I’ve been trying to think of a good way to write this post for a few days now. But the recent explosion of people on Instagram attempting to explain that they aren’t cancelling authors, they’re calling them out and holding them accountable has finally given me the push I needed to write this post.
Right now, there’s a huge debate happening on Instagram. People are making posts concerning cancelling authors, saying it’s not cancelling, it’s holding them accountable and educating the public. Other people are saying it’s cancelling them and if it doesn’t stop, we won’t have any books left to read. So let’s examine cancelling authors and holding them accountable to see what the difference is, then we’ll discuss why this difference matters.
So what does it look like when an author is cancelled? Well, it usually starts with a tweet or Instagram post that reads something similar to the following:
“A*th*r N*me said/did/wrote this problematic thing. Please don’t support them. Instead, here is a list of authors you can/should support. (List here)
This is usually followed by a conversation either as a Twitter thread or as comments on the Instagram posts, retweets/shares, and people saying things like “I’ll never read A*th*r N*me again” or “I’m throwing all my books by A*th*r N*me away”. This is usually followed by a mass unfollowing of the author on social media. It can also include some people sending DMs on Instagram or Twitter to people they follow who are still following the author on social media, requesting a reason why the person has failed to unfollow the author. These DMs are often contain a threat of loss of friendship over this issue.
Holding Authors Accountable
Now, let’s see what a proper call out and holding an author accountable would look like:
@AuthorName It has come to my attention that you have said/done/written this problematic thing. The book community would like to know what you plan to do to rectify your behavior.
Sadly, I’ve literally never seen this happen, so I have no idea what would actually happen afterward.
What’s the Difference?
Well, as you can see, in the cancelling authors section, you find that there is no @ mention to the author. You’re “calling them out and holding them accountable” without actually telling them you’re doing it. How can you call someone out without telling them you did it? The point of calling someone out and holding them accountable is to tell them that the behavior is unacceptable, not to tell the rest of the world that they did something wrong.
In fact, in most cases, when tweets like the one in the cancelling authors section appear, they do everything they can to prevent the author from finding out what they’ve said – they don’t @ mention the author, they either don’t mention the author at all, only giving in later when a bunch of people ask or DMing people who want to know who it is, or they censor the author’s name so it won’t come up in a search.
In this case, you’re not holding them accountable. You’re just calling them out, demanding that everyone else stop supporting them, and going from there. The person who makes the original post will usually then just sit back and watch the storm roll in, allowing others to rip the author a new one, occasionally joining in. Anyone who dares defend the author will be cancelled as well.
Now, when you look at the holding authors accountable section, you’ll see a much different message. Yes, the message is public, but you’ve included the author in question in the dialogue. You’ve given them a chance to see what it is they did wrong1Believe it or not, a lot of people don’t realize they did something wrong – especially if it’s an author who wrote something problematic in a book. Their beta and sensitivity readers may not have caught it or may not have considered it to be problematic. and given them a chance to respond with what they plan to do to rectify the situation.
This is what holding someone accountable is – you let them know what’s going on. You give them a chance to rectify the situation. You also have the courtesy to give them a second chance, something you would want if you were in their situation.
Why Does It Matter?
So why does this matter? Because I see far too many authors getting cancelled on social media. I don’t see them actually being informed of their problematic behavior. I don’t see them being given a chance to rectify the situation – no chance to apologize, no chance to do better.
People make posts like the one found in the cancelling authors section, then sit back and watch everyone fall in line. They watch as an author’s life and livelihood is ruined over something they may not have even realized they’d done because no one had ever cared before – not even people who “should” have cared2Also known as the affected party, whether that party is BIPOC, part of the LGBTQIA+ community, disabled, or part of any other marginalized group.. Posts like the one in the cancelling authors section give no option for apology, no option for fixing the situation or redeeming themselves. They flat out tell people to stop supporting the author because they’re problematic.
Holding someone accountable does not mean sneaking around, talking behind their backs about the problem, and then publicly embarrassing them/shaming them for something. Holding someone accountable means you tell them what’s going on. You tell them there is a problem. You ask them what they’re willing to do to try and fix the situation. Even if all they can do is simply apologize and try to do better. You actually give them a chance to do better.
I get it. No one likes a problematic person. But the truth is, we’re all problematic in some way. We all do, say, or write things that are problematic. Just because no one has ever called us out on it doesn’t mean we aren’t problematic ourselves. Telling others not to support an author3Even if you politely say “please don’t support this author” it’s still telling them not to support the author. isn’t holding them accountable. Blocking/reporting social media accounts who follow/support certain authors isn’t holding the authors accountable. Telling people you can’t be friends if they support certain authors isn’t holding the authors accountable. It’s punishing people for liking what they like.
Like several people on Instagram have pointed out – if we continue to cancel all the authors who are problematic under the guise of “holding them accountable”, we won’t have any books to read.
I don’t want a huge flame war or debate in my comments, so comments for this post have been turned off. Using my contact form to harass me for my views and opinions will only get your email address blocked from being allowed to use my contact form.