Know what to expect. The cancel crowd has its own bullet-point playbook. And they’ll respond aggressively to any symbolic act that threatens their status, or erodes the impression that they are the ones calling the shots.
Remember that behind the social-justice veneer lies the brutal logic of power and ego. To maximize the pain you feel, they’ll tag activist groups on social media to inflate their numbers and reach. They’ll bombard every organization you’re part of with demands to censure, discipline, disown, fire, or expel you—often phrasing their appeals in the passive aggressive guise of “concern” and “disappointment.”
At other times, they will insult, taunt, and, threaten you in a manner resembling middle-school children having a recess meltdown. In my case, the ringleader called me “a full on misogynist and racist,” “shameful bigot,” “hypocrite,” “clueless,” “tone-deaf,” “snowflake,” and “soulless troll.” She assailed my “privilege and patriarchy,” “lack of basic empathy and ethics,” and “zero self-awareness.” She also questioned whether I’m really a human, and called on NeurIPS to ban me, and for my department to expunge me. Her goal, in short, was to ruin my life.
The cancelers will dig up anything they can from your past. And if they can’t find any, they’ll make it up. This will all seem terrifying, but much less so if you realize that you’re just the latest victim in what is basically a mechanical and dehumanizing process. Insofar as you don’t actually get fired from your job or suffer some other equivalent setback, these are all just words, and they don’t define who you are.
Don’t back down. Don’t apologize. Don’t make clarifications, and don’t try to appease the mob. All of these will only be taken as concessions, and embolden the mob to demand more. The real Achilles’s Heel of the cancel crowd is its short attention span. Once they bully someone into submission, they move on to the next victim.
It’s a system designed for quick wins. If you don’t back down, they’ll raise the pitch as far as they can — but eventually they’ll be at a loss for what to do next, and all but the most fanatical will lose interest. The few that remain, now bereft of their backup, are just what you need to teach all of them a lesson, as we did in my case.
Don’t let them make it about you. You have the right to defend yourself when attacked, and it’s only natural to do so. Fight sanctions against you through the appropriate channels. But focusing your efforts on your own actions, even if they are the subject of spurious accusations, is generally a mistake. That’s because it changes the subject from the real underlying issues to your own supposed failings — and that’s what the cancel crowd wants, because it effectively forces you to fight for a draw instead of a win.
The appropriate response to low attacks is to point out how low they are. For example, if someone threatens you with Title IX sex-discrimination proceedings on the basis of alleged “sexism” — as they did in my case — don’t bother dignifying this kind of ludicrous claim with a substantive rebuttal. Rather, just thank them for illustrating the misuse of Title IX to crush free speech, as I did.
Hold the moral high ground. Never descend to the level of insults, taunts, and ad hominem attacks, no matter how strong the temptation. Let the cancelers do it to their heart’s content, and the onlookers will judge accordingly. …
Mock them mercilessly. Fear is what keeps the silent majority from speaking up, and laughter is the best antidote. The cancelers take themselves extremely seriously, imagining themselves to be social-justice angels whose holy ends justify every imaginable means. Their sanctimonious spirit is a gift to you, if you call it out instead of playing along with its conceit.
Don’t let their narrative outrun yours. Once a false narrative is entrenched, it’s hard to overturn, no matter how many facts you have on your side. So while, as noted above, I generally would discourage you from focusing too much on defending your own actions, there should be some resource you can point to so that everyone can know the truth. Once you have established that resource — a blog post, a published article, a podcast, even a set of tweets or Facebook posts — point people to it where necessary, including your own professional contacts and potential allies. Keep it short, crisp, and compelling so that it gets widely circulated and isn’t thwarted by short attention spans. And keep the tone confident (and possibly even funny), so that it’s clear who the real inhuman fanatics are.
Goad them into overreaching. The cancelers’ overconfidence is your greatest asset, as I learned when the ringleader of the mob that came after me resorted to posting the above-referenced list of people whom she wanted canceled, many of them junior researchers whose only crime was to have followed me or liked one of my tweets. This crossed a line for a lot of observers, and of course the people on the list itself were aghast. Word spread of the shocking behavior. Even people on her side started turning against her.
Turn their weapons against them. You may find this to be the most controversial principle, but it’s also arguably the most crucial — as the cancelers won’t stop until they fear that they’ll endure the same consequences that they seek to impose on others. …
Even companies that posture heavily in the area of social justice don’t actually want to be stained by the disgraceful behavior of mob leaders. Indeed, I have no doubt that it was an ultimatum from her employer that finally led the ringleader to stop her Twitter outbursts and apologize publicly to her victims, for all to see.
Some will say that once we resort to this step, we become as bad as the cancelers. But that’s a false equivalence. The cancel crowd tries to ban people because of their views. We try to stop bullying—behavior that is reprehensible regardless of ideology.
There is zero compromise possible with these creatures. … You cannot be reasonable. You cannot befriend them. You simply have to ruthlessly extricate them from every aspect of your life and professional career.
Spread the word.