If you’re an avid user of social media, especially twitter, you’d be familiar with the phenomena of ‘Cancel Culture’. In case you aren’t, the expression “cancelling” or “calling out” first made its debut somewhere in 2015 but became widely used in 2018. To put it simply, cancel culture can be understood as a form of social and cultural boycott of a person(s).
While its prime targets are celebrities and influencers, anyone and everyone can be cancelled at the whim of the internet. Usually, it is withdrawal of support for a person who was previously well received by the internet on account of inappropriate and/or politically incorrect behaviour. Cancel culture may also intersect with other online phenomena such as social media activism. For instance, several influential people and A-lister celebrities were cancelled during the #MeToo movement. Kanye West has been cancelled for his controversial statements about slavery; Chris Pratt for his pro-gun stance and religious beliefs.
While cancel culture has cultivated space for discourse that allows holding people in positions of power accountable, it also perpetuates mob mentality. One of the biggest problems of the internet is unregulated content. As of 2019, there are over 3 billion active social media users. This mass engagement has led to a kind of de-individualisation that allows people to say whatever they want, whenever they want. As a result, more often than not, unfiltered and unverified content spreads like wildfire. All it takes is for one user to announce that a certain celebrity or thing is cancelled for xyz reason and the internet will troll, virtually attack and harass the aforementioned for days to come.
When it comes to instances and accusations of assault, discrimination and bigotry, navigating such situations can be tricky. They elicit a response that is both emotional and moral. It is the frustration, the helplessness, the sense of responsibility, the anger you feel when innocent people suffer due to existing systems of oppression. It is not my intention to say that these responses are inherently radical. They are valid. However, it is important to segregate a misinformed remark or a poorly delivered joke from hate and bigotry.
For instance, if person A disagrees with person B and they happen to be LGBTTQQIAAP and/or a Person of Colour then that doesn’t by default make person A racist and/or homophobic. The internet tends to club everything under one umbrella and this is a dangerous precedent to set as it nullifies the seriousness of actual instances of radicalism- be it abuse of political and legal power or extremes such as hate crimes.
In my opinion, something that fosters cancel culture but goes seemingly unnoticed is the way in which we consume information. There is this innate need to take everything at face value, especially if it aligns with our beliefs. We consume any piece of information presented to us as absolute truth. And that just might be the root of the problem.
The most recent prey to cancel culture was Beauty Vlogger, James Charles who lost millions of subscribers upon accusations from fellow Beauty Vlogger and former friend Tati Westbrook. The tables turned soon enough as James presented plausible evidence to counter her statements and the internet decided to cancel Tati instead. This indicates just how fickle-minded social media users can be. All it takes is one post, one tweet and a mob of thousands will come after you. Celebrities have often been condemned for saying problematic things online. While it is important that they take responsibility for their actions, something they said when they were 12 is not a comprehensive reflection of who they are as a 22 year old. Neither is it a testament for their personal and intellectual growth.
This is one of the biggest cons of cancel culture- it allows no space for a person to explain themselves, let alone learn and grow from their mistakes. Any reasoning or apology is dismissed without regard. It’s as if the internet is wearing blinkers and they can only see that one piece of information and it is the whole truth and as a result, public opinion becomes judge, jury and executioner. At this rate, everyone and everything will be cancelled.
Which brings me to my next point, everything has been cancelled. JK Rowling? Cancelled. Friends? Cancelled. Kaju Katli? CANCELLED. No joke- Kaju Katli was a trending topic on twitter a few months ago as the internet debated whether or not it is a worthwhile sweet. They even managed to cancel Antoni from Queer Eye.
Cancel culture rides on this false sense of moral superiority and at times can be highly performative. What I mean by this is that it acts as if the world is a dichotomy of ‘wokeness’ and bigotry. When in reality, it is far more complicated than that. Moreover, for many, political correctness is more of an online persona than it is an ideology to live life by. For instance, several Fast Fashion companies, Makeup Brands, other major Private Corporations, etc. have been cancelled by the internet at some point. However, there hasn’t been a lot of tangible, real-life change in consumer patterns. The fashion and beauty industries continue to run on sweatshops and unethical policies, Corporations steal from indigenous people and all of them pollute the environment. Millions continue to buy from them.
Even Logan Paul- the infamous influencer who filmed a corpse and made insensitive jokes continues to make and upload videos despite being cancelled several times. His apology video, though briefly, was monetized. He made thousands of dollars off of that video as it has garnered over 55 million views. Nobody seems to be talking about that.
The internet has always been very fast-paced. It is often said that attention is the currency of the digital world. People jump from one viral video to another, fads come up and die- several others ready to replace them. Cancel culture too, jumps from one target to another. It creates a toxic environment as people are subjected to online hate and harassment, all while reducing their misery- whether deserved or not- into drama the internet can enjoy until it moves on to something else.
While I understand that calling out people on social media has created a safe space for victims online and brought them justice that law couldn’t, there is no way to regulate the information being shared- posts, stories, tweets are often deleted and manipulated to fit a narrative that is driven by an agenda. Hence, it is important to be mindful consumers of information. To put in labour to educate people- even though preferred as it helps inculcate a better environment to learn from and respect one another- is entirely a personal choice.