Twenty-seven percent of voters said the culture of cancellation had a slightly positive or very positive impact on society, but nearly half (49%) said it had a slightly negative or very negative impact.
While online shaming seems like a major public concern if you spend a lot of time on Twitter, only 40% of voters say they have participated in the cancellation culture and only one in 10 say they participate ‘often’. It seems more like a liberal pastime: half of Democrats have shared their aversion to a public figure on social media after doing something offensive, while only a third of republicans say they did.
Age is one of the most reliable predictors of a person’s views. Members of Generation Z are most willing to punish people or institutions for offensive views, followed closely by millennials, while GenXers and Baby Boomers have the strongest antipathy toward them. The culture of cancellation is driven by younger voters. A majority (55%) of voters aged 18-34 say they have taken part in the cancellation culture, while only about a third (32%) of the over-65s have joined an accumulation of social media. The age difference may partially explain why Ernest Owens, a millennial journalist, responded to Obama’s criticism with a Opinion of the New York Times that amounted to a column-length answer of “OK, boomerang.”
The poll also suggests that the general public is more forgiving than the gladiators on social media. When asked about controversial or offensive statements by public figures, the longer the comment was made the less likely it mattered. Fifty-four percent said a problematic statement from a year ago would likely change the person’s opinion “completely” or “slightly”, versus 29% who said it would “change a little” or “wouldn’t change at all.” ”
For statements made 15 years ago, the results were almost reversed: 26% said there would be a change, compared to 53% who said there would be little or no change.
The debate about the cancellation culture has recently been intersected with discussions of race and diversity taking place in many American institutions, including large newsrooms.
Last month, The New York Times sent James Bennet, the editorial page editor, out after an outcry among staff over an opinion by Senator Tom Cotton’s (R-Ark.) Newspaper calling for the use of the military to to suppress violent protests. One of Bennet’s right-wing (but anti-Trump) writers, Bari Weiss, left this month after what she described in a fiery story letter of resignation like “trips to Wrongthink” that “have made me the subject of constant bullying from colleagues who disagree with my opinion.” She criticized how the Times allowed Twitter to “become the ultimate editor.”
Last week, right-facing (but anti-Trump) journalist Andrew Sullivan left parting with Vox Media’s New York Magazine after years of friction between him and the publication’s younger and more left-facing employees. “A critical mass of staff and management from New York Magazine and Vox Media no longer want to deal with me,” he wrote.
Bennet’s resignation was a catalyst for a group of academics, journalists and artists to sign an open letter published in Harper’s Magazine condemned a “censorship” characterized by “an intolerance to opposing views, a fashion for public shame and exclusion, and a tendency to resolve complex policy issues in a blinding moral certainty.” (Full disclosure: My girlfriend, Olivia Nuzzi from New York Magazine, signed the letter.)
Of course there was one open letter in response to the open letter.
Not surprisingly, the POLITICO poll shows that many Americans do not pay attention to many of these controversies. We asked about Weiss’s resignation and Harper’s letter. Forty-seven percent of those polled did not know or have an opinion about the Weiss controversy, and 42 percent did not know or have an opinion about what has become known as The Letter in the insular world of Acela corridor media.
But in both cases for the Americans who had expressed an opinion, the anti-cancellation culture fighters had the majority: 56% approved The Letter and 70% approved Weiss’s decision to quit “because of alleged harassment and her perception of self-censorship the New York Times by Twitter. ”
There are some signs of correction, including with the Times. Recently, Harvard linguist Steven Pinker was the target of a campaign to have him removed as a leading fellow of the Linguistic Society of America. After investigating the criticism, which brought accusations of racial insensitivity, and discovering that they had no merit, the Times’ Michael Powell reported the controversy not with bloodless both sidesism, but rather as a disproving the meritorious accusations against Pinker.
There was a lot of fuss about the therapy by David Shor, a young data analyst with the progressive Civis Analytics group who was apparently fired tweet an academic study on how violent and nonviolent protests shaped public opinion in the 1960s.
The culture of cancellation has caught the attention of many journalists and I have shared the results with two writers who were prominent in the recent debate, but on either side. Matt Taibbi, a longtime Rolling Stone writer who also has an independent platform on Substack, said he was not surprised that the poll suggests there is a backlash against the cancellation culture. His concern as a writer who often appreciates liberal conventional wisdom – he was very skeptical about the relationship between Russia and Trump – is that institutions need an intellectual environment with a wide spectrum of views to allow for sometimes bad, even horrible arguments.
“One of the reasons I picked up on this topic,” he said in an interview, “is that I have a lot of discussions with people who work in the media and who have said in recent months that they are afraid of a particular species to pitch a story because they don’t want it getting around that they are interested in a particular topic because they might get on the radar of people in the union or people who are very politically involved in the editorial. ”
He gave the example of a colleague who wanted to tell a story about a small-town pharmacy that was damaged during the protests following the murder of George Floyd and prevented the sick and elderly from complying.
“It’s not specifically about James Bennet or Bari Weiss or Andrew Sullivan,” he said. “But it only takes a few high-profile examples to have a dramatic impact on how people think and behave, especially in this working environment. Many people thought that I defended the editorial staff of Tom Cotton. It was not me. What I said is that the editor who looks will see where the line is and say “I have to stay far from it.” And as soon as that mentality continues, you get a lot of people who are afraid to say something that doesn’t say the rest and that is dangerous for our company. “
Taibbi added, “You should be able to screw it up every now and then.”