Avoiding the Chilling effect of Political Correctness

President Obama’s interview comments (BBC coverage here) on the danger of just calling out the smallest flaws in speech as a sign of bigotry or impurity seemed to resonate with a lot of people, as well as some backlash.

“This idea of purity and you’re never compromised and you’re politically woke, and all that stuff — you should get over that quickly. The world is messy. There are ambiguities. People who do really good stuff have flaws.”

Barack Obama, 2019

For me, this resonates strongly. Online debate is already so polarized that the possibility of being jumped on by “your own side” for good faith errors has a huge chilling effect on supportive people speaking up.

This doesn’t mean that something said or tweeted which is off-color, misguided or otherwise unfortunate shouldn’t be called out. In many cases, the person may not have realized the offense they are causing. Giving them a heads up, guidance and explaining why it could be offensive is a helpful response. Jumping on them immediately and attacking them is unhelpful. Shaming them will likely make that person shut down and not engage in debate again.

I don’t engage in much online twitter debate anymore, but I vividly remember the fear involved in posting supportive messages for diversity and inclusion on twitter in the 2012-2016 era. This was not a fear of reprisals from people that did not agree, but fear of backlash from some of the people I was aiming to support. Every small error could lead to return fire. This was still nothing compared to the abuse some people got (and get today) on Twitter, but it made me think twice and three times before tweeting.

Clearly, if people don’t heed warnings, don’t show contrition and so forth then more condemnation likely is appropriate. Then their actions are deliberate. Allowing some leeway though would help nurture and educate more supporters.

Photo by Andre Hunter on Unsplash

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