Cancel culture: what is it and is there anyone left to shout at?


Long read

Cancel culture: what is it and is there anyone left to shout at?

It has a surprisingly long and shrill history, with ardent practitioners on the left and the right

Susannah Goldsbrough

In 2020 there’s one c-word more politically charged than coronavirus: cancelled. The debate over so-called internet cancel culture ( – a rallying cry or cudgel, depending on which end of the political spectrum you’re reading this from – has grown gradually louder over the second half of the decade.

Accelerated by the increased role of the internet over the past few months as the physical world went into lockdown, the rights and wrongs of “cancelling” have never been more prominent in the cultural conversation.

In July came the publication of the open Harper's letter (, signed by more than 150 prominent authors, thinkers and journalists, including JK Rowling, Salman Rushdie and Margaret Atwood, decrying what they see as the consequences of cancel culture: a loss of open debate and tolerance. A counter-letter defending cancel culture as a way of dealing “with the problem of power: who has it and who does not” swiftly followed...

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