In the age of digital media, Twitter has helped individuals find their virtual third place and find people who have similar ideologies and viewpoints, which gives them a community to discuss subjects they are passionate to speak on. These characteristics birthed the phenomenon of cancel culture; this thesis will discuss the toxicity and problematic issues it has encompassed and how it is detrimental to social justice progress. Networked communities and a virtual third place have allowed users to speak out about injustice in social and political terms and allowing their voices to be heard on a global platform. It will mainly discuss the spread of misinformation, harassment of average individuals, and the involved participatory ethos; cancel culture has raised questions about blurring the lines between freedom of speech and harassment. As a fairly new matter within the digital world, it raises questions and concerns as to whether it does more harm than good since it grants distortion of the truth to escalate without thinking of the repercussions.
Cancel culture has become a massive phenomenon in recent years, especially now that social media has allowed a space for people to amplify their voices on subjects that have been difficult to broach. Cancel culture is understood to be “the practice of withdrawing support for (or cancelling) public figures and companies after they have done or said something considered to be objectionable or offensive” (Lizza, 2020). The art of “cancelling” is having a public figure with a questionable opinion that does not fit society’s ideology and placing them in a court of public opinion; the cancel culture is particularly prevalent on Twitter, a platform where celebrities and brands are easily accessible. It first began to hold public figures and celebrities accountable for their actions, but it now has targeted ordinary people living average lives. Cancel culture has a detrimental effect on their core cause and growing to become a problematic spectacle. While Twitter has given marginalized silent voices, it has provided a space and platform to speak deafeningly of social injustice that has plagued our society, giving these voices a community with similar ideologies to belong; however, the movement has led to the fundamental issue losing its meaning due to the harmful and toxic nature that comes with cancel culture.
Cancel Culture Phenomenon
The phenomenon of ‘cancelling’ has become increasingly predominant within social media circles. Twitter, especially, gives users direct access to celebrities and global brands on a platform where you can broadcast your opinion to millions of users. The art of cancelling is not a new occurrence; it is a new-age form of public shaming, a notion that has been present for many years. It is akin to the Salem Witch Trials but in a digital space where people use social media as a platform to hold people accountable for their misbehaviour and shines a light towards injustice within our society (Chiou, 2020, p. 297). It has prescribed users a third place and a community to amplify voices that have been traditionally ignored, allowing it to force difficult conversations across the digital space. Virtual third places have become a space for interaction between equals, where individuals can find an online community specific to their interests.
Virtual third places are a hangout for those who want to be connected to others with similar interests and viewpoints. McArthur (2009, p. 62) states that a third-place delivers “an opportunity for would-be members of cultural groups to seek like-minded individuals”. It acknowledges a “method of self-selection into digital communities [which] allows groups to emerge, form, and prosper” (McArthur & Wright, p. 2). Castells (2006, p. 12) discusses that as a social structure, the development of networked individualism has evolved to fit into the mould of building sociability that aligns with the dominant culture of our societies. By building a communication network, it has helped individuals find a commonplace to discuss current social issues. In terms of the emergence of cancel culture, it has given silent voices a public place to speak out and force discussions on topics that are considered taboo.
Cancel culture hit its peak during the #MeToo movement in 2017, where people took to Twitter to voice their experiences with sexual assault and how they have been silent for too long. Harvey Weinstein was the movement’s driving force, where a staggering eighty-seven women came forward with damaging allegations against him (Moniuszko & Kelly, 2018). Weinstein was acrimoniously vilified online, which led to him fired from The Weinstein Company to his arrest and conviction. Weinstein’s ceremonious fall from grace demonstrates the positive consequences of cancelling in the age of social media, holding someone with power accountable for their unjust actions in the eyes of the public. Weinstein’s downfall exhibited the workings of a networked public and how influencers lead the movement, the movement was led vigorously by celebrities who were affected by the accusations. The influence that celebrities had in this situation is paramount, actresses and models who spoke out using Twitter and Instagram as their platform such as Rose McGowan, Cara Delevingne and Kate Beckinsale were one of many big names who spoke out and therefore had a role in the influence of the #MeToo Movement. Cancel culture has helped combat sexism, racism, and other social issues that need to address. However, it has now reared an issue where it has negatively impacted discussions where social movements lose their definition by forming an intolerance of opposing social views.
