Wha Midjourney thinks Graham Norton looks like.

Graham Norton and the impossible question

When a celebrity gets asked about cancel culture, there is no right answer. It is the impossible question — and we need to ask better ones.

Adam Tinworth
Adam Tinworth
This post started life as a Twitter thread, recreated and expanded here for posterity. 

It’s depressing to see another public figure driven from Twitter for the crime of trying to find a tactful answer to the impossible “CC” question. There is no answer to that question that does not get at least one group of highly online, highly ideological people angry at you.

It’s becoming a totemic issue to the degree that I’m not even using the phrase in my thread because I know from experience that there are people searching for the term, who will happily sealion into the conversation.

The reality, of course, is that it’s all about power.

The power of the highly organised, highly political online

Public social media, like Twitter, like Facebook, delivered highly organised ideological groups extreme power to make other people’s lives difficult. Occasionally, this is good. Often, this is bad. It’s not new, though. It dates back to at least 2009:

The Day Twitter Destroyed a Gagging Order
A gagging order designed to target mainstream news titles has been undone by the concerted efforts of Twitter users.

At some level, though, we have to acknowledge there’s a good reason that we don’t use angry mobs as a system of justice in most civilised parts of the world. It doesn’t seem like a great idea to make it a routine form of justice in the online world.

This is not a politically partisan point: once a gun is invented, it can be used to shoot anyone, both those we detest and those we admire. Online power does not respect politics, it only respects numbers and commitment.

This is a discussion about use — and abuse — of power

We’re on a dark path, and our discussions about it are woefully trivial right now.

Perhaps the only bit of good news that is that finally our traditional systems of justice are beginning to work on online abuses. Alex Jones is on the verge of bankruptcy. Alex Belfield is in prison.

(Probably some people not called Alex, too. But Alexes of the internet — you’re on notice… 😉)

But meanwhile, online, people continue to find new ways to exercise their new power. And we really, badly, need to have a conversation about how to manage that. And I have zero faith that the current — or aspirational— social media platform owners are up to that.

How do we preserve social media’s ability to give voice and power to the powerless and the oppressed, while also curtailing the power of online mobs to ruin lives? That’s a much more interesting discussion than the highly loaded impossible question.


Charles Arthur wrote a long piece following up on these ideas on his Substack:

However, this isn’t how Twitter functions. The prevalence of Angry Mobs essentially keyword-surfing to find things to be angry about is a serious problem. What makes it worse is that this sort of activity rewards obsessive people with too much time on their hands who REALLY WANT YOU TO KNOW THEIR OPINION, and why yours is wrong, as this is usually their reason for engaging with you. I’m sure you know what I mean: the tedious sealion who just won’t stop, who once you mute or block them, and take a look at their tweets, you find has moved on to the next person or Twitter canoe in order to air their views.

The whole thing is worth a read (and a subscribe!):

Graham Norton, JK Rowling and the standing mob rules
Alternatively, you could vote to be ruled by an AI in Denmark?

Suw had this to say on Twitter:

digital culturecancel culturesocial media mobs

Adam Tinworth Twitter

Adam is a lecturer, trainer and writer. He's been a blogger for over 20 years, and a journalist for more than 30. He lectures on audience strategy and engagement at City, University of London.