Editor's Note: This transcript was automatically transcribed, so mistakes are inevitable. You can contribute by proofreading the transcript or highlighting the mistakes. Sign up to be amongst the first contributors.
From The New York Times, I'm Michael Barbaro. This is a daily if Twitter hashtag about how you didn't do something right. Then I can sit back and feel pretty good about myself because, man, you see how walk I was. I called you out.
I think Castle, I think Castle, before they had castle culture, the only thing that has changed is that people are being held accountable, the folks who always thought they were untouchable and now they realize they're not.
Yesterday, my colleague Joan Abramovitch explained how cancer culture has emerged as a political and cultural force.
In 2020, one of their political weapons is cancer culture, driving people from their jobs. Today, Jonah returns with a case study. It's Tuesday, August 11th. You may not even remember me from high school because you were in my brother's grade and you were one of my brother's friends and I remember you. Yeah, but we didn't talk that much. Yeah.
You were always someone he spoke extremely highly of in terms of what he like to do, which was talk and argue and stuff. So I was like very aware of you.
So tell me about your friend. So Zeeshan Leam is someone that I originally got to know in high school, and I didn't know him as well as I knew of him. And that's because he was three years older than me in the same grade as my brother and my brother, who loves to argue and loves to figure out what he thinks about things would go to Zeeshan when he wanted to talk about something serious, when he wanted to talk about politics, when he wanted to talk about something he didn't know quite that well.
Zeeshan was that guy for him.
I think it's just for me personally. And this makes me sort of very out of touch with Internet culture and just what it's like to live in twenty twenty. But I tend to think very slowly about things. And I'm not saying that's a virtue, but that's just sort of the way I am. And I'm often skeptical of my own opinions on things and disagree with myself while articulating things. But I and I really wanted to be like that as well.
I mean, I know what I'm scared of, which is like any time I tweet, I'm worried about what people are going to think about it. And, you know, I panic. And so fast forward to adulthood.
I mean, like you, for the longest time, I was sort of terrified of making a joke that would be misinterpreted.
And I'm running into him in New York. We're both in media. And one of the things we talk about when we run into each other is kind of how abysmal we are at Twitter and specifically how that kind of conversation, the kind that my brother like to have with Zeeshan, is actually really difficult on Twitter. And so we're both a little timid. We're both a little shy, but then. Earlier this year, I start to see that Zeshan, despite me thinking I related to him on this, is actually really starting to talk about the subjects that interest him.
And one of the subjects he starts talking about is Catholic culture. And I was like, oh, here we go. This is someone who's very much like me thinking kind of in similar ways about this thing. But he's going to talk about it in public where I can see it. So I was excited to see that.
Well, I'm glad that you see some kind of growth. I only continue to feel that I totally fail at this medium and am continually overwhelmed by it.
And where does this story with this encounter with council culture, where does it begin? So it's helpful to know that Zeshan is a progressive political writer. So he writes a lot about activism and power, the political left, and he's engaging with those topics in his work, but also on Twitter. Do you remember kind of when you came across that phrase or when you started to think about it as something that might actually be worth looking into?
When I initially saw the term kind of get traction, I mean, I did find it to resonate with me to some extent. You know, at least in social media culture, there seemed to be a tendency to sort of look at things through sort of a good versus bad binary, casting people out or exiling them by the sort of a larger culture online to be somebody who is no longer with it or moral or an upstanding citizen of Twitter culture, which I didn't necessarily consider to be the worst thing in the world.
But it was odd and intrigued me, and I was curious that this kind of culture would continue to grow over time.
So just to be clear, it's not that Zeshan doesn't agree that a lot of people being held to account on Twitter have done something wrong or have said something racist. And he cares about the underlying issues that sit at the heart of the encounters. But he's also kind of questioning, especially when these things that we label as cancellations happen, like what is that energy being put to use for?