Exposing Fake News
Misinformation has become prevalent, especially with “fake news” becoming a cultural reset in the digital world. Cancel culture does not allow for fact checks when it spreads virulently across the ‘Twitterverse’, allowing an all-out witch-hunt towards the subject. It is a dangerous movement where it is a robust measure for users to find a community with like-minded people allowing a pack mentality to come out in full force. Cancel culture has not always been towards influential people, but it has affected ‘normal’ people’s everyday lives. Yglesias (2020) provides an example when political data analyst, David Shor, posted a controversial Tweet where he cites Omar Wasow, a Princeton political scientist, work about the correlation between riots and voting numbers. Shor’s Tweet stated that the mass protest that led to violent riots, the protest where George Floyd’s death spear-headed the movement, would eventually induce a political backlash that will aid in then President Donald Trump’s bid for re-election. The Tweet caused public outrage and widespread criticism, leading to Shor’s dismissal from his job. Twitter users alleged that there was an underlying presumption that his Tweet, by consensus, was deemed racist. Delanty (2018, p.219) states that the Internet has challenged democracy due to its depersonalization and the filtering of material that is being shared (Sunstein, 2001). The treatment of Shor is an example of the filtering of information that was being broadcast and concrete opinion was made through the networked publics within Twitter.
Chiou (2020) argues that “such public shaming on many occasions can be excessive and simply becomes a way of judging and rejecting anyone who holds a socio-political viewpoint”, in the case of Shor, he provides research and data on how past protests that lead to riots became detrimental to the opposing political party. Somehow, his Tweets were viewed as racist and characterized as anti-Blackness leading to his public denouncement and the loss of his job. The collective participatory behaviour that users performed intensified Shor’s Tweet, allowing others with similar viewpoints to join in and chastise him as his Tweet was deemed offensive.
Social media has become a powerful force in modern life, promoting the “rise of digital participatory cultures and social movements” (Velasco, 2020, p. 2). This participatory behaviour plays a large part within cancel culture, giving a collective group of people a channel to policing public figures’ misconduct by using social media. In Shor’s case, his condemnation was because of a Tweet he posed during a sensitive time. Velasco (2020, p.4) argues that the public act as the judge, jury, and executioner against an individual, where it then spreads like wildfire across social media and become “virulently uncontrollable” (Lu, 2019). Once a movement is uncontrollable, it becomes challenging to maintain, leading to misinformation and individual victimization. Chiou (2020) states that this phenomenon has detrimental effects on society, especially on younger users; the “mentality behind cancel culture is some forms of ‘moral righteousness’ that people believe that is morally justifiable to denounce someone who is morally inferior” (Chiou, 2020). The cancel movement’s mob mentality forces people’s ostracization for their wrongdoings and their livelihood is over with one swift Tweet. The digital age has endorsed victimization due to misinformation and disinformation, spreading a narrative that can be harmful to someone and not allowing people to learn and grow from their mistakes. The narratives are spread rapidly through social networks, particularly Twitter and Facebook, where misinformation ran rampant since there is no method to separate facts from fiction unless optional further research is taken. This then leads to a ‘pack mentality when a group of people have settled on their opinion and take on what they believe is correcting injustice.
Escalation of Misinformation
The widespread availability of the Internet, especially in first-world countries, allow the population easy access to the Web, contributing to people globally finding individuals with like-minded perspectives. The meteoric rise of social media grants users a vast amount of information at their fingertips, but this access still allows for incorrect information and misinterpreted messages to escalate. Chang et al. (2020, p. 38) observe that “individuals, who traditionally primarily played a passive role as consumers of information and not as active producers or circulators of content, can now also play an active role creating and circulating information”. These individuals have found a community within Twitter, finding a third place for people where “participants are able to engage with others by answering questions and sharing information specific to that topic” (McArthur & White, 2016, p. 2). The propagated narrative where participants engage in a specific conversation causes outrage that does not allow room for users to make their own decisions on the subject, leading to misinterpreting messages. Users will “encounter effective flow of outrage, as well as fun and enjoyment, at the expense of an evil other who must be ‘cancelled’, and the pleasures of moral posturing” (Bouvier, 2020, p. 10). Individuals will feel a moral high ground when calling out someone who does not share the same opinion, and it becomes a ‘performative spectacle of ritual bloodletting’ (Bouvier, 2020, p. 1). The cancel movement has blurred the lines between free speech and censorship, giving the inability for open conversations to be discussed by condemning an individual and disallowing them to learn from their mistakes by educating them. It can be argued that cancel culture exists because it has given people a stage to voice their freedom of expression in a third-place and a community for users to discuss similar beliefs and justifies their reasoning to “call out” unacceptable behaviour. This leads to questioning the definition of freedom of speech and whether platforms should be controlled.
