Twitter has left me with a bad taste over the last 24 hours. Not because of anything directed toward me, or people I care for, or because of content and topics I dislike. What has left the bad taste is a spate of ‘calling out’ – and that calling has been aggressive, poisonous and anti-democratic.
Calling out, as far as I understand it, is about exposing hypocrisy or lies. It is about challenging someone to back up what they have said; making it clear that you don’t believe them or that you think what they are saying is wrong or damaging. So if person A asserts that they’re not racist but they know this guy who knows a family of refugees who are in a five-bedroom house and have a 50 inch plasma screen and drive a Mercedes and how can that be fair… Person B calls them out. Challenges the story.
Sounds good doesn’t it? Taking on prejudice, bullshit, ignorance. Don’t let that moment pass. Don’t sit silent. Call them out, stand up, be counted.
Only calling someone out online – and particularly calling someone out on Twitter – has morphed into something else altogether. Calling someone out has become a synonym for disagreeing with them. And using the phrase ‘calling out’ synonymously for ‘I don’t agree’ ups the ante substantially. Because I disagree with you / I think you’re wrong / I think you’re an insufferably smug cunt – they are all about you. You disagree. You think they are wrong. Your opinion is they are an insufferably smug cunt. You, not them.
Calling them out suggests something different. Calling them out suggests that you are acting with moral authority. You’re righting a wrong. Challenging ignorance or prejudice or injustice. You are calling down moral authority, calling down the weight of opinion, suggesting that the person you disagree with is inherently, incontrovertibly wrong. You are calling names in the most poisonous fashion; trying to gather the online pitchforks and burning torches.
And maybe, sometimes, they are. Maybe, sometimes, it is calling out. But often it’s disagreement. Simple, old-fashioned difference of opinion. You don’t like what they said. Good for you. Good for them. As they say, opinions are like arseholes. But let’s call a halt to arseholes invoking moral authority because some other arsehole irritated them.