The Outrage Antidote
Writer and recovering Twitter-holic Robyn Kanner on social media call-out culture and making a human connection
As recently as two years ago, Robyn Kanner was a lot of people’s worst nightmare on Twitter. A political progressive with a personal stake in trans activism — Kanner herself is a trans woman — she called out people for the slightest missteps outside the lines of social justice purity. She joined in on pile-ons of people whose supposed sins she didn’t even fully grasp at the time, for instance the journalist Katie Herzog, who Kanner called “trash” for writing an article about people who had once identified as transgender but later detransitioned.
In February of this year, Kanner was on the receiving end of the same kind of Twitter invective. Her crime: writing a New York Times op-ed expressing compassion for Ryan Morgan, a 17-year-old Wisconsin boy profiled in a much-maligned Esquire cover story about the difficulties of growing up white, male, middle-class, and conservative (his parents support President Trump) in the era of #MeToo, MAGA and and “toxic masculinity.” The magazine itself was criticized for the story but Morgan himself also became a target of online invective.
“I have an embarrassing secret,” Kanner wrote in her essay. “In 2004, I campaigned for George W. Bush.”
Like Morgan, Kanner had once been a teenager growing up in a mostly white community — in rural Maine — and identifying as a conservative. And while she says she can’t presume to know if or when Morgan’s views will change, she worries about the story’s digital footprint. “If in 2020, [Morgan] chooses to go to college, the Esquire story and the reaction to it will come up during his interview,” Kanner wrote. “If in 2025 he finds himself online dating, it will be right there, on Google, for any potential dates to find. People change, pictures don’t.”
Unsurprisingly, some members of the progressive purity police then attacked Kanner for showing empathy for Morgan. The irony was not lost on her. She was being digitally shamed for issuing a call against digital shaming. Exasperated, she decided to tweet out her phone number and invite critics to call her personally.