The cancel movement does not allow for open discussions on polarised opinions and helps educate a person and enable them to grow and learn from what is considered a mistake in society’s eyes. Cancelling has become counterproductive when attempting to stand for social injustice, and it is “creating a society in which punishment is favoured over rehabilitation” (Tucker, 2018). It has created a platform where it has left no room for error; it has become a flawed system where someone’s opinion on an issue does not perfectly align with a social ideology; it places an individual on a public pedestal held in a court of public opinion. There is no such thing as innocent until proven guilty and, there is no redemption opportunity but must face a dominant narrative that Twitter has already written. Anderson et al. (2021, p. 10) explain that “when an opinion is shared and deemed by social media users (or other stakeholders) to be ‘unpopular’ or taboo, this sort of outrage is construed as cancellation, or even a threat to freedom of speech”. Opinions shared on Twitter allows individuals to have “social connectedness, referring to formal memberships as well as informal social network, and generalized reciprocity, social trust and tolerance” (Luoma-aho, 2018, p. 234). The social trust and reciprocity that has been gained through these Twitter communities, presenting toxicity where when one individual speaks out about someone’s wrongdoing, it “can create a large coalition of people on the internet to buy into the same idea, most of the time without any fact-checking being done” (Santangelo, 2020). The collective mass disagreement leads to issues not being adequately handled and causing resentment instead of treating it as a learning experience. Delanty (2018, p. 221) explains that communication technologies that assisted in sharing information enables the expression of belonging, which is a distinctive aspect about virtual communities, it has made belonging become communicative. The opinions shared on Twitter in attempt to fight injustice grants the expression of belonging as individuals who have found a virtual community that shares the same outlook but it leaves it flawed as it does not give any room for open conversations if you are not a part of their virtual community.
The cancel movement’s core definition is to publicly attack and humiliate an individual because they disagree with their opinion under the guise of political and social justice. It has become problematic as the culture uses it to weaponize people’s free-thinking and create a division between individuals. By becoming a part of hateful rhetoric and partake in the harassment and bullying, cancel culture jeopardizes the true notion of pursuing genuine political and social justice. Individuals who become a target are generally non-powerful people; Creemers (2016) points out that “Twitter can equally be used to disseminate ideas that are of a much less democratic nature and run counter to social justice”. For example, Natasha Tynes, an author from Washington DC, accused of disgracing a Black Metro worker for eating and drinking on the train where rules state otherwise, posted a photo of her because of Tynes’ disgruntlement (Shannon, 2019). Tynes realized the error in her judgement when online ‘activists’ vilified her online and accused her of being racist and claiming she is anti-Black leading to her losing her upcoming book deal. Delanty (2018, p. 205) argues that the virtual communities is beyond unity and that a new form of individualism has developed around de-massified social relations, displaying that cancel culture has divided opinions whether it is right or wrong. Tynes was an unfortunate instance of cancel culture where mass individuals targeted her in a pretence of social justice.
The art of cancel culture may negatively connotate, especially in a digital climate that is perceived as socially damaging. However, there is no denying the positive outcomes when cancelling an individual, especially for those who hold high positions such as politicians, celebrities, and influencers; it is imperative that these people are held accountable for their actions if deemed to be socially unjust. Harvey Weinstein and R. Kelly demonstrate that their actions are to be answered; it allows victims to find the strength to speak out and hold people accountable for their actions. Actions that they believed that they could get away with because of their high standing in society. Twitter allows for a space for “issues or objectives may be less of a shared agreement, as well as mobilization around a simple narrative” (Bouvier, 2020). To boycott these celebrities are warranted, but for ordinary people, it is not justified to ruin their lives because we disagree or misinterpreted their message.
In conclusion, cancel culture is a phenomenon that has dominated across social media platforms, particularly Twitter. Twitter provided their users with a community and a virtual hangout to converse about similar topics, a community that is spread across the globe. These communities allowed individuals to speak out about injustice in social and political terms, holding celebrities and public figures accountable for their actions. The cancel culture movement has become a toxic and problematic issue, spreading misinformation, lacking fact-checking, and damaging innocent victims lives who have been a casualty of relentless harassment. Cancel culture is a relatively new phenomenon that has made it difficult to find plenty of reputable sources on the subject, but there was enough to show that it has become a complex subject. Cancel culture will not wholly leave our digital society, especially when speaking out is essential, but there may be a time and need for it to become an impartial and fair movement.
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Chiou, R. (2020). We Need Deeper Understanding About the Neurocognitive Mechanisms of Moral Righteousness in an Era of Online Vigilantism and Cancel Culture. AJOB Neuroscience, 11(4), 297–299. https://doi.org/10.1080/21507740.2020.1830872
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25 thoughts on “#DragThem: The Toxicity and Problematic Art of Cancel Culture”
This is a really well written paper, with some great sources to back up your argument. It can be difficult in my opinion to write on these contemporary issues that are still developing as little scholarly research has been done on these particular topics.
I particularly liked the quote “Cancel Culture has blurred the lines between free speech and censorship”, I think it ties your argument throughout the paper together really nicely.
I agree Twitter in particular has become the breeding ground for toxicity and cancel culture and I think it comes to the anonymity of the app. It is very easy to disguise your identity and have no personal information which allows people to make whatever comments they like with no repercussions.
