April 15, 2016

Criticism vs. Call Outs: Is There a Difference?

Calling out (183137861)It seems fairly easy to distinguish between criticizing an idea and criticizing a person who holds the idea (unless we're talking about Islam, of course, in which case any criticism would be "gross" and "racist"). But what about the distinction between criticism and the sort of "call outs" we see happening almost constantly on social media these days? Is there a meaningful difference between criticism and "call outs," or are "call outs" just what criticism via social media looks like?

I have expressed support for criticism, especially when it is constructive and aimed at ideas rather than people. On the other hand, I have tried to make it clear that I am not a fan of call outs, especially when they are destructive and aimed at people rather than ideas (e.g., attempting to get someone fired from his or her job for saying something one did not like, public shaming). Thus, I think there must be some important differences. Admittedly, this is a subject I am just starting to consider so this is still tentative.

Here are some quick thoughts on what I think some of the differences might be:
  • While not all criticism is constructive, almost no call outs appear to be constructive (at least, not as far as the target is concerned). Someone offering constructive criticism is clearly attempting to be helpful to the subject of the criticism; someone calling someone out is not. In fact, the person doing the calling out often appears to want to inflict harm against the target (e.g., attempting to damage his or her reputation).
  • Criticism can be public or private; calling someone out is necessarily a public act. The intended audience of criticism is often the subject being criticized; the intended audience of the call out often seems to be everyone else.
  • Criticism can be strident, but the person providing it is not usually doing so from a place of anger; call outs often seem to be done out of anger.
  • Call outs often seem punitive in a way that criticism is not. They seek to punish those who are perceived as having violated various social norms.
  • Call outs are often accompanied by a pervasive sense of self-righteousness one rarely sees with criticism. In fact, it seems rather common for the person doing the calling out to imagine that he or she is engaging in a public service.
  • Whereas criticism does not necessarily aim to facilitate or to impede the free expression of ideas, call outs often appear aimed at reducing or at least shaping free speech.
What do you think? Is there a meaningful difference between criticism and call outs? If so, did I miss any key distinctions between them?