Cancel culture, I’m sure you’ve heard, is everywhere. Not a day goes by without some sorry sap being caught out for tweeting The Wrong Take, wearing The Wrong Clothes, using The Wrong Word.
It’s not just a cottage industry: the entire digital media ecosystem is predicated on cancellation: pick your target, call them out, watch them burn and reap the rewards.
Does it have to be this way? What if we didn’t all get mad — we got even instead? What if everyone was equipped with the same tools as the online witchfinders general who police popular discourse? Almost everyone has been on the internet long enough to have something on there that could hurt them. If everyone was canceled, perhaps no one would be? Let’s call it the Cockburn guide to mutually assured cancellation.
To help, Cockburn has harvested the online sleuthing techniques employed by the guttersnipes of the New York media over the past decade. He offers them to you here in the hope of accelerating the internet arms race and ending the culture war with a social-media Nagasaki.
How to find someone’s old tweets
Let’s start simple: looking up old tweets that are still live on Twitter dot com. Gizmodo, the discarded husk of Gawker, actually has a guide written up telling you how to do this: ‘How to Unearth Embarrassing Tweets by Your Enemies’ was published in January 2017 and describes how to use the Twitter Advanced Search tool.
Just pop in an account of your choice and enter a litany of bad words: ethnic terms (the N-word, yes, but also ‘jew’, ‘asian’, ‘indian’ etc.), homophobic slurs like ‘gay’ and ‘fag’ and ableist ones such as ‘retard’ and ‘spaz’. Really get creative and you’re sure to have success eventually. Make sure you screenshot the tweet so you can post a version when your mark deletes it.
How to find someone’s old *deleted* tweets
This is a slightly trickier proposition. If you’re looking for a specific deleted tweet, Google is your friend: use double-quote marks for the words or phrase you’re searching for and you may get lucky. What’s more, there are archiving services online such as Wayback Machine which allow you to take a permanent screenshot of someone’s Twitter account now. Then there’s no such thing as a deleted tweet.
How to find someone’s old Facebook posts
The most cancelable people are on Twitter — but there’s a treasure trove of possibilities on other social media too. Facebook, for example, will have a host of embarrassing teenage posts if you’re canceling a millennial — or a host of embarrassing present-day posts if you’re hunting a baby boomer. The Facebook search function has got pretty advanced over the past few years: it now has filters down the left-hand side so you can enter a search term, the username and the post type. You can also go on any of your friends’ Facebook timelines and filter by date. The good stuff will be 2007-2013 vintage. Have at it.
Another thing worth remembering: you can cancel someone for more than just what they post on Facebook. What problematic pages have they liked? Who are they friends with? Are they tagged in photos with any personae non grata? Consider all of your options.
The leaked screenshot
Of course there’s no such thing as privacy anymore, so another surefire way to cancel someone is to screenshot messages from them and then blow them up on your Twitter or Instagram. Any medium works: Instagram DMs, WhatsApp, iMessage, whatever — just take the private and make it public. They will thank you later.
How to snitch on someone’s Snapchat
For the younger generation, Snapchat is a fairly trendy way to broadcast your stupidity to a circle of immediate friends. The app supposedly offers more privacy because a) messages and images disappear by default and b) the app tells you when a message or image has been screenshotted.
Nothing is foolproof though: Snapchat lets you replay an image or video a day. Let’s say your buddy has circulated a video of himself in a sombrero on Cinco de Mayo (no más!) You can hold down on the message to load up the video for replay. Then either borrow a friend’s phone to film a video of the video or — if you’re really smart — use the Screen Recording function on every iPhone. Leak the video for someone else to post on Instagram and your buddy is none the wiser about who ratted him out.
The labor-intensive among you may want to dedicate some time to YouTube. Search your person and have a scroll through as many low view-count videos as you have the patience for. Who knows, you may turf up something embarrassing.
Creating a burner Instagram account might also help: you can follow your mark and a plethora of other problematic accounts to see if they’ve liked any posts they shouldn’t have.
Guilt by association
Can’t find anything on the person whose life you want to ruin? Not to worry, there’s a back-up option: find someone close to them, and repeat exactly the same steps. It’s not what you know, it’s who you know. And if someone’s mom is an anti-vaxxer or his or her lover posts suspect things about Israel, well, that’ll just have to do.
Timing is everything with a good cancel: ideally, you’re going to wait for your mark to reach the zenith of their life (say, winning an award or getting a very public promotion) before dialing up the sunlight and melting their waxen wings. The further a fall is, the more impressive.
Joyless progressives do not have a monopoly on cancel culture. Cockburn has heard rumors of a moderately well-known conservative podcaster and author who friends journalists and politicians on Facebook as soon as he meets them — with the express purpose of turning up drunken photos of them at college or stupid jokes they posted in high school. Either way, cancel culture has become the West’s answer to the Chinese social credit score. We can’t go on like this — so bombs away.