Do you think there is any way to tackle cancel culture and debunk these ideologies or do you believe the problem is only going to get worse due to the significant rise of social media over time?
Thank you for taking the time to read my paper, it was definitely interesting to research especially since like you said, a contemporary topic with scholarly research still emerging.
I believe that there will be a way to tackle cancel culture, it has already developed into a sense where it’s a platform for free speech. For the latter, I’m not sure where cancel culture will evolve to. when you Google the term ‘cancel culture’, multiple articles are chastising the said movement.
I feel as though that since social media can provide a third place, there will always be a space for call outs and cancellation within the communities.
Twitter has given people a voice to speak freely of what they believe is a form of injustice, even if they just agreed to what was said on the Internet with a lack of their own research.
This may be just a current phase that the Internet is currently going through and in five years – there may be a new form that will emerge, or it could evolve into something else.
With that being said, although Twitter has always been the source of cancel culture, I have begun to see it filter into TikTok because the new social media app also allows for anonymity. James Charles and the Lopez Brothers have been under scrutiny because their involvement with minors and TikTok users has been swift to cancel them. With serious allegations against them, I believe that they will slowly come back into the limelight and unfortunately, it will be forgotten which is concerning.
It’s such a complex issue, especially when influencers and celebrities are involved, it seems as though they’re able to slip through the cracks.
So, I believe that with the significant rise of social media and new apps being introduced, cancel culture will always be around in one form or another.
I think your paper provides an interesting account of the negative impacts of cancel culture. I have to say that the type of reactionary and unjustified attacks on people that have voiced contrary opinions is one of my least favourite things about twitter. And in many cases, people are chastised for views that they don’t even hold by people who misinterpret their intent. You provide a good example of this in your discussion of David Shor.
One of the most damaging effects of cancel culture is how the people involved are able to circulate misinformation on the internet so quickly, and so the damage done to someone’s reputation can often be irreparable. The truth about an issue may only come out too late and may not have as far of a reach because, in many cases, the truth isn’t as interesting as a good controversy.
I would be interested to hear if you think that cancel culture has become more or less prevalent in recent times? I feel like a few years ago the movement was really savage, but perhaps it has dwindled a bit in recent times as people are becoming more aware of the issues it can cause.
Here’s a link to my paper as well if you’d like to take a look, it’s about the misogynistic radicalisation of members of the incel community: https://networkconference.netstudies.org/2021/2021/04/27/misogynistic-radicalization-of-users-in-the-online-incel-community/#comment-1286
Thank you for taking the time to read my paper, misinterpretation of intent is a fantastic way to describe cancel culture.
Now that I think about it, cancel culture definitely isn’t as prevalent as it was 3-4 years ago but I am unsure if it’s because that the Internet community realises the negative effects it has on normal people.
There are still many news articles when you Google the topic that has been published in 2021 so it displays that it is still an ongoing conversation.
I think it has evolved over the years and has now become a too “politically correct” issue, the Dr Seuss issue that made headlines made the Internet question cancel culture. You may have heard about a few Dr Seuss’ books were pulled off the shelves as it does not align with current society views where Wallis- Wells (2021) describes it as “that social media has enabled a universal speech surveillance, and that people and institutions are now self-policing, out of fear of it”.
I don’t think it has dwindled as much as you think, I think it’s still ongoing but because it is happening more frequently and that there are new scandals every week, as a society, we may have been exposed to it so much, it isn’t such a surprising issue.
Wallace-Wells, B. (2021, March 16). Cancel Culture Is Not a Movement. The New Yorker. https://www.newyorker.com/news/annals-of-populism/who-is-in-charge-of-cancel-culture
Hello Everlasting, how are you doing? I hope you are staying well and keeping up with your assignments at ease.
Concerning your paper, I have ENJOYED reading it. Personally, I didnt know whether this term existed, and to be honest with you this ‘culture’ is often seen on social medias to certain degrees. You have rightly mentioned that it has positive impacts, such as #MeeToo and #BlackLivesMatter, but I would say it really depends on which community or type of community one is posting something. Recently, my friend posted a picture on Facebook, of her food in an aesthetic manner (those which are often seen on Instagram), however she experienced cancel culture because of that picture she first time shared on a food community on Facebook. Considering the fact that the food community consists of (majority) of people range above 35 years old and are very local, and like authenticity. These people backlash her on the comments sections as she holds no power on Facebook, as she is an Instagram influencer. I think to some extent this culture can cause detrimental thoughts for the innocent victim.
However does cancel culture is constructed from the like-minded people (community) ? What about the role of the authorities ?
One cannot blame one for no reason online, and if yes, what is the importance of judiciary order?
Thank you so much! I am so happy you enjoyed my paper 😊
It’s a fairly contemporary topic and there has been a surge of academic studies in terms of cancel culture being published in the past 2-4 years.
