Afternoon Inqueery

AI: Calling People Out On Social Media

Earlier this week, someone on my Facebook newsfeed posted a rape joke. This isn’t a unique occurrence – it’s more like a regular reminder that even my network of acquaintances isn’t a nice bubble of acceptance and kindness and logical arguments. Having grown up in an area that’s 98.5% white and very conservative, in addition to attending a university that’s got a 2:1 male:female ratio and a lot of relatively privileged students (who, oddly enough, don’t know how to construct logical arguments), I know a lot of people who have screwed-up opinions and no problem expressing them, whether explicitly or insidiously.
Anyway, I don’t usually say anything to people in these all-too-common situations, mostly because I’m too scared about the potential reaction and I’m not that good at arguing with people (particularly those who’d rather be even more hurtful than consider that they might be wrong), but this time I did. It went… well, better than I expected, actually. The initial backlash was a short, laughably indignant reply with about half a dozen points taken straight from Derailing for Dummies, a few ad hominems and little else, which made it easy to refute. After that someone else offered a less terrible counter-argument and we’ve been having a proper discussion. I didn’t handle it as well as I wanted to – I started off by citing rape statistics, the concept of a rape culture and how “harmless jokes” are part of that, though I placed too much emphasis on triggering and not enough on trivialisation (which was the more important thing in this case) – but hopefully I didn’t make a complete mockery of the whole thing. What I worry about is people seeing the guy on the other side as the voice of reason despite his lack of an argument because zomg teh manhat0rz. Or something.
This whole episode has made me think about when it’s the right time to speak up against offensive things online and how you make that decision. I’ve also been thinking about how those decisions translate into real life. Whatever I decide, I may be annoying a few more people in the future with my (and I quote) “militant jingoism” and “single-minded crusade”…
What do you do when you see people make offensive jokes or voice offensive opinions online? Have you ever called out a close friend or relative? How do you work out when to respond and when to leave well alone?
The Afternoon Inqueery (or AI) is a question posed to you, the Queereka community. Look for it to appear on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Sundays, at 3pm ET.
(Featured image by xkcd.)

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Courtney is a theoretical physics student at Imperial College London, broadly identifying as cisfemale, panromantic, asexual and atheist. She lives with mental illness (worst room-mate ever) and hopes to help break down the stigma attached to admitting that. Her hobbies include campaigning, internetting and spectacularly failing to defy any stereotypes regarding British people and tea. She also identifies as an X-Phile/Browncoat/Whovian, which are clearly the most important things.


  1. September 27, 2012 at 4:11 pm —

    I usually call my friends out if they say something sexist, racist, trans*-phobic, etc. I see it as an opportunity to educate a friendly audience on a topic in which they have a demonstrated deficiency. I explain the inherant ignorance/priviledge involved, and why it is harmful to group X and society as a whole. I try to keep the emphasis on the idea and the cultural forces involved, rather than on the person who expressed it.

  2. September 27, 2012 at 4:26 pm —

    One of my family members recently posted a status to Facebook that basically said “I feel icky and fat, too bad I’m too intelligent to develop an eating disorder.”

    Having recently made friends with several people who have eating disorders and hearing their experiences, I’m frankly infuriated at this comment. However, I already know this family member to be stubborn and tending towards drama, so I’m not interested in trying to engage them.

    It’s really dependent on the person. When there’s little point and an almost guaranteed backlash, I stay away. If I think there’s even a slim chance at success–minus the drama–I take it.

  3. September 27, 2012 at 4:59 pm —

    On social media, I have a personal policy of calling it out whenever I see it… but it’s a policy made tenable by the fact that the family members (and friends) whose goodwill I care about are all respectful of differences and don’t make remarks that need to be called-out.

    The reason I do it when I don’t think it’s going to change anything for that particular person is that I think it’s important to have that objection up there, on the record, for everyone *else* who looks at that thread. I for one can say that seeing others make those objections when I stayed silent was a big part of changing how I approached things.

    Twice, this has resulted in me being unfriended and the person I called out getting a round of back-pats from their other contacts… I worry sometimes that that reinforces the behavior in the perpetrator, but I think the potential benefits of the broad audience are worth it.

    • October 1, 2012 at 12:03 pm —

      Same here. I like your point that even if THEY won’t change their minds, someone reading their post may get something positive out of seeing you call out the bad behavior.

      I do, however, make a point to ask for clarification when I think a post isn’t totally clear on its perceived bigotry. I’ve been glad for that policy every time, because in those instances it turned out I was missing some important context from past events/posts.

      Example: a friend of mine posted something that came off as hating on prostitutes (she and I stripped together, and she’d never come off as a whore-hater). I messaged her asking what it was about, because it came off as her hating on whores, and she immediately responded with “Oh shit! No! It’s because this particular individual used to call me a prostitute for being a dancer, and this news story shows her being caught for prostitution. I was calling her a hypocrite, not dissing prostitution.” She also updated her post with that clarification, since it wasn’t clear to those of us who came into her FB life AFTER the apparently drawn-out FB hate-fest the other woman put her through.

      I have yet to be unfriended for calling out shitty jokes, but then I don’t tend to associate with people for long if they’re the type to think that shit’s cool.

  4. September 27, 2012 at 5:54 pm —

    I tend to take those conversations off of the public venue. I have, a few times, messaged people privately on forums like facebook or fetlife to point out when I was offended by something and why. While it doesn’t give the opportunity for outside people to learn something from the situation, it DOES prevent the person I’m confronting from having to defend themselves in some public forum. Generally the responses have gone pretty well – mostly because I only do this with people I think will probably be receptive to the point, and who didn’t mean to say something awful, they just didn’t know better.

  5. September 28, 2012 at 10:34 am —

    One of my favorite things to do when someone makes a kyriarchal joke is to innocently say, “Wait, I don’t get it. Can you explain it?” That forces them into a position of acknowledging the sexism/racism/homophobia/fatism/rape apology/whatever that the entire joke is based on.

    Only works for jokes, but.

    • September 29, 2012 at 4:53 pm —

      This is another favorite of mine too.

    • October 5, 2012 at 10:38 pm —

      Yeah I love this tactic. SO EFFECTIVE. Act totally innocent, let them dig their own grave.

  6. September 29, 2012 at 4:52 pm —

    Depending on how I feel, I will do one of three things.

    1. Sigh, roll my eyes, and pocket my ideas for a later post or conversation.
    2. Throw down and call them out. I do this when I have well constructed arguments, and am feeling particularly [email protected] I’m more likely to do this with close friends and family, but sometimes I do call out other people in social media, but if the argument with that person goes poorly, I may do number 3…
    3. Defriend* their @ss. Seeing hurtful, offensive things on my friends list has a way of ruining my day, and I’m more interested in being a sane, productive person than being “fair”.

    *I’ve also defriended someone who was an ass online, but who is actually a very nice, intelligent person in real life – I don’t consider who is connected to me o social media to be the end all and be all of my social life.

  7. […] week on from my last AI I’ve found myself in another situation involving debating with someone who I barely know. […]

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