The police killing of George Floyd continues to inspire a bracingly physical uprising, with protesters still taking to the streets and monuments to white oppressors still being torn down. But fierce confrontation, campaigning, and figurehead-toppling has happened online, too. In recent weeks, Twitter has exploded with stories from people of color about pay disparities, discrimination, and offensive speech in their workplaces. It’s also been a place where historical instances of insensitivity by companies and entertainers have been put on blast. The results of such outcries have been swift and concrete, with many brands, celebs, and CEOs issuing apologies, action plans, and resignation announcements. To pick a few examples: Famed editors have left their posts after being accused of creating hostile workplaces for people of color, Vanderpump Rules has fired two of its stars for calling the police on a black cast member without reason, and 500 gyms have dropped their affiliation with CrossFit after its founder trivialized the concerns of Black Lives Matter.
These developments would seem to be triumphs for the much-criticized set of social-media practices often referred to as “callout culture” and its close sibling, “cancel culture.” The naming and shaming of alleged bigots, misogynists, and assorted other pigs—and the institutions that support them—has in recent years propelled anti-racist movements, #MeToo, and, of course, many situations unrelated to broader political matters. In clear ways, such callouts embrace the leveling effects of social media to empower marginalized voices. But all along, callouts have themselves been subject to controversy—which this latest online wave will both intensify and complicate.