I didn’t look into Facebook when it comes to cancel culture as I felt that due to its settings, the virality isn’t as effective as Twitter’s Internet reach.
Based on the information that you have provided me about your friend, I can’t really say that she is a victim of cancel culture as you stated she faced ‘backlash’ in the comments.
During my research, cancel culture has been defined to be the “phenomenon of social media activism [that] has prompted many to promote the boycotting of different
people, companies and systems for misalignment with social values” (Nguyen, 2020). It depends if the photo that your friend posted was ‘offending’ to the Facebook group, it seems as though it may have been a case of differed opinions or maybe bullying. Cancel culture first began as a form of online activism to hold people accountable for their actions where it has been deemed to be unjust in society’s eyes. Examples that I have mentioned in my other comments are #CentralParkKaren and #PoolsideKaren who were recorded by victims of their harassment due to their racial profiling of African-Americans, their actions went viral and there was a massive callout globally for them must face repercussions for their treatment of others.
I wrote my paper in the Community and Social Media stream as I believe that like-minded people with similar perceptions find a commonplace within the third place on Twitter, especially when these communities are found within a hashtag. Markoc (2019) describes that Twitter satisfies Oldenbergs Third Place Theory as it “allows people can follow or share topics of interest to them”.
In terms of roles of the authority, once a person goes viral for their unjust actions – due to a large public outcry, judicial authorities become involved, Amy Cooper (#CentralParkKaren) was charged for filing a false police report and misdemeanour. Authorities were able to jump into action to ensure that they meet the public’s standard.
In terms of innocent victims, they are generally found to be innocent if they were apparently involved in a criminal matter, my paper focused on innocent victims of cancel culture because they were apparently involved in misbehaviour that is unsatisfactory and was guilty in the eyes of the Internet. Cancel culture does not allow for victims to speak their side and leads to damaging and detrimental effects in their life due to a simple misunderstanding.
In terms of cancel culture, judiciary order does not have a stand in the Twitterverse, once someone makes up their mind and hundreds of other users have the same opinion — it is hard to redeem yourself.
Markoç, L. (2019). Twitter in the context of Oldenburg’s Third Place Theory. IBAD Sosyal Bilimler Dergisi, 79–89. https://doi.org/10.21733/ibad.610335
Nguyen, B. (2020, May). Cancel Culture on Twitter: The Effects of Information Source and Messaging on Post Shareability and Perceptions of Corporate Greenwashing. University of Pennsylvania. https://repository.upenn.edu/wharton_research_scholars/197/
I really enjoyed reading your paper and found your analysis of cancel culture to be excellent, I particularly loved the line, “The cancel movement’s mob mentality forces people’s ostracization for their wrongdoings and their livelihood is over with one swift Tweet.”. I also liked your analysis on cancelling celebrity versus’ individuals.
I agree that cancel culture has gone too far in todays society, I think our lack of nuance when examining ‘cancellable offences’ is damaging. Not only to the person in the centre of the Twitter storm, but also to our society as a whole. I think it is important to inform people when they have said or done something offensive or ignorant, but it’s also vital to give them space to apologise, learn and grow. Although I agree with you that this doesn’t apply for criminal offences such as the allegations against Harvey Weinstein.
I was wondering if in your research you came across the article ‘No Grand Pronouncements Here…: Reflections on Cancel Culture and Digital Media Participation’ by Eve Ng (2020). I found her analysis of digital practices such as cancel culture moving from empowering to toxic really interesting. It’s certainly worth the read!
I would love to hear your thoughts on whether you think women are more affected by being cancelled than men, particularly in the case of celebrities. It’s been a topic I’ve been reading a lot about recently.
Ng, E. (2020). No Grand Pronouncements Here…: Reflections on Cancel Culture and Digital Media Participation. Television & New Media, 21(6), 621–627. https://doi.org/10.1177/1527476420918828
I’m glad that you enjoyed my paper, I thoroughly enjoyed researching and writing the subject especially it is such a contemporary topic.
Cancel culture is definitely damaging and that was one of the main concerns that I wanted to express in my paper, how the mob mentality doesn’t allow for room to apologise and make amends. Although I do feel that there are some people who do deserve it and that they show their true colours in a 30-second video clip, I believe I mentioned the #CentalParkKaren in one of my discussions. You may have heard the story, it did go quite viral, Amy Cooper
called the police falsely accusing an African-American man was threatening her when it was the opposite, the man politely asked her to put her dog on a leash and she went on a tirade. Cases like that really make you think whether it may be a good lesson for people to learn the hard way, in this case, commentators say she used the black verse white rhetoric to get her way especially at a tense time where the Black Lives Matter Movement was rampant. I’d be interested if you also feel the same? It is definitely a polarising topic.
