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How “Cancel Culture” Is Plummeting The World Of Social Media
At this point, all avid users of social media are familiar with the term “cancel culture,” the idea that any person can be subject to public ostracism, both online and in-person, for their actions, remarks, or ideologies. Cancel culture is not a new phenomenon, and it is has adapted itself to manifest in current-day trends.
Villanova University’s professor of sociology and criminology, Dr. Jill McCorkel, explained to the New York Post that the origins of cancel culture have existed for centuries as a socially acceptable form of punishment, usually used for those who have acted outside of behavioral norms. “Cancel culture is an extension of or a contemporary evolution of a much bolder set of social processes that we can see in the form of banishment,” she told The Post. “[They] are designed to reinforce the set of norms.”
Proponents of cancel culture claim that it holds individuals in positions of power accountable. If every individual is subject to a microscopic lens under the public eye, they will be less likely to make careless, problematic, and offensive remarks. Right?
This is a fine line to be treading on. Though cancel culture disincentivizes radical behavior, it can turn complex sociopolitical discussions into one-dimensional issues. It sets a precedent that serves to limit free speech, especially in the media, and it leaves people to believe that they aren’t allowed to grow or change. Whether they’ve publically apologized or corrected their behavior, it doesn’t matter. They’ve been canceled.
Over the past 21st century, there has also been a rise in the concept of “wokeness,” a term used to describe a growing sense of social and political awareness that is more pretentious than is conducive to society. Cancel culture and wokeness go hand in hand; woke activists claiming to spread social justice by giving into cancel culture are doing exactly the opposite. This mob-mentality mindset only serves to cast blame onto others and spread cathartic anger across social media. This is not activism in the slightest. As stated by former-President Barack Obama, “If I tweet or hashtag about how you didn’t do something right or used the wrong verb, then I can sit back and feel pretty good about myself, cause, ‘Man, you see how woke I was, I called you out… That’s not activism. That’s not bringing about change. If all you’re doing is casting stones, you’re probably not going to get that far. That’s easy to do” (NY Times).
Cancel culture is not conducive to the fulfillment of social justice. It’s important that we all take a closer look at this socially acceptable form of punishment and reexamine its role in our own society.
Cancel Culture And Mental Health
Mental health issues amongst the younger generation are rising at a terrifying pace. A large reason for this is the psychological impact that chronic social media usage has on developing brains. Within the era of cancel culture, it can be debilitating for many students to live in fear of being publically shamed by society, especially when social media makes it all too easy.
The rise of cancel culture is another form of cyberbullying. It’s much easier to “cancel” someone from behind a screen, which only helps fuel the mob-mentality ideology. Cyberbullies are “more likely to feel free from social norms and morals and ethics and rules and possible punishments and sanctions when they’re behind a screen and physically distant or geographically separate from the target,” says Sameer Hinduja, Co-Director of the Cyberbullying Research Center at Florida Atlantic University. Given the hateful nature of cancel culture, those that have already undergone periods of public ostracization, cyberbullied by millions of former-fans or random strangers, may suffer serious consequences to both their mental and emotional wellbeing.
Without a doubt, there are many behaviors that are inexcusable, whether that be sexual assault, homophobic slander, racial slurs, or more. However, the fundamental issue with cancel culture is that it does not grant the individual the opportunity to learn from their mistakes and right their wrongs; for actions that could be forgivable or have been misinterpreted by the public, there is no chance for redemption.
This can be deteriorating to mental health. The verbal, emotional, and oftentimes physical abuse that stems from being “canceled” can drive many individuals to the brink of suicide. “Social media makes it easy for haters to gain critical mass, forming a relentless cyber-mob spewing vitriol that can undermine self-image and worth,” said media psychologist Pamela Rutledge in an interview with Insider. An overwhelming spew of negative slander will burden any person, especially as it floods in from millions of anonymous users.
So why does cancel culture continue to persist?