So a lot of, I think the primary energy that it makes sense to sort of kind of focus on is focusing on how to dismantle the systems that gave rise this behavior in the first place, which involves things like addressing institutional racism, which manifests in things like housing or in education or wealth inequity or mass incarceration. There's all kinds of ways that historically grounded in material racism, has helped produce the kind of behavior we're seeing today. And I'd say, of course, that doesn't mean that there isn't work to be done on the level of dealing with personalities and interpersonal behavior.
And, of course, there's a huge debate.
So in other words, he wants to be involved in substantive conversations about the actual issues that sit at the heart of these encounters. Right. Like, he doesn't want to be talking about the people and the fighting that result from them. He wants to talk about the issues.
So, you know, I remember it being a slow summer day in July and logging on to Twitter and then sort of seeing this video of him harassing me.
I'm not harassing you are surfacing over and over again in my feed. You're going to that back again.
This man in Florida at a Costco's had a belligerent outburst and response to being asked by a customer to put a mask on back to go for your phone down.
And this video, which is about 17 seconds long, really caught the attention of a lot of people because of the level of aggression of the person involved in the video. The man clenches fists and walks towards the phone and kind of a sort of menacing way, saying, back off. And I feel threatened. And probably most notably, he's wearing a bright red shirt that says Running the world's in seventeen seventy six.
What did the seventeen seventy six shirt, what did that say to you about the person wearing it?
The shirt seemed to me to evoke a certain kind of political world view, probably somebody who has right wing politics and kind of a make America great again attitude.
What was your immediate reaction to that? Like, how did you feel about it?
Well, I thought the way that the man was behaving was sort of unhinged. The behavior was obviously very aggressive. It was inappropriate. Most importantly, he was extremely unsafe. You know, there's a pandemic going on. He wasn't wearing a mask and he's almost spitting on the person he's talking to. So, you know, I thought it was definitely inappropriate behavior.
You're asking me I'm not asking you, are you?
You and Zeeshan says that he started seeing this video again going viral.
You're asking me. I'm not hurting you. Are you from for your phone down?
This was like kind of the summer of viral video. Of fights over masks. Three thousand tolerance, mostly everyone I work for Coskun, and I'm asking this member to put on a mask because that is our company policy and I'm not doing it. So I woke up in a free country.
Lady, did you think, oh, I should tweet this video or I should tweet my outrage about this video, or were you not interested in it in that way yet?
I was just trying to kind of size it up and figure out what was going on. The video was so short that I was curious if there any other information to be obtained about the situation. So what I started doing was actually just looking through the replies and, you know, I'm going through them and sort of seeing the mockery and criticism and condemnations. And one thing in particular kind of caught my eye, which is that one Twitter user seemed to be sort of spearheading a search campaign to try to identify who this guy was and figure out more about him in particular.
It seemed that the idea was to try to figure out where he worked and to try to get him fired.
So Zeeshan says that he goes and looks into the Twitter user who seems like he's really kind of leading the charge to get the guy in the seventeen seventy six shirt fired. And he finds out a couple of things about this guy. So he finds out that the guy is in marketing, that he looks like he's like an influencer or some kind. He's appeared on a 30 under 30 list to Zeeshan. He's really like appearing to be kind of a type.
So, you know, you saw the clip of the seventeen seventy six shirt guy in Costco and maybe he didn't seem like the kind of guy you necessarily want to be friends with. But then how did you feel now about seeing the market or gunning for this guy's job?
I was sort of confused about it. I suppose there is basically a 17 second clip here and the idea of immediately playing the role of judge, jury and executioner in terms of taking a person's job seemed to me sort of a hasty conclusion to come to and not something that, given the time span, could have necessarily been sort of a well thought out. I also wasn't sure whether or not the idea of trying to identify someone random on the Internet was a good idea.
There's a number of documented cases of people identifying the wrong person based off of who they think they found on a photograph or a video. And then, you know, the wrong person getting dark or getting fired or getting threatened by random people on the Internet. And so, you know, I think targeting jobs is a bad idea. Right.