Eve Ng did come up during my research but someone I did not come across the article that you recommended, I wholly agree with when Ng (2020) states that “cancel culture demonstrates how content circulation via digital platforms facilitates fast, large-scale responses to acts deemed problematic, often empowering traditionally marginalized groups in the moment”. I could not have said it better myself, people who felt that they aren’t being heard have found a place where they are being accepted, that is why I wrote my paper in the Communities and Social Media stream over the others that were provided.
A third place is provided for users, finding others with similar outlooks and interests and it gives them a sense of security that they are not alone in the world. It goes for both Far Right and Far Left voices, even if there are differences in political and social opinion, they know they have a place where they can discuss freely.
With your statement in regards that women are being affected by being cancelled than men, especially within Hollywood, it is something that I have thought about now and then but I have never really explored it until now.
I definitely think that women are affected by cancellation in the eyes of the public, there are still underlying misogyny within Hollywood and men seem to come out of it unscathed. Kristen Stewart
is a perfect example, when photos were released with her in a questionable position with her Director, Rupert Sanders, Steward was chastised all over the Internet. Meanwhile, Sanders flew under the radar and deal with it privately while Stewart dealt with a PR nightmare. Women in these positions suffer through it and deal with their mistakes and private life publicly for weeks but men seem to walk away from it with just a headline for a few days.
I’m interested in what you found with your readings and am intrigued to discuss (hence my long comment 😅)
Thank you for taking the time to respond to my comment!
I am familiar with the Central Park Karen and I think she was certainly trying to leverage the black vs white narrative in her favour. I agree that it is a polarising topic. Sapna V. Raj, deputy commissioner of the Law Enforcement Bureau at the NYC Commission on Human Rights, said following the incident, “Efforts to intimidate Black people by threatening to call law enforcement draw on a long, violent and painful history, and they are unacceptable.” (Aggler, 2020). I think because she is a person she should be allowed space to learn and grow from her actions, however I also think what happened to her afterwards was fair.
I really loved your example of Kristin Stewart as it is not one I am very familiar with. An example I found in my readings was the cancellation of Taylor Swift. 2016 was a really bad year for her and her reputation was thrown through the mud, particularly after that Kanye West ‘feud’ (Snapes, 2020). Although her reputation has fully recovered now these events effected her career for a few years. I agree with you that the way public discussion around women and men’s cancellations still have misogynistic undertones.
I’m glad you enjoyed the reading I recommended! I would love to know your opinion on whether you think its more common to be cancelled in some digital third places than others?
Aggeler, M. (2020). A Black Man Asked a White Woman to Leash Her Dog. She Called the Cops.. The Cut. Retrieved 16 May 2021, from https://www.thecut.com/2020/05/amy-cooper-central-park-dog-video.html.
Snapes, L. (2019). Taylor Swift: ‘I was literally about to break’. the Guardian. Retrieved 16 May 2021, from https://www.theguardian.com/music/2019/aug/24/taylor-swift-pop-music-hunger-games-gladiators.
The Kanye West and Taylor Swift saga is a great example, I completely agree with that one. That whole situation created the #TaylorSwiftIsOverParty and saw her character and reputation dragged all over the Internet. When news came out that helped vindicate Swift from the feud that first come to light. It displayed West as not as innocent as he made it out to be, West’s scrutiny over the situation was not as bad as Swift’s. Which misogyny plays a part in it.
Cancel culture is definitely more prevalent on Twitter due to the virality it offers and the global reach it has. Shim & Oh (2018) states that “people with a high level of opinion congruence would feel more fear of isolation thus tend to seek online anonymity in pursuing freedom of speech for political disinhibition and expression”. The anonymity that Twitter offers allows users to express their opinion without fear of consequences, even if it at the expense of others which I find ironic – cancel culture’s toxicity is breaking down people’s livelihood yet users hide behind an anonymous user name to avoid the same.
I have seen the emergence of cancel culture on TikTok as it also offers anonymity but there have been many cases where users have spoken out using their true identity. We’ve had a user speaking out about her interaction with Hailey Bieber and how she was extremely rude that went viral on the platform which was eventually reported on news sites.
Influencers have also become a target of cancel culture in TikTok including James Charles, Lopez Brothers and David Dobrik. Comments under their videos on TikTok are inundated with negative connotations and users calling them out on their misbehaviour.
I find TikTok and Twitter are more common to be cancelled than Facebook and Instagram and that has a lot to do with virality, access, and exposure.
