Critiques of call-out culture: a linkspam

This is a repost of an linkspam I created in 2015.  So naturally, all the links come from 2015 or earlier.  I’ve removed a few broken links, and added some contextualizing commentary at the bottom.

One of the most common complaints by social justice activists about social justice activism is that there’s a lot of toxicity. Whenever an activist makes a misstep, other activists will “call out” that person, sometimes directing a disproportionate amount of anger and abuse at them. This pattern is often (but not always) referred to as “call-out culture”.

For a while, I’ve been collecting a lot of articles and blog posts which critique call-out culture from an internal view point. My main motivation is that I would like to write about the topic myself, and I’d like my ideas to be responsive to what has already been said.

  1. Lisa Harney, Questioning Transphobia: The Culture of Internet Callouts (August 2010)
  2. ourcatastrophe: On “call-out culture” and why I’m not into it (July 2011)
  3. Flavia Dzodan, Tiger Beatdown: Come one, come all! Feminism and Social Justice blogging as performance and bloodshed (October 2011)
  4. Aoife, Consider the Tea Cosy: Callout culture, tone trolling and being the perfect ally (October 2012)
  5. Ngọc Loan Trần, Black Girl Dangerous: Calling IN: A Less Disposable Way of Holding Each Other Accountable (December 2013)
  6. Verónica Bayetti Flores, Feministing: On cynicism, calling out, and creating movements that don’t leave our movement behind (December 2013)
  7. Zoyə Street, Medium: A more peaceful 2014: Addressing peer hostility (January 2014)
  8. Mattie Brice: On Civility (January 2014)
  9. Katherine Cross, Nuclear Unicorn: Words, Words, Words: On Toxicity and Abuse in Online Activism and Beyond Niceness: Further Thoughts on Rage (January 2014)
  10. Katherine Cross, Nuclear Unicorn: The Chapel Perilous: On the Quiet Narratives in the Shadows (February 2014)
  11. Queenie, The Asexual Agenda: Justice, anger, and the demand for perfection: why tumblr’s blogging culture isn’t making for safe spaces (March 2014)
  12. Ozy Frantz, Thing of Things, Certain Propositions Concerning Callout Culture (December 2014)
  13. Noah Berlatsky, Ravishly: How To Make The Queer And Feminism Movements More Inclusive: Activist Julia Serano Speaks Out (February 2015)
  14. Asam Ahmad, Briar Patch Magazine: A Note on Call-Out Culture (March 2015)
  15. Katherine Cross, Feministing: So you’ve been publicly scapegoated: Why we must speak out on call-out culture and Words for Cutting: Why we need to stop abusing “the tone argument” (April 2015)
  16. Stephanie Zvan, Almost Diamonds: Abuse and Power in Activism (August 2015)

This linkspam will not be updated, but you are welcome to suggest more links in the comments.

Comment on 2017: While there are many more recent articles on callout culture, I have not been keeping track of them since creating this linkspam.  However, my presumption is that the old links still give a good overview, and that most of what is currently said isn’t new.  At the time that I created this linkspam, I wanted to write more on this subject, but ended up not doing so.  Maybe I will write about it in the near future.


  1. says

    I think we should replace Call Out Culture with Clap Back Culture. Fire a snarky comment, and then step away. That’s what I try to do.

  2. says

    I’m curious: I haven’t read nearly as much as you, but in what I have read was a lot of critique but very few (if any at all) actual concrete examples of people actually being called out. Do your sources have good examples of what is being critiqued here?

  3. says

    So I glanced at the first article, and skimmed two at random (#3 and #13), and didn’t see any actual concrete examples of anyone actually being “called out”. I have to get ready for work; maybe I’ll look into it more later.

    But it seems like a waste of my time to read criticism of something that I can’t see concrete examples of.

  4. says


    People occasionally provide examples, but they can be thin. The thing is, when you provide an example, that’s just begging for all the attention to be redirected towards the example. People with or without knowledge of the context would nitpick endlessly–an encore of the very problem being complained about. So, some of the easiest examples are anecdotal (ie without links), clear-cut (ie the call-out was just mistaken about something), or involve a mea culpa.

    The lack of examples is tolerable, since most of the target audience can already think of examples in their own life. But I do think there are a few problems. First, there’s a tendency for critiques of call-out culture to be co-opted by concern trolls (see first link in #15), and so without examples it might be difficult to tell whether you’re a concern troll. Second, I get the impression that call-out culture actually manifests in different ways in different spaces. Tumblr is different from Twitter, is different from Facebook, is different from blogs. I think people who only read blogs might not get how common of an issue this is.

  5. says

    I do have my own complaints about the articles in this list. Once upon a time I was planning on writing a summary of the main points that people were making, but I found myself to be so critical of the articles that I couldn’t do it.

    The main issue I had was that several of the articles are so longwinded and say little of substance. #3 is a big offender. I was also very critical of #5 (which I see is now behind a paywall), which basically said, “instead of doing this, let’s try not doing it”, which isn’t really a solution.