And at the risk of asking you something that may seem incredibly obvious, why do you think targeting jobs is a bad idea?
Well, I think there's a lot to say about this. First is the issue of the sort of severity of this sentence. You know, in American society, when you lose your job, you're not only losing your income, but you're also losing your health insurance. And if you are the an earner in a family, that could also potentially mean that your family also loses their health insurance. And then, of course, you have to take into account that we have a very weak social safety net thanks to policies that have sort of gutted the welfare state for decades in American society.
So what that basically means is that when someone loses their job, if they don't happen to sort of immediately get another one, you're potentially condemning them to extreme sort of material deprivation. And you also have to take into account the fact that when people lose their jobs in these ways, they might become radioactive on the labor market and become unviable in many situations. And of course, this all this stuff is sort of done without deliberation, without broader context.
We don't even know who is whipping up these sort of job firing campaigns. I mean, it could be potentially be a group of teenagers who, you know, going for a joyride online.
And the other issue, so Zeeshan is thinking and thinking about this issue and eventually he decides he's going to take those thoughts and he's going to put them together into a thread, which is kind of how he does things on Twitter. And in this thread, he actually mentions the marketing guy that he sees leading the campaign to get the seventeen seventy six guy fired.
So I think I tweeted at him a couple of times and I also tagged him when I sort of wrote this critique saying that I thought that, you know, this is something that is sort of out of line with sort of progressive values. And I found his response to sort of be dismissive. He sort of dodged my argument, saying, well, you know, are you saying that this behavior is OK or acceptable? And I said, no, not at all.
All I'm saying is that this specific mode of punishment doesn't seem to be the right way to deal with this situation at this moment. And then when I said that, he's responded by dismissing me and it didn't really go any further than that. Do you remember how he dismissed you? Yes, he responded, calm down. There is a thread. I mean, did it bother you? I was just surprised that someone who had just sort of gathered a pack of vigilantes to take someone's job down and apparently played a pretty successful role in that, genuinely did not seem to have any rationale for the ethics of what he was doing.
So Zeeshan is a little frustrated with the marketer's response, and he steps away from his computer and he goes about his life. But meanwhile, the threat is still there. It's just kind of floating on Twitter and it's picking up a like here and it's picking up every tweet there. And it's slowly kind of growing in popularity. And I'm kind of tracking this kind of along with all the other things I'm doing. And then the thread gets the kind of tweet you really don't want to get.
So I think I was making some tea over in my kitchen when I received a text message, popped up on my phone, opened up the text, and my friend sent me a screenshot of the tweet thread that I'd sent out. And two things stood out to me really wanted it seemed to start going viral, is going to the hundreds of tweets.
And secondly, it showed that I've been retweeted by Jack Pasovic and I was immediately shocked by by this news I didn't think is a big thing.
So Jack Biso Biak is like the king troll of Twitter. And so it was really only about 30 minutes from where I live.
He's someone who propagated the conspiracies, alleged pedophile activity going on.
You would kind of sense it the minute he's retweeting you. You know that a certain section of the pretty far right is going to be interested in what you have to say. And it's going to be pretty unpleasant.
A lot of news is not paying attention to this. A lot of news is not bring it out. Go look at my Twitter.
I've just put put up all of the pictures I've just put up and Zeeshan starts to see that right wing Twitter is coming in droves to his thread.
It was one of those things where when I first saw it, I was really shocked and surprised. But then over time, I sort of was able to figure out what was going on. I mean, basically the reason that it was being retweeted was because what I was saying was critical of something that a progressive had done. But the reason that it struck me as sort of absurd is the substantive points I was making were all coming from a progressive or left perspective of criminal justice and being a less punitive society and the gutting of the welfare state.
And, you know, our employment system, none of them are really kind of digging into the points that Zeeshan is making. And instead, they're actually really focused on Xians characterization of the marketing guy and what the marketing guy was up to. And they're actually going directly after the marketing guy.