Shim, K., & Oh, S. K. K. (2018). Who creates the bandwagon? The dynamics of fear of isolation, opinion congruency and anonymity-preference on social media in the 2017 South Korean presidential election. Computers in Human Behavior, 86, 181–189. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.chb.2018.04.012
I found your paper interesting as a result of your choice to cover both the poistive and negative sides of cancel culture. This was interesting personally because I very much sit on the side of cancel culture being a negative force such as the example you used of a witch hunt, as often at least currently it is weaponised to remove people simply due to a difference in opinion which creates an inherintly toxic environment on platforms such as ‘Twitter’.
Your example of the #MeToo movement was effective in presenting the good that can come of cancel culture as for me it is an example that occured long before I was active on the internet and it shows that in some situations cancel culture can truly bring a person in a position of power to accountability.
Overall you paper has left me with one question, Do you think that over time cancel culture has begun to lose its positive impact?
Personally at least from my own use of platforms such as ‘Twitter’ I would say that this is the case but I’d enjoy your take.
Thank you for engaging in my paper, it was very eye-opening whilst writing it and I, myself, have sat where you sit in regards to the negative implications cancel culture has.
I believe cancel culture has already lost its positive advocacy due to the sheer amount of toxic repercussions that it has on the digital space. If you Google ‘cancel culture’, most suggestions are of articles proclaiming the toxic and negative aspect of it. Initially, I was all for it — especially with celebrities who need to take accountability for their misconduct. Before social media, they were able to lie low until it all dies down and the only media they had were magazines and newspapers. The scandal will lose its effect in the next couple of weeks and they can resume with their regularly scheduled program.
For example, we have Roman Polanski, who has had six women accuse him for sexual misconduct including the rape of a 13 year old girl. Yet, he is still active in the movie scene and won Best Director at the ‘French Oscars’ in 2020 while Harvey Weinstein sits inside Rikers Island. Polanski recently revealed that he is currently making a new movie and has avoided repercussions and arrest while he lives in France, he is an example of not only cancel culture has failed but also the justice system.
Cancel culture has many facets — it’s toxic, it’s delivering justice, it goes too far, it doesn’t go far enough. It’ll be interesting how it will evolve in the coming years, but at this time, it has lost its impact as it’s already seen to be detriment in the online community.
Thanks for the reply, Firstly I would like to say that I don’t think you were alone in initially seeing cancel culture as a positive force as myself and I’m sure many others when learning of the concept believe in the good that is possible with such a system.
Unfortunately in reality especially in the environment created by platforms such as ‘Twitter’ cancel culture is often misdirected and even in cases where it is directed at deserving individuals such as those you outlined often falls short in delivering justice.
Overall I agree with you on cancel cultures loss of positive advocacy and similarly I will also be waiting to see how it evolves over the coming years.
Really well written paper- the structure was easy to follow. I like that you have addressed both sides of the argument thoroughly; the success of the cancel culture and the escalation leading to counterproductive acts.
I am definitely on the fence about whether the cancel culture is successful or not. Like you say, in some ways it brings rise to certain issues and can successfully shame the ones who deserve it. But, collaboration and the spread of misinformation can create an almost toxic attack on a potentially innocent person. Through following social media influencers personally, I have noticed that a lot of the time the reason an individual is ‘canceled’ is because of a situation that is blown way out of proportion and through constant repeating and interpretation of the story, facts can be made up or amplified distorting the story and falsely accusing people.
It would be interesting to hear your thoughts on people (celebrities and influencers in particular) coming back after being cancelled? What do you think about redemption and forgiveness from these people and how to go about it in order to reappear in the online community?
I completely agree with you, I find that the cancel culture has evolved into a disadvantageous form of online activism. I find that influencers tend to be a subject of being called out more than celebrities and I believe that it’s because they’re more easily accessible to global superstars. People love to see successful people fail, especially those who seem to be normal people but with a large following.
Celebrities and influencers comeback from being cancelled is rather common, we have social media influencers recording themselves apologising, go quiet for a couple of weeks and wait until the backlash calms down — we have Laura Lee, MannyMua, and Jenna Marbles. Their online careers have been spared and are still reaping the benefits of their career. Then again, we have influencers who have had problematic past behaviour who have been constantly called out for the same misconduct — James Charles, Jeffree Star, and Shane Dawson.
It all comes down to PR and how they market themselves after their scandal, I think it comes down to how fast they react to their scandal, the authenticity of their apology video and how much time they let the public process the information before they reappear. Cerulo & Ruane (2014) states that “apologies may be highly instrumental, designed to restore one’s image, re-establish ties to admirers, and thus ensure continued economic success”, meaning that apologies are designed and curated to ensure a connection with their audience and to have a higher chance of redemption.
It will be interesting how David Dobrik will comeback from his recent scandal, his apology video was not taken well by the public because he titled it “Let’s Talk…” but disabled the comments amongst other things and he waited too long to respond to the allegations.
The best influencer apology was from Jenna Marbles, she received a vast amount of support and praise for taking accountability for her actions and bowed out from the spotlight until further notice where the audience accepted her decision.