A Politico/Morning Consult poll tried to take a closer look at this issue. After surveying fellow Americans on their views towards cancel culture, researchers found that over 46 percent of all survey participants- from every single demographic category- reported that they believe cancel culture “has gone too far.” Unsurprisingly, researchers found that those who supported this culture or admitted to having taken part in the past were all amongst the younger generations: particularly generation Z. This has a direct correlation to the recent rise of wokeness and tokenized activism, the ideology that equates punishment with the best form of social justice.
This is invalid. As stated by President Obama earlier, cancel culture is both unnecessary and ineffective. Given its extremely hurtful nature, it does more than ruin careers and harm social standings. It also ruins the mental stability of all individuals cast under the spotlight.
Everyday Examples Of Cancel Culture
There have been plenty of people in the last couple of years that have spoken up about their experiences with cancel culture- whether politicians, celebrities, social media influencers, or common people.
James Charles, a professional makeup artist and beauty Youtuber with over 25 million subscribers, faced the biggest backlash to his career in 2020 that left the internet in a state of frenzy. After losing over three million subscribers, Charles came out with a video explaining his take on the situation and clearing his name from the charges cast upon him. A year and 12 million subscribers later, when asked about his thoughts on cancel culture, Charles was quick to add, “There’s no other word to describe it other than just toxic. It’s so toxic. It’s behavior that should not be tolerated. And it’s so easy to forget that when you’re tweeting these people, there’s a real person behind the other screen that’s looking at that. … It could truly push someone over the edge.” Charles alluded to the mental trauma that the experience had left him with, and he expressed gratitude for his loved ones for not letting him make a decision he “couldn’t take back” (Dexerto). While he eventually was able to clear his name, the experience of being “canceled” has left and will continue to leave a lasting imprint on him.
Charles was lucky to have made it out, but the world of cancel culture has farther-reaching implications. Actress Skai Jackson, a former Disney star, has played a large role in the spread of public ostracization. Dedicating her time to exposing racists over Twitter, she has used her platform to harass young minors and reveal their personal information. In one case, a thirteen-year-old who was caught saying the n-word was exposed by Jackson publically; as a result, he was subject to death threats, expelled from school, and both his parents lost their jobs.
Supporters of Jackson have continued to “stan” her for her public activism.
But is this really public activism? Or is it simply slander? Was the best way to educate this teenage boy on his misuse of a racial slur to publically harass him and ruin the lives of his family? If cancel culture is primarily concerned with disincentivizing derogatory behavior, public slander is only furthering the rise of bandwagon internet hate. Instead, we should be using the internet as a means of spreading public awareness around the history of racial slurs, rather than directing our initiative towards harassing 13-year-old minors.
The Rigidity Of Public Debate
What cancel culture inhibits is the ability to have impactful conversations and acknowledge the depth of many of society’s most pressing and controversial issues.
“This rigidity right now in American political discourse is problematic because you really can’t have a high-functioning democracy without people being willing to engage one another in meaningful ways to hash out their political disagreements,” says Eugene Gu, the CEO of CoolQuit.com. She acknowledges how this issue is highly specific to the controversy at hand; for example, hate speech and sexual misconduct remain consequential in any light. However, Gu draws a line when it comes to canceling without discourse- particularly when the audience does not know the complete picture. “We have to be able to come together across those political differences and sort out what are the optimal solutions,” she says. “We can’t do that if we are dug into our respective trenches and unwilling to engage across those political divides.”
Public slander is not an effective way to engage in conversation, whether political or social, and it certainly is not a fair punishment for behavior that is oftentimes minor or misread by the public. Cancel culture limits the dynamics of open discussion, and it can oftentimes be seen as a deterrent to free speech.
If a controversial public figure acts out of character, unfollow them. Dislike their post. Block them from an Instagram feed. “Canceling” them is only fueling the toxic internet culture. It distracts from the fluidity of public debate, is not a sign of avid activism, and does not help to spread social justice. It’s time we all take a closer look at cancel culture and reexamine how conducive it is to ourselves, to celebrities, and to our social media platforms.