All of a sudden, a lot of people who had swarmed over from sort of the Trump sphere start attacking him and criticizing him, start saying things that sound threatening or cruel, and they end up digging up a number of tweets that are sort of unseemly, potentially racist, definitely compromising or hypocritical for somebody who has a hashtag Black Lives Matter in their bio and they dig up all this old and.
Yeah, offensive stuff that the marketing guy has said in the past. And they're using that to come right back at him and try and quote unquote, cancel him.
Or he seems to become basically the sort of victim of a new job targeting campaign and appears to have the barrel of his own gun pointed back at him, which was really remarkable. So it's like a ricochet.
Yeah. So Zeshan, who was really just looking to play this role as a commentator, trying to help people figure out what's going on in the culture, gets pulled into this drama. And so he's not only a commentator, he arguably actually causes the whole second wave because his thread is the incentive for all these Jack Bessarabia followers to go after the marketer.
Did you feel used? I saw what was happening as a sort of latest example of how online discourse is so incredibly bad faith and how so much of the way people boost what other people say is not necessarily ideologically sincere, but as long as it's tactically advantageous, it will sort of be pushed forward. So in this situation, what I was saying was things that people on the right are actively hostile to about having better health care and better protections for the unemployed.
But the reason they were boosting it was because the fact that at least on a surface level, it was criticizing the idea that progressive activists are doing things that are inappropriate and was an indictment of the left and an example the fact that Trump's America is persecuted. And so it's this really remarkable phenomenon where people are not necessarily engaging with the substance or the specifics of what anyone else is saying, but instead are merely trying to sort of advance their own specific narrative or their own specific political goal by scoring points in this sort of really shallow or cheap way.
Because the funny thing is that if any of Jack Vosovic followers had read through what I said, they'd actually be exposed more to progressive ideas. But the reality is people just see the first thing I say and say, oh, there's a great example of how the left has just gone crazy. Right.
And they were using your identity to I mean, some people were saying, look, even this progressive guy thinks that this is all gone too far.
Yeah, definitely. But do you think you should have been surprised by this?
Like when when in history of Twitter being what it is right now? Have things like this gone well on Twitter?
Yeah, I mean, there's probably a general rule that when something goes viral enough, like nothing good can come of it. But yeah, I mean, it's it's.
There's constant, constant context collapse online, and what that means is that intentions and the specific kind of, you know, broader background behind any specific set of actions just sort of vanishes when it's presented to certain crowds and can so quickly be used as fodder in another political battle that it's I mean, it's just genuinely astonishing in a way.
Both these guys got canceled, right? The seventeen seventy six guy got canceled and then the marketer got canceled.
But what they did and who was doing the canceling and the result it had was completely different. And so for Zeeshan, who's actually in the middle of all this kind of seeing how different each context is and how they're just completely collapsed by the term cancel culture, I think that's really eye opening for him.
I should add, by the way, that the final chapter of this story involves me receiving an email, the subject line of which said Cancel Culture Cancela, which basically said that I was no better than anyone else in this situation. So I end up being accused of basically being a part of the culture that I was decrying in some ways. But it was it was a pretty fitting end to the saga.
Right. So it's actually like a triple cancellation. It's an attempted triple cancellation. I think I'm not yet canceled. Got it.
We'll be right back. This podcast is supported by E-Trade trading isn't for everyone, but E-Trade is whether it's saving for a rainy day or your retirement, E-Trade has you covered, they can help you check financial goals off your list. And with a team of professionals giving you support when you need it, you can be confident that your money is working hard for you. Get more than just trading with ETrade to get started. Visit ETrade Dotcom Slash podcast for more information.
E-Trade Securities LLC member FINRA SIPC. So, John, you walked us through a complicated tale of cancellations where one person's job was under threat, another person had his history dug up on Twitter, and your friend Zeeshan, despite his best intentions, found himself playing a role in all of this. And I wonder how this experience has affected how he's thinking about all of this. Yeah, you know, it's interesting, Zeeshan is trying to use Twitter in this way that I never really have figured out how to do, and obviously in this case, it didn't work out that well.
