Sunday, March 24, 2013

Call-out Culture is an Outrage Culture

Adria Richards' decision to photograph and tweet a picture of guys joking about dongles rather than ask them to be quieter or to stop acting like thirteen-year-olds is an example of call-out culture, as she notes in her version of what happened, Forking and Dongle Jokes Don’t Belong At Tech Conferences: "Yesterday, I publicly called out a group of guys at the PyCon conference who were not being respectful to the community."

In defense of Adria Richards and call-out culture claims this is a valid example: "I once took, and tweeted, a photograph of a man who sat down in my row and began masturbating during the rape scenes in The Girl With a Dragon Tattoo. I did it because I was repulsed, horrified, and angry, and most of all because I wanted him to stop. And, on some level, because I was afraid he would hurt me. Call-out culture, I believe, helped me make it impossible for him to do so."

I don't know if the writer is lying to herself, but if you're afraid of someone in a movie theater, you don't call attention to yourself by taking a picture. You find an usher or the manager. Maybe you take a picture as proof, then find someone with the power to get the person kicked out or arrested. But if your idea of an empowering action never leaves the internet, your empowerment is as real as what happens in World of Warcraft.

But then, maybe call-out culture is a game called World of Social Justice Warcraft.

There's a lot of discussion about call-out culture on the web. I especially recommend a post at MetaFilter: privilege-checking and call-out culture, which starts by citing Liberal bullying: Privilege-checking and semantics-scolding as internet sport.

I found an insider's criticism of call-out culture at Tiger Beatdown, a site hosted by Sady Doyle, one of the gender feminists who decided Julian Assange doesn't need a trial to be declared guilty. From Flavia Dzodan's Come one, come all! Feminist and Social Justice blogging as performance and bloodshed:
Call out culture, a phenomenon that casual readers might not even notice, is to me, the most toxic aspect of blogging. Not because it is set to correct wrongs and engage in meaningful ways to actually enact change. No, call out culture is toxic because it has developed as a tool to legitimize aggression and rhetoric violence....

Call out culture might, at times, dangerously resemble bullying. However, it is not exactly the same. It certainly shares its outcome, however, unlike bullying, call out culture is part of the performative aspect of blogging. Unlike bullying, a call out is intended for an audience.
I disagree with Dzodan's understanding of bullying: bullying is usually done for an audience, to entertain the bully's friends and terrify those who might be the bully's next victim. So, yes, call-out culture is a rationalization of bullying, just as lynchings and witch-huntings were rationalizations of murder.

ETA: A similar, but even sillier, example of outrage over perceived sexism: PHPness Gate – raising interesting issues


  1. I've realised that one of our staff usually makes dongle jokes when asking for the USB drive. This is unacceptable and so I have fired myself.

    1. I suspect anyone who doesn't think "dongle" is funny would fail the Turing Test.

    2. Ha! I know it's completely puerile but persist in finding it funny.

    3. It's totally funny! Real humans snicker about genitalia and silly words. "Dongle" is like "dingle" and "tinkle" and a lot of other words that naturally evoke puerile humor when used as double-entendres. Or even single-entendres.

      I'm adding this as a footnote to my post, 'cause it's about another bit of ideological overreaction:

  2. Will - It's interesting to me that you mention lynching and witch-burning, as I see this kind of thing (call-out culture, internet shaming, etc.) as a return to the reputation economy of previous eras. The scale is new, but the fundamental sociology is not.

    I've been thinking about writing an essay about the medieval village and how it worked. Everyone in fact knows everything about everybody (there is no secrecy), but there is privacy, because privacy is what you do, not what you know. On the other hand, homogeneity is enforced and inequity normalized. But my essay list is long and Doctorow has covered this already.

    Also dongle is funny. It just seems like poor manners to snicker about it on the outside.

    1. I suppose call-out culture is related to the reputation economy, but if so, it's an extreme subset. In the reputation economy, there's a single social unit, and everyone knows everyone. In call-out culture, people rarely know each other offline. Just as many of the people who were lynched were either literal outsiders--many of the lynched, who were of all races, were people who were passing through a community, and when they weren't people seen as vagrants, they were from local poor sub-communities, the largest groups being black and Italian. (As in all things US, the class component in lynchings was huge.)

      Also, in the call-out community, you get points for finding a target. In the reputation economy, you're judged by what you do and say, not by how social leaders are able to spin what you do and say.

      I suppose if you want to say that call-out culture is the sick side of the reputation community, I wouldn't argue, but I don't think it's quite as simple as the village model suggests.

      But it fits lynching perfectly.