Open main menu

A protester holds up a sign for Me Too, an anti-sexually harassment and anti-sexual assault campaign on Twitter that has been called the largest example of calling-out injustice.[1]

Call-out culture (also known as outrage culture) is the social phenomenon of publicly denouncing perceived racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, classism, national interest, and other forms of bigotry. Denunciation ("call-outs") can happen in person or online.[2][3][4][5][excessive citations]

Kitty Stryker defines call-out culture as the "practice of using social media to hold individuals and groups accountable for their words and behavior".[6] Asam Ahmad defines call-out culture as the "tendency among progressives, radicals, activists, and community organizers to publicly name instances or patterns of oppressive behaviour and language use by others".[7]

Oscar Schwartz calls actress Alyssa Milano's Twitter post calling for "all the women who have been sexually harassed or assaulted" to use the hashtag "Me Too" and tell their stories the largest example of calling-out; this campaign went viral, causing many women to share their stories, and leading to "firing and public humiliation" for a number of well-known men.[8]



Pamela Paresky says callout culture is a pernicious influence in both the academic and business worlds, citing the controversy at Google over a memorandum concerning the respective vocational interests of men and women, authored by former Google engineer James Damore.[9] Other commentators[who?] have argued that callout culture can harm progressive politics by attacking people perceived to have exhibited prejudiced behavior, rather than using dialogue with such people to change such behavior.[7][10] A 2013 essay, "Exiting the Vampire Castle", by Mark Fisher,[11] is often cited as an early critique of call-out culture.[citation needed] Fisher argued that "call-out culture" created a space "where solidarity is impossible, but guilt and fear are omnipresent". Fisher also argues that call-out culture reduces every political issue to criticizing the behaviour of individuals, instead of dealing with such political issues through collective action.[5][12]

Call-out culture found a vehicle in social media. Both as consumers and as political activists, individuals found a means to communicate to a larger crowd in an expedient and pervasive manner. While call-out culture often publicly denounces perceived acts of bigotry, as stated above, it also refers to the act of publicly calling out a larger entity (such as an organization, business, or vendor) usually by means of social media. In an effort to hold these businesses or organizations accountable, individuals will take to the online forums to "call them out". Whether the individual is addressed by a representative from within the organization or not, some of these posts or tweets (depending on the medium) can go viral and cause a public relations issue for the business.[original research?]

Social psychologist Jonathan Haidt describes call-out culture as a "prestige economy", where "you get credit based on what someone else said if you 'call it out'", and that it has some positive benefits, such as increasing tolerance, but that it can become vindictive when people go too far to misconstrue what others say as insensitive.[13]

The effects of call-out culture are also noted[by whom?] as more prevalent today on college campuses, where most students are aware of the social justice culture that exists and is expressed online. This has included the rise of safe spaces.[14] In 2016, British actor and writer Stephen Fry criticized safe spaces and trigger warnings as infantilizing students and possibly eroding free speech.[15][14] There are some that are careful to avoid missteps (e.g. cultural appropriation by way of a Halloween costume) in order to avoid public online call-outs and others that are exploring ways to deal with past aggressors by way of calling-out online.[2]

Some people[who?] argue in defense of call-out culture and contend that it is a form of social activism.[4] Florence Ashley defends call out and outrage culture, saying that they are a "performative practice through which people signal their care for one another" and turn harmful statements into "solidarity and love", that builds the bonding in a community.[16]

In Kitty Stryker's article "The Problem With Callout Culture", while she defends the principle of calling out injustice, she states that call-out culture may be "encouraging marginalized people to fight each other".[6] She encourages "teach[ing] rather than punish[ing]", and considering that people are all "wounded animals" who make mistakes in life.[6] She suggests that during a call-out episode, that people who are observing the exchange consider the "power dynamic[s]" among the people involved, the response of the person being called out (e.g., whether they are "apologizing, offering to educate themselves" or trying to "save face" and be deemed correct), and the behavior of the person calling out the person.[6]

David Brooks states that the negative aspect of call-out culture is its naïveté and its use of "binary [and tribal] thinking in which people are categorized as good or evil".[17] When a person is called out, they can be "rendered into a nonperson" through a "vigilante justice" of denunciation that can "destroy lives without any process", mercy, "awareness of human frailty" and without offering a "path to redemption."[17]

Asam Ahmad says callout culture can become "toxic", because when it is done on social media, it can become a "public performance where people can demonstrate their wit or how pure their politics are".[7] As well, he says that in a call-out, critics tend to forget that the subject of their denunciation is a human being. He expresses concern that the goal of callout culture seems to be "to banish and dispose of individuals rather than to engage with them as people" and he says that there is a "mild totalitarian undercurrent" in progressive callout culture's policing of which people are "in" and "out", due to people's language use.[7]

In Julian Vigo's article "Call-Out Culture: Technological-Made Intolerance", he says that in online activist communities, call-out culture can lead to communication becoming more about "whining about others than actively exchanging ideas or constructing political actions".[18] He says that in call-out culture, the anti-harassment tools end up being used to "block, mute, and even report" people whose views are not liked. In some online spaces, people show groupthink, as one is "only allowed to agree" with prevailing ideas, or face epithets, zealotry, and bullying; the result is a scene of "boring, pompous adults who are as incapable of having a constructive discussion" and who always want to be right.[18]

