Callout culture needs to be called out for losing its way.
It is the act of holding people publicly accountable, usually through social media and started as a tool to promote social justice for marginalised communities. Swept away by the thrill of social assassination, netizens often over-punish the people they try to correct.
Former President Barack Obama reckons the netizens think "the way of making change is to be as judgmental as possible about other people." His words support the idea that a fake righteousness has taken over callout culture.
"If all you're doing is casting stones, you're probably not going to get that far," Obama said.
PHOTO CREDIT: SCREENSHOT FROM THE HILL'S TWITTER
A good callout shouldn't just go viral. It should also allow room for the person being called out to grow and move beyond having their image cemented as the issue they were called out for.
So what are some callouts done right [or wrong]? Let's look at some local examples.
1. A crabby situation
In October, netizens were appalled at the new House of Seafood vending machine. Vending machines themselves are not new, but the catch was that you had to catch your own crab. Many saw this as unnecessarily cruel and used social media to call the restaurant out and caught the attention of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA).
The callout post was reshared two thousand and three times.
PHOTO CREDIT: SCREENSHOT FROM SPCA'S FACEBOOK
In response, the SPCA critiqued the restaurant for "encouraging people to see animals as nothing more than objects to play with".
A quick look at CNA's coverage showed the blame being pushed from the CEO to the staff and vice versa. The company also mentioned that "they have had no problems with this before".
Instead of triggering change and growth in attitudes towards living creatures, this callout only led to the superficial and easiest solution to the issue – the removal of the machines.
2. Obstructed views
In September, Singaporeans were racing to the stands of the Grand Prix. However, one Instagram influencer, Sheena Phua, was upset when her view was blocked by two Sikh men.
She later clarified that her obstructions referred to the men's height only.
PHOTO CREDIT: SCREENSHOT FROM SHEENA PHUA'S INSTAGRAM
Her story went viral for racial insensitivity and was called out by netizens. Many of the resulting comments attacked her directly and criticised her sponsors for working with her. These comments threatened to impact her livelihood in an effort to hold her accountable.
Threatening sponsors does not give Sheena any room to grow.
PHOTO CREDIT: SCREENSHOT FROM FACEBOOK
Things took a turn for the better when the Young Sikh Association (YSA) reached out to Sheena. They invited her for an informal tour of their place of worship, a gurdwara, to learn more about their culture.
YSA's move demonstrated a belief that Sheena could improve.
PHOTO CREDIT: SCREENSHOT FROM YOUNG SIKH ASSOCIATION'S FACEBOOK
This is, in my opinion, an ideal result of a callout as the YSA chose to focus on educating Sheena rather than reprimanding her for her mistakes. Many news outlets called this act of openness an "unconventional turn of events''. Terming it unconventional only normalises how callout culture tends to result in a negative impact on the person, which is ineffective.
I hope that in future such positive outcomes will no longer be so "unconventional".
3. Old isn't always gold
There are times when a callout is warranted, and there are times when it's done for drama. In such cases, things are often taken out of context to make people angry.
Take the "Tosh Zhang and Pink Dot" saga. Three days after being declared a Pink Dot ambassador, Tosh Zhang made the choice to step down after he was attacked on social media for old homophobic tweets (at least six years old).
"Over the years as I matured, expanded my circle and connected with people from various walks of life all over the globe, my views evolved & changed."
PHOTO CREDIT: SCREENSHOT FROM TOSH ZHANG'S INSTAGRAM
Is it fair to hold someone accountable for old opinions when they've demonstrated a propensity for change?
Calling Tosh out like this could stunt his growth when opportunities to better himself are taken away from him. It also indicates that there is no redemption from your past mistakes online.
This creates a society where people might be wary of admitting fault or mistakes because they will get called out even if they do.
What can we do instead?
We live in a time where we expect people to never make mistakes, which is impossible. In an interview with Trevor Noah, The Good Place actress, Jameela Jamil, spoke about the importance of giving people space to grow.
"We often search for moral purity in our society, and you're never going to find that. All you can find is progress…If we keep cutting people down for a mistake they made 10 years ago, they will see no point in progressing."
The next time someone gets called out online, instead of being part of the sea that tries to drown them, ask yourself this:
"How can I help them become a better person?"
You might realise that screaming at them through a computer screen is never the best option.
TEASER AND BANNER PHOTO CREDIT: OLEG MAGNI