I mean, he immediately got dragged into this thing.
I don't think that Twitter rewards asterisks and ums and skepticism, ambivalence, questions. I think Twitter rewards absolute claims, simple sort of black and white, good and evil, allegories and binaries and strong declarations of truth that leave little room for interpretation. Yeah.
So, I mean, does it make you just more cynical about your ability to kind of do what you set out to do, which is argue and persuade and think through problems in a way that's serious and that you clearly kind of mean to be helpful and good?
I think there's a great deal about the very infrastructure of social media that are explicitly designed to incentivize this kind of behavior, to encourage people to be adversarial towards each other.
But I don't think all is necessarily lost. I think it is still possible to create, you know, at least subcultures online and these platforms and in other places that are at least more encouraging of open debate. And this really does also exist across the political spectrum, I would say, of people trying to engage with each other in a way that is, you know, actually with a real desire to be productive, I think.
So it's interesting, actually, Zeeshan is not giving up this very sensible, logical, like buy the books way of tweeting at all.
It did make him reconsider one key part of the message that he said it did change my mind about using the term console culture. I'm pretty sure that tweet thread is the last time that I've used it. And there's a couple of reasons for that. One is there's a coherence problem, which is the fact that cancel culture is something that some people have called kind of a suitcase term, which is that people will end up packing a whole variety of completely disparate terms and ideas into this one phrase.
And at this point in time, it can refer to things that are, you know, quite different, everything from having a sort of adversarial sort of civil society online, you know, people just being mean to each other. It can refer to the idea of ousting people from organizations for saying or doing bigoted or sexist or racist things. In the past. It can refer to boycott campaigns and it can be used for, you know, as we discussed, the idea of campaigning to get someone fired from their own job.
And the reason this is a problem is because when people debate council culture, it's a moving target. And it's hard to know what someone's referring to when someone else is talking about people can be using different definitions and then in effect, be either intentionally or unintentionally strawman each other by using different definitions. And so a lot of people will use a sort of more mild instances of what's commonly understood as cancel culture to sort of say it's not a big deal.
And then certain people will emphasize the sort of harsher elements of it to say that this represents a true essence and it just becomes very difficult to refer to sort of discuss in a way that really advances debate.
And so I think now Zeshan thinks that the term itself, like the term Cancio culture, even though he's still concerned about some of the behavior that it refers to, is obstructing his ability to talk about that behavior.
Right. The term is preventing him from talking about what the term is supposed to refer to because it's such a distraction, right. Like it turns even these progressive points that he lays out so, so carefully into fuel for alt. Right. Twitter, I mean, that's the the power of this term, but also why it's become totally meaningless for him.
I think specificity is the path to enlightenment. And I think going forward, the idea is to just lay out the specific things that bother you. And I would.
So it's more than a semantic debate. It's about how language gets used.
Yeah, I mean, let's think about what happened in twenty sixteen, right? There's actually a very similarly loaded phrase.
It is 9:00 p.m. on the East Coast and the moment of truth has arrived. Welcome to the first debate night of the 2016 presidential campaign. I'm Megyn Kelly.
So you'll remember that President Trump in 2016 took political correctness and really made it kind of a weapon.
You've called women you don't like fat pigs, dogs, slobs and disgusting animals. How will you answer the charge from Hillary Clinton, who is likely to be the Democratic nominee, that you are part of the war on women? The big problem this country has is being politically correct. I have been. So political correctness also can refer to so many different kinds of things, but polls show that the phrase political correctness, the actual words political correctness, it's just viewed overwhelmingly as negative.
