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Blocked by ‘Doctor Who’ star! How the search for social media purity is driving cancel culture

The Twitter experiences of one EF reviewer…

Cancel Culture
Credit: Pexels

I may not have had the Twitterati mob descend on me. Yet. But it’s clear from my recent experiences on social media that the search for ideological purity on those platforms is what is spilling out into everyday life and driving ‘cancel culture’. That’s the desire cooked up by progressives or SJWs (social justice warriors) to have people who don’t agree with them expunged from the public square, and preferably humiliated.

‘Evil’ person trending

In the olden days, it was as innocuous as a good old George Orwell-style two minutes’ hate. You’d see a name ‘trending’ of somebody not on the SJW approved list, usually a conservative commentator – Peter Hitchens, say, or Toby Young. Ann Widdecombe on a good day. Twitter uses would demonstrate their virtue by piling in to condemn them robustly for whatever it was they had said on ‘Newsnight’ or in an interview. Points would be added for bravery if they copied in the object of the latest witch hunt. The chosen subject would be inundated (“dog-piled”, in Twitter parlance) for the requisite two hours, before it would all blow over and the mob would move on to the next highly selective, manufactured outrage. This cycle would continue indefinitely, always providing SJWs with a daily subject for their ire, so that they could accrue followers by demonstrating to their peers what good people they are by shouting abuse at strangers on the internet with whom they disagree.

You’re fired!

This trend carried on until the SJWs developed a taste for blood. Sir Roger Scruton, whilst he was terminally ill, was (temporarily at least) cancelled by a journalist who swigged champagne when he believed he had toppled the late philosopher from his unpaid position on a government advisory panel. The Twitterati celebrated when the axe fell, only for a bit of context to emerge, and for Scruton to be given his job back. Others haven’t been so lucky, where each and every time the worst possible interpretation has been ascribed to them for something they have said, by SJWs who presume to have windows into men’s souls. The emphasis now is on destroying livelihoods and driving off Twitter anyone who doesn’t toe the line set by SJWs, who stalk the forum like playground bullies, looking to take offence. More accurately, looking for victims.

You’re blocked from following…

Twitter isn’t real life. We’re often told this. In a sense, it’s true. It’s a minority of people who have an account, and a minority of those who have registered who regularly interact with the site and post comments. Had you perused the forum on the day of the UK General Election in 2019 and had no access to any other news, you would have been forgiven for thinking it was going to be a red-letter day for socialism, and Jeremy Corbyn was about to be installed in No 10 Downing Street as Prime Minister. The reality – crushing defeat for Labour and a stonking Tory majority, proved that Twitter is an echo chamber dominated by a certain type of left-winger – metropolitan liberals. If you’re not one of those, you won’t fit in and won’t be warmly welcomed.

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A way in which Twitter is influencing real life, though, is in the blocking of undesirables. This is when you can stop selected other Twitter users (let’s call them ‘deplorables’) from following you or seeing your Tweets. A sensible safety feature to prevent bullying or harassment (for such purposes I have used it myself) is now routinely used by those who wish to only ever see their opinions echoed back at them, and who will tolerate no diversity from it. Progressives wish to bleed this practice into the workplace, and expect to never have to go through life encountering an opinion they don’t already hold. This is not going to end well for anybody. I’m not sure I’ve ever known anybody with whom I’ve shared all of the same opinions. How boring would that be?

My ‘Doctor Who’ cancellation

I used to be followed on Twitter by a certain actress who had found fame as a ‘Doctor Who’ companion during an especially impressive era of the show in the 1970s. She had gone on to star in a hugely popular detective series that aired when I was a child. I used to wait for her to come on, and then excitedly point out to my parents (who were avid viewers), “She used to be in ‘Doctor Who’!” I’d do this without fail, every week. In 2009, I queued in a school gymnasium for an hour with a dear chum so that we could meet her, get photographs with her and a signed picture. I framed it, and it went up on the wall in pride of place. A few years later, our paths crossed as theatre reviewers. Then I went to a tiny, out of the way theatre to cover a show that she was in. It was pretty awful, but she was by far the best thing about it, which was a relief as it meant I could give her a glowing notice at the same time as giving the show an overly-generous indifferent one. As an illustration of how sub-par it was, her co-star stopped the performance about twenty minutes into the second half, apologised for messing up his lines, and restarted the second act from the beginning. For an actor, that is an imprisonable offence. To pull that stunt on a press night was unwise, putting it mildly. In a decade of reviewing theatre, I have never seen another performer behave so poorly. For a reviewer, it was rather miffing as it meant I missed the train home I had anticipated catching and was an hour late (by the time I’d waited for the next one). The show must go on. Never go back. It’s not about you, value your audience’s time… It’s all basic stuff. Anyway, being late to bed and tired the next day was worth is, as after saying nice things about her performance and copying her in, she followed me back on Twitter. For my birthday last year, I received a Blu-ray ‘Doctor Who’ box set, and watched one of her episodes whilst my husband was preparing my birthday feast. I was about to Tweet at her to say how much I was enjoying it when I was called to the table, and I later forgot all about it. That was a relief, in the end, because finding out she’d blocked me on my birthday would have taken the shine off the day. I wonder why she did? I hadn’t interacted with her for years, and only ever said nice things to or about her. Perhaps I retweeted somebody she doesn’t like (Andrew Neil, Titania McGrath or Douglas Murray the most likely candidates). Perhaps I had liked Tweet or followed someone with whom she disagrees. A cursory look at her profile from the account of the ‘Doctor Who The Complete Menagerie (Almost)‘ podcast I co-host suggests that our worldview and politics don’t entirely align. Why should this matter? I am careful on Twitter to never interact with abusive or foul-mouthed Tweets. So it can only have come down to a difference of opinion. I’m just sad that somebody I have actively admired for over thirty years has ‘cancelled’ me in this way. Why not simply unfollow? Presumably so that I would sooner or later find out what she thinks of me.

