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The decline of cancel culture

Yale professor Nicholas Christakis being dressed down by a student

“Cancel culture is past its peak,” says James Marriott in The Times. Ten years ago, the online mob were taking scalps everywhere: the Yale professor berated by students over the suggestion that it didn’t matter if their Halloween costumes constituted cultural appropriation; the PR director who tweeted, “Going to Africa. Hope I don’t get Aids. Just kidding. I’m white!” Social media had become a “magnifying glass of hatred”, creating an “intense beam of attention that could burn up careers and reputations”. Today, that beam has dimmed. The gender-critical philosopher Kathleen Stock is scheduled to speak at the Oxford Union later this month, over the objections of students. In the US, the heads of Cornell and other universities have pointedly defended free expression, while New York Times staff who complained about the paper’s trans coverage were given short shrift.

We are finally learning that social media is not real life; that a few thousand angry people represent a “virtually irrelevant portion” of Twitter’s 450 million users, “let alone the population as a whole”. The worst culprits were journalists, who saw Twitter as a “splendid virtual cocktail party” to which all the “smartest, wittiest people were invited” – so anything that happened there must be newsworthy. In reality, Twitter is just “a chimpanzees’ tea party, where the guests all gibber and throw dung at one another”. There are other factors behind the decline of cancel culture: a growing reluctance to indulge in these ritual online denunciations; more circumspection among social media users about what they post. Whatever the explanation, it’s a trend we should welcome. “The days of mob rule may be coming to an end.”