People have a negative response to whatever they think political correctness is. And recently, a Politico poll found that something really, really similar is happening with the phrase cancer culture. So it found that, you know, a quarter of Americans did not even really heard of it. They hadn't formed an opinion on it. But if you're familiar with the phrase cancer culture, what this poll found is that you probably think it's a negative thing and that it has a negative impact on society.
So owning a phrase like that, owning a phrase that for people is just this like big blast of, oh, I don't like that. That's an incredibly powerful thing. And to be able to take that phrase and then put it on your opponent and say, my opponent is associated with cancer culture, that's even more powerful, you're taking this phrase that means so many different things to so many people, but they all don't like it. And you're associating it with someone who is your political enemy.
That can be an astonishingly powerful political tactic. Mm hmm.
So Jeffrey Toobin of The New Yorker has this quote that I've been thinking about a lot recently that I think applies to this situation. So the court is actually talking about the report, but it actually it really does work perfectly here. So the quote is simplicity rarely loses to complexity and battles in the public square.
Angry mobs are trying to tear down statues of our founders to face our most sacred memorials and unleash a wave of violent crime in our cities. Many of these people have no idea why they're doing this, but some know exactly what they are doing.
So then it really should be no surprise, given that we know council culture is this incredibly complex and difficult to understand thing, but also that it's a negative thing that Americans don't like that heading into the twenty twenty election, the president has recognized these features of the phrase cancer culture, and it's become for him a new favorite weapon.
One of their political weapons is cancer culture, driving people from their jobs, shaming dissenters and demanding total separation from anyone who disagrees. This is the very definition of totalitarianism, and it is completely alien to our culture and to our values. And it has absolutely no place in the United States of America.
Jonah, thank you once again, we appreciate it. Thanks, Michael. We'll be right back. From the beginning of the pandemic, Wal-Mart's focus has been and continues to be the health and safety of our associates and the communities we serve. That's why we're now requiring shoppers to wear face coverings in our stores. It's a simple step that everyone can take for their safety and the safety of others. Wal-Mart is also working to support the associates who worked so hard for our customers, rewarding our store club, distribution center and fulfillment center associates with their third special cash bonus this year.
Learn more about our efforts at Wal-Mart.com here for you. Here's what else you need to know, document L.A. climate, lobby him on how the health care reform on our. On Monday, the prime minister of Lebanon, Hassan Diab, and members of his cabinet resigned amid rising public anger at the government there over the massive explosion last week that killed more than 150 people and wounded more than 6000 Toledo enough to help a mother and father Watani.
In a televised speech, Diyab said that he stood with the people of Lebanon and blamed widespread corruption for the explosion, which occurred at a site where thousands of tonnes of ammonium nitrate had been stored for years, despite repeated requests that the government remove it.
But the resignations did little to quell the growing demonstrations in Beirut, where protesters are now calling for the country's president to resign as well.
And what occurred in our downtown and surrounding communities was abject criminal behavior, pure and simple.
Between Sunday night and Monday morning in Chicago, hundreds of people broke into stores and clashed with police in the city's downtown in what Mayor Lawrence-Lightfoot described as an unprovoked crime spree. This is not a legitimate First Amendment protected speech. These were not poor people engage in petty theft to feed themselves and their families. This was a straight up felony criminal conduct.
The crowds smashed windows and looted businesses, prompting city officials to briefly raise the bridges to and from downtown to try to stop the unrest. The Times reports that the confrontation may have been a response to a police shooting of a city resident and to misinformation about that encounter that spread online. By Monday morning, Chicago police had arrested more than 100 people.
That's it for The Daily. I'm Michael Barbaro. See you tomorrow. Would you pay 100 dollars for a six pack of beer, could you, as climate change disrupts global agriculture? We're approaching a future where everyday items, including beer, will be far more expensive. Of course, beer will be the least of our problems. The economic consequences of climate change will make 2020 look small in comparison. That's why fat tire amber ale is now America's first national carbon neutral certified beer.
It's a good start, but it's not enough. Learn more and take action to solve climate change at drink sustainably. Dotcom.