dis/misinformation, conspiracy theories, and insanely credulous faith in medical quackery while discrediting genuine experts with real science to distract from the fact that he had no idea what to do in the middle of a global public health crisis, nor did he care.
Not only is the Orange God responsible for this travesty of compassion, but so are every single supporter and voter, including the ones with ‘voter’s remorse.’
Cancel culture’s limits should be at how factual something is (Harvey Weinstein is a dangerous sexual predator) versus opinions (JK Rowling is a horrible person even though her claims about gender are supported with research and hard science).
We need to hold mainstream journalists, bloggers, social media and its users to a higher standard of factualism and truth-telling.
And not just for the Right.
Can Twitter cancel toxic cancel culture?
Genuine social justice is still alive in cancel culture; it’s not all cyberbullies and morally narcissistic trolls, the online equivalent of losers walking into a bar spoiling for a fight.
Twitter temporarily suspends problematic accounts and labels or removes false or misleading information about COVID-19 or the 2020 election. It implements ‘hash technology’ to remove content like child porn, ISIS recruitment, and white nationalist propaganda. It’s outright banned notorious personalities like Alex Jones, Trump fanboys Steve Bannon and Roger Stone, and even Donald Trump himself before he left the White House, but after the terrorist attack.
And of course, QAnon is now QA-Gone.
What can Twitter do to remove cancel culture cancer without killing the body politic?
There needs to be a greater public will for starters. Twitter’s policy on hate speech is this:
You may not promote violence against or directly attack or threaten other people on the basis of race, ethnicity, national origin, caste, sexual orientation, gender, gender identity, religious affiliation, age, disability, or serious disease. We also do not allow accounts whose primary purpose is inciting harm towards others on the basis of these categories.
Shouldn’t trying to get someone fired or their contract cancelled fall under the ‘direct attack’ proviso?
It’s a fuzzy area, but the last four years have illustrated we may need to implement more controls on ‘free speech’ than we’re used to. After all, the Founding Fathers couldn’t have conceived of Twitter or other social media platforms, and even if we could ask them, I’d not trust their 18th-century opinions anyway. This rolls outside the First Amendment’s wheelhouse.
I don’t have any of the answers but I want to start the conversation. If we’re serious about eliminating ‘hate speech’, we’ve got to go after all of it, and no one has yet ‘cleaned house’ with the Toxic Left.
What would Twitter look like without the Toxic Left?
Canceling the Toxic Left can’t happen overnight. Here’s why: ‘Acceptable trade-offs’. Let’s return to the Toxic Right for a moment.
Twitter has been slower to ban white nationalists for a sticky-wicket reason: It might disproportionately affect Republicans.
Some may accept the inconvenience for some accounts accidentally swept into the fight against ISIS terrorists as a small enough price to pay, but Twitter believes banning politicians may not be regarded by the public as an acceptable trade-off to rid the platform of white supremacy content.
They may have a point. Trump critics called for him to be permanently banned in 2017 and Twitter held off, fearing the repercussions of banning a sitting President at least until he pushed it too far inciting violence.
What’s an acceptable trade-off for innocent, or somewhat more innocent accounts caught in a cancel culture dragnet? It would likely affect mostly private citizens. What would the public’s appetite be if Twitter banned 70,000 hateful ‘wokies’?
A more judicious response might be to put a set of policy limits in place and temporarily suspend accounts who attack others and encourage tweeters to get them fired.
Later, flat-out ban them, as they did to QAnon, which resulted in a 70% drop in election misinformation on the platform.
We need cancel culture. Like many well-meaning social justice practices, it’s been used and abused, arguably by millions. I can’t argue we should cancel it entirely when it’s brought down piggy-eyed Harvey Weinstein and mass rapist Bill Cosby and made it harder for Andrew Cuomo to get a date.
I favor reforming rather than eliminating it, forcing the Left to confront its own toxic elements as we now force men, white people, religious evangelicals and Trumpers themselves to confront their own toxic beliefs and practices.
I’d like to see cancel culture take itself seriously and view itself more like Black Lives Matter: A serious force for justice addressing critical systemic issues that will demonstrably improve the world for everybody, rather than what it is today: A movement more akin to an egomaniacal National Enquirer on steroids, destroying careers and even lives.
More George Floyd and less Meghan Markle, kids.
You know it’s true.
This first appeared on Medium in May 2021.