  6. says

    One reason I really want to see actual examples of what someone criticizes is summed up in this article, Can Jonathan Haidt Calm the Culture Wars? (may require subscription; if you have trouble, try going through the 3quarksdaily link). Haidt summarizes his position:

    It’s human nature to make things sacred — people, places, books, ideas, Haidt says. “So what’s sacred at a university?” he asks. “Victims are sacred,” he answers. And a victimhood culture offers only two ways to get prestige: Be a victim, or, if you can’t manage that, stand up for victims. How? “By punishing the hell out of anyone who in any way, shape, or form, even inadvertently, marginalizes a member of a victim class.”

    This position would be interesting if it were even partially true, but is it?

    I have spent the last 7 years in the college system as a student, staff, and faculty member, I’ve personally seen nothing even a tiny little bit like this. I mean, I’ve never been allowed to be a sexist, racist, ableist, homophobic jerk, and I’m not allowed to be romantically involved with my students (any undergraduate students, really). Perhaps unsurprisingly, I don’t find myself the least bit inconvenienced by these prohibitions. But that’s just the experience of one person on one campus with three colleges/universities. But, since I don’t have personal experience, I want good second-hand information. I want Haidt to show me this supposed culture of victimhood on campuses.

    I haven’t studied this issue in any kind of academic depth, but I do have Google. And literally every time I’ve actually checked, allegations of the supposed culture of victimhood turned out to be legitimate and professional responses to egregious and completely unacceptable assholery and often outright criminal behavior.

    So I’m inclined to believe that Haidt is pretty much completely full of shit.

    I have the same skeptical attitude towards this supposed “call out culture”. Some part is due to my academic training: trust no one, read the primary sources, read all the footnotes in the primary sources, check the actual data and models (see e.g. Reinhart & Rogoff), read criticism of the primary sources, etc. I very much take Richard Feynman’s advice to heart:

    The first principle is that you must not fool yourself–and you are the easiest person to fool. So you have to be very careful about that. After you’ve not fooled yourself, it’s easy not to fool other scientists. You just have to be honest in a conventional way after that.

    I’m not saying that critics of call out culture are dishonest or even just dumb. It’s just really hard to avoid fooling yourself, and science is a social process in no small part because it takes a village to raise the truth, to discourage and correct self-deception.

  7. says

    @Larry Hamelin,
    The example you provide appears to be part of the genre of news articles complaining about how universities are too PC these days. In my experience with this genre, plenty of examples are provided. For instance, this article by Jonathan Chait is practically a Gish gallop of examples. Looking at “Can Jonathan Haidt Calm the Culture Wars?”, I think there are somewhat fewer examples, because it’s more of a biographical piece about Haidt–but you can definitely find mentions of things that Haidt would likely cite in his own articles as examples. Anything mentioning student protests, banned speakers, trigger warnings, interactions with psychologists, those are all intended as examples.

    So I’m disagreeing with your characterization of the article as having too few examples. Many examples are provided. The problem is that among the examples I have direct familiarity with (especially Milo Yiannopoulous, trigger warnings), Haidt’s/Chait’s characterizations are completely unfair, and therefore I don’t trust the examples I am unfamiliar with.

    This is not to say that we should go to the other extreme and use no examples. But, I’m curious about our disagreement. Did you perceive a lack of examples because all the examples are shitty and therefore easy to miss? Or do you have some additional criteria for what constitutes an example?

  8. says


    Your point is taken. Allow me to rephrase my objection: in the anti-PC genre of articles, the examples given are often vague, and where concrete, lack direct citation, making it difficult for the reader to examine the examples. I really get the sense that people such as Haidt and Chait really are fooling themselves, and make it hard for us to check on it. And, as you note, when a motivated reader such as you or I actually does investigate, the examples turn out to not support their point.

    For example, in the beginning the the Chait piece you cite, there are no links to news sources actually documenting the conflict between Omar Mahmood and the University of Michigan. If this information is available, it should be noted; if not available, then Chait has no basis to draw any conclusions. (As best I can tell, the Mahmood’s supposedly satirical article is pretty stupid and offensive, he was fired from the Michigan Daily for a conflict of interest, and he continues to write.

    As a side note, I ran into this phenomenon when I was hanging out with organized communists. They would frequently denounce each other without being explicit about what exactly the other party was actually doing that they objected to. Drove me up the wall.

  9. says

    Well I still stand by my earlier points. Many writers are deliberately avoiding examples for various reasons, instead depending on readers to already be familiar with the thing they’re talking about. For instance, in #10, Katherine Cross criticizes another article by saying:

    One of the cardinal sins of the Nation piece was that it did the very thing I strenuously avoided in my own writing about the subject: it re-litigated past events and named and shamed individuals, condensing all possible discussion into a singularity from which no light could escape.

    And it really isn’t ideal for the reasons I stated previously. Perhaps the most charitable thing I could say is that maybe there are lots of articles talking about specific examples, but specific examples divert so much attention that I would no longer think of such articles as articles about “call-out culture”, and thus would not feature them in this linkspam. I think if you want examples, these links may prove unsatisfactory to you. And also, if I write something about it, I don’t know that I could do any better.

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