I wish I hadn’t endured an amateurish theatre experience, lured by her name. I know not to bother in future. But isn’t that a peculiar way to treat your public?

Not as peculiar as the Deputy Leader of Her Majesty’s Opposition…

Quite by chance, when she held a different position in the Shadow Cabinet, I needed to check something Angela Rayner had tweeted. I tried from my personal Twitter account and found that I was blocked. I was naive enough then for it to have taken me by surprise. After all, I’d never followed her, never interacted with any of her Tweets, commented about her or in any way engaged with her profile or any hostility directed towards her. How on earth did she even know who I was? After a bit of digging, it turns out that she’s blocked around half of Twitter, often pro-actively seeking out people to block, presumably if they follow someone she doesn’t like, or have liked a Tweet espousing an opinion she doesn’t hold. Is that a good use of an MP’s time? You might think it’s an extraordinary way to treat members of the electorate, until you realise that what’s important to them is not the art of diplomacy and winning people around to their argument (what an old-fashioned approach to politics that would be), but rigorous ideological purity. If you’re not already part of the in-group, you’re despised. Of course, as a member of the electorate, I’ll vote with my feet and studiously avoid ever even listening to a party whose Deputy Leader has judged me to be, to use one of her favoured words, scum. And all without ever having met me or knowing anything about me. Given that Rayner may be a General Election away from being the second most powerful politician in the country, it’s a worrying prospect. The levers of power in the hands of cancel culture advocates, who think Twitter is real life, will not bode well for civil liberties. Labour member and trade unionist Paul Embery’s recent book ‘Despised – Why the Modern Left Loathes the Working Class‘ proved a great insight into the extraordinary mindset of moral certitude displayed by prominent modern Labour figures and supporters.

After the last General Election, I saw an exchange on Facebook where two people lamented the result. “Did you know, more working class people voted Tory than Labour?” “I know. What’s wrong with them?” Perhaps the solution is to cancel the electorate?

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Diversity of everything – including opinion

The ways out of the authoritarian cancel culture is to engage much less with the poison of social media, and interact with people in the real world instead. Or, during lockdown, put your phone down and read instead. But we must also be less cowed by cancel culture and its proponents, and not afraid of the mob. After all, they’ve proven themselves to be dishonest players. It’s all about demonstrating fealty to a particularly nasty and rigid ideology, with no concern as to who may get hurt or lose their livelihood in the process. Outside of echo chambers, it’s amazing what you can learn. Talking to people of different ages and backgrounds, in villages and towns as well as cities, will inevitably give a more nuanced understanding of why people think what they think. It takes a bit of maturity and courage to realise there aren’t political goodies and baddies, right sides and wrong sides, but an infinity of shades of grey between two equally ugly and intolerant extremes. As someone who grew up in a small town near the countryside in the north of England and now lives in a small town near the countryside in the South East, I have grown weary of seeing my friends, neighbours, and indeed myself ‘otherised’ and labelled as backward-thinking and worse by progressives on social media who never leave their city, less still their cosy ideological bubbles. My own guess is that this will get an awful lot uglier before it gets any better. Self-reflection is not a strong suit amongst progressives. They know they are right. Like any pseudo-religion, without even the foundational possibility of forgiveness, cancel culture will continue to eat its own, as well as anyone who threatens it by not being a true believer. It’s a shame. There was a time when I enjoyed using social media.

As for the Doctor Who star, I took my signed picture down. Happy to flog it if anyone wants to make an offer?

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