Oscar Schwartz says call-out culture's social justice has been called contrary to the "institutional justice" used in trials, because calling out lacks "systematic regulation and procedure", making it a type of direct “mob justice”.[19]

Frances Lee says she sees "parallel between the authoritarian dogmas of orthodox religion and social justice activism" in call-out culture's "quest for purity", which makes even activists "self-police" their statements for fear of being called out for statements that are deemed "wrong, oppressive, or inappropriate".[20] Lee says that this self-policing is a "reproduction of colonialist logics", in which people are "preaching" and "tell[ing] each other what to do" by using "shaming, calling out, isolating, or eviscerating someone's social standing", which she calls "controlling and destructive behaviour".[21]

Proposed alternativesEdit

As an alternative to calling-out someone publicly, the person can "call in", which is to speak to them or message them privately about their conduct or behavior. [22] Kyli Rodriguez-Cayro says it can be a less toxic and "less reactionary route to work through conflict" for people who feel that calling out is "counteractive to social justice."[23]y Ngọc Loan Trần says calling in can help to "pul[l] folks back in who have strayed" and given them an opportunity to return, in a loving approach which accepts that people make mistakes.[24]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ Schwartz, Oscar (19 July 2018). "Calling out for justice". The Ethics Centre. Retrieved 20 March 2019.
  2. ^ a b Friedersdorf, Conor (8 May 2017). "The Destructiveness of Call-Out Culture on Campus: Reflections from undergraduates of the social media era". The Atlantic. Retrieved 21 October 2017.
  3. ^ Danuta Walters, Suzanna (5 May 2017). "Academe's Poisonous Call-Out Culture". The Chronicle of Higher Education. Retrieved 21 October 2017.
  4. ^ a b Scott, Shaun (1 February 2018). "In Defense of Call-out Culture". City Arts Magazine. Retrieved 20 July 2018.
  5. ^ a b Vansintjan, Aaron. (29 October 2017) "Beyond Bloodsucking", openDemocracy, Retrieved 23 November 2018.
  6. ^ a b c d Stryker, Kittie (30 May 2016). "The Problem with Callout Culture". The Walrus. Retrieved 19 March 2019.
  7. ^ a b c d Ahmad, Asam (2 March 2015). "A Note on Call-Out Culture". Briarpatch. Retrieved 19 March 2019.
  8. ^ Schwartz, Oscar (19 July 2018). "Calling out for justice". The Ethics Centre. Retrieved 20 March 2019.
  9. ^ Paresky, Pamela (8 September 2017). "When 'Speak Out' Culture Becomes 'Callout' Culture: Welcome to the world of post-rational discourse". Psychology Today. Retrieved 21 October 2017.
  10. ^ Hamad, Ruby, and Liddle, Celeste (11 October 2017). "Intersectionality? Not while feminists participate in pile-ons", The Guardian. Retrieved 3 August 2018.
  11. ^ Fisher, Mark (22 November 2013). "Exiting the Vampire Castle". Archived from the original on 4 February 2018.
  12. ^ Izaakson, Jen (12 August 2017). ‘Kill All Normies’ skewers online identity politics, Feminist Current. Retrieved 23 November 2018.
  13. ^ Nine To Noon (5 December 2018). "Jonathan Haidt: 'Call-out' culture and the new prestige economy". Radio New Zealand. Retrieved 5 March 2019.
  14. ^ a b "Stephen Fry: Campus Safe Spaces Are Stupid and Infantile". 12 April 2016.
  15. ^ George, Bowden (11 April 2016). "Stephen Fry Speaks About Erosion Of 'Free Speech' On Student Campuses In Controversial Rubin Report Interview". HuffPost. Retrieved 25 August 2016.
  16. ^ Ashley, Florence (10 September 2018). "Navigating Call-Out Culture". www.mcgilldaily. McGill Daily. Retrieved 23 March 2019.
  17. ^ a b Brooks, David (15 January 2019). "The Cruelty of Call-Out Culture". New York Times. Retrieved 19 March 2019.
  18. ^ a b Vigo, Julian (31 January 2019). "Call-Out Culture: Technological-Made Intolerance". Forbes. Retrieved 20 March 2019.
  19. ^ Schwartz, Oscar (19 July 2018). "Calling out for justice". The Ethics Centre. Retrieved 20 March 2019.
  20. ^ Lee, Frances (9 July 2018). "'Excommunicate me from the church of social justice': an activist's plea for change". CBC. Retrieved 22 March 2019.
  21. ^ Lee, Frances (9 July 2018). "'Excommunicate me from the church of social justice': an activist's plea for change". CBC. Retrieved 22 March 2019.
  22. ^ Rodriguez-Cayro, kyli (15 May 2018). "What Does Call-In Mean? When Call-Out Culture Feels Toxic, This Method Can Be Used Instead". Bustle. Retrieved 22 March 2019.
  23. ^ Rodriguez-Cayro, kyli (15 May 2018). "What Does Call-In Mean? When Call-Out Culture Feels Toxic, This Method Can Be Used Instead". Bustle. Retrieved 22 March 2019.
  24. ^ Ferguson, Sian (17 January 2015). "Calling In: A Quick Guide on When and How". Everyday Feminism. Retrieved 22 March 2019.