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Books: Cancel Culture As an Invisible Army of Censors

The new censorship is different from traditional “banned” or “challenged” lists because a younger, much more active crowd is behind it

For authors, Cancel Culture, powered by social media, is becoming a serious business. A poorly thought-out tweet from years past — or merely one to which socially powerful people take exception — may destroy a career. The mob has hit genre fiction hard. One author, studying the trend, recounts,

Since March, I have been sending discreet messages to authors of young adult fiction. I approached 24 people, in several countries, all writing in English. In total, 15 authors replied, of whom 11 agreed to talk to me, either by email or on the phone. Two subsequently withdrew, in one case following professional advice. Two have received death threats and five would only talk if I concealed their identity. This is not what normally happens when you ask writers for an interview.

Leo Benedictus, “Torn apart: the vicious war over young adult books” at The Guardian

Most victims were targeted by race, ethnicity, sexuality, and gender activists, usually over matters that would surprise most readers. Some accept oblivion; others rewrite their books. Science fiction has been hit by “Woke zombies” too: “They inhibit free extrapolation and free speech through aggressive gatekeeping and social and professional ostracism, inspiring fearful writers to self-censor,” writes one author. Dissecting the controversies over books attacked in 2019, Krishdee Dismon captures a torrent of steaming resentment, much of it from people who have not read the books.

Cancel Culture Symbol

Some are now even demanding that the Random House publishing group Cancel the best-selling books of Darwinian atheist icon Richard Dawkins because of his evident disdain for those who have Down Syndrome. When even something as fashionable as Darwinism is in trouble, you know things have changed.

The new censorship is different from traditional “banned” or “challenged” lists because a younger, much more active crowd is behind it. Sending up the trend, the Babylon Bee advises, “There are hundreds of children’s books that could use a good canceling,” offering to start with nine of them.

Many authors and artists do not fight back or not for long

The instinct is to apologize, accepting all of the mob’s premises, even when the views or statements targeted by the mob are well within free speech boundaries. The authors issue groveling apologies (which often don’t work) and change lines in their books to appease Twitter: “The silly idea that a fictional character’s statements reflect an author’s actual beliefs is spreading.” (Slate) The idea is bound to spread further if it is catered to.

Game designer Scott Cawthon’s story is instructive. After trying to resist, the creator of Five Nights at Freddy’s, who was targeted by the Cancel mob for giving to the “wrong” candidates, both Republican and Democrat, including Donald Trump, has announced his retirement.

But the bullies are not unstoppable.

Recently, a notorious Cancel Culture bully, model and cookbook writer Chrissy Teigen, got some serious pushback, including stores dropping her lucrative Cravings cookware line:

Teigen has been exposed for sending shockingly cruel messages to other women on social media, telling TV personality Courtney Stodden in 2011 to “Go. To sleep. Forever.” and mocking Lindsay Lohan, who has admitted to cutting herself in the past, by tweeting that same year: “Lindsay adds a few more slits to her wrists when she sees Emma Stone.” In 2013, Teigen publicly called “Teen Mom” star Farrah Abraham “a whore.”

Sara Nathan and Oli Coleman, “The rise and fall of undercover bully Chrissy Teigen” at Page Six (May 22, 2021)

One victim talked to the LA Times about his suicidal reaction to her campaign against him.

Make no mistake, Teigen has supporters and enablers: (“Everything about this scandal is tragic and painful for everyone involved…” says one. [= not primarily for the people she attacked]). Plus, there is a tendency to treat the sidelining of one such bully as “It’s all over now, folks” when the next Cancel! mob may be just around the corner, gunning for someone else. The overall problem, endemic to social media, demands a more serious, longer term commitment to resistance.

Next: Books: The first step in fighting Cancel Culture Malicious envy was always out there but before social media it could rarely assemble so large a mob. Many writers and artists are beginning to speak out and take action, recognizing that sharing the cost of speaking up reduces its burden.

You may also wish to read: Comedy: An endangered art form in the Age of Rage


In Big Tech World: the journalist as censor, hit man, and snitch. Glenn Greenwald looks at a disturbing trend in media toward misrepresentation as well as censorship.

Denyse O'Leary

Denyse O'Leary is a freelance journalist based in Victoria, Canada. Specializing in faith and science issues, she is co-author, with neuroscientist Mario Beauregard, of The Spiritual Brain: A Neuroscientist's Case for the Existence of the Soul; and with neurosurgeon Michael Egnor of the forthcoming The Immortal Mind: A Neurosurgeon’s Case for the Existence of the Soul (Worthy, 2025). She received her degree in honors English language and literature.

Books: Cancel Culture As an Invisible Army of Censors