I believe every one, including influencers and celebrities deserve to have the chance to clarify the situation, take accountability and understand that their actions should not be ignored just because they are famous. As long as they’re being genuine and know that they have learned from their mistakes, like Jenna Marbles, then their livelihood shouldn’t be destroyed. For those who keep repeating their mistakes, detrimental to society with their continuing their problematic behaviour especially by being racist or predatory – they need to be deplatformed and be held accountable for their behaviour.
I’m interested in your take and if you find it is acceptable for influencers to reemerge into the online community after a scandal.
Cerulo, K. A., & Ruane, J. M. (2014). Apologies of the Rich and Famous. Social Psychology Quarterly, 77(2), 123–149. https://doi.org/10.1177/0190272514530412
Thanks for replying to my comment, it was really interesting to hear what you had to say as you seem like you have a lot of knowledge on the topic.
In the most part I completely agree with your statements about whether it is acceptable for influencers to reemerge into the online community after a scandal. For me, I think it is truely a case by case sort of discussion as the severity of the accusations impact whether or not redemption is possible, as well as the sincerity of the apology and whether or not they make significant changes in response to the scandal. But, I believe the interent has lead to an increase framing as, “anyone with an account can provide their opinion or interpretation of the events or legitimacy of allegations” and this contributes to things being blown out of proportion and people being wrongly accused (Holman, 2020, p. 10). So in saying this, I think it seems unfair that some who is wrongly accused are still expected to apologise in light of the public to ensure their career is safe. This also brings me to the fact that it is so hard to know if someone his being genuine or not, especially if someone who you follow has been ‘cancelled’ and you now question your feelings towards them. Like you said, a lot of the time this is constructed and performed in order to get the audience response they are aiming for.
All in all I think the most important things in order to achieve redemption online is time and like you say, meaningful action (Holman, 2020, p. 47). I too am interested to see what David Dobrik situation pans out!
Holman, K. J. (2020). Can You Come Back from Being Cancelled? A Case Study of Podcasting, Cancel Culture, and Comedians during #MeToo (Order No. 27955107). Available from ProQuest One Academic. (2427301602). https://link.library.curtin.edu.au/gw?url=https://www.proquest.com/dissertations-theses/can-you-come-back-being-cancelled-case-study/docview/2427301602/se-2?accountid=10382
Thanks for your paper on this contemporary topic, You did a great job supporting your article with a relatively young and fresh subject topic.
It is an amazing reflection on the legitimacy of these digital communities that online campaigns, such as #metoo have resulted in Harvey Weinstein being committed at trial. However, as you mentioned, not all campaigns are created equal. Do you see the ability for anonymity in social media that allows public performance within Twitter regarding cancel culture? When accounts don’t have to be verified and don’t require the users’ real name, I imagine people have the ability to engage in a more fierce type of public attack and discourse than they might otherwise in an offline environment?
When you introduce the idea of the third place, did you see characteristics within this community that make you believe they are utilising Twitter as a third place? Reading your article, some of the characteristics are met, but you would say that the group’s overall tone would not be playful, but perhaps that is subjective in this case. It would also be interesting to know if there are regulars within the community and how new members are welcomed into the place.
Again, I really enjoyed your interesting paper and congratulations on your work.
If you are interested, my paper is live. It also focuses on online community building, and it focuses on forming the ‘virtual’ loungeroom’ by reality television audience on Twitter as a third pace.
It was definitely a contemporary topic with limited academic sources but it has gained steam in the past 3 to 4 years for it to be seen as a problematic practice.
I thoroughly agree with you about having the mask of anonymity online to be able to viciously attack someone without having to reveal your identity, therefore, avoiding any repercussions from any harsh comments that you may have made. Keipi et al., (2017, p. 59) describe that “anonymity is a tool that can diminish the costs of expression, even if negative, due to relative freedom from external pressures linked to social norms, feedback and accountability”. This deduces that anonymous users are able to say what they want without the fear of being held accountable for what they say in a digital setting.
In regards to utilising Twitter as a third place, I did find that characteristics within this community are met and utilised. Moore et al. (2009) recognised that there are four fundamental factors that create an online third place, they are accessibility, social density, activity and hosting resources. In the case of Twitter — accessibility is made easy with discovery with hashtags, ease of entering and interaction, social density is based on sociability and interaction which can be made with mentions and hashtags, and activity and hosting resources are met due to Twitters ability to stimulate socialization.
I feel that there are regulars within the community, there are countless accounts that are dedicated to calling out celebrities to ensure that they are always held accountable, for example Here For The Tea and Kat Tenbarge. Although, I must admit that the above accounts can be classified as celebrity gossip, with 151k and 33k followers respectively — they have a mass following with followers who know what is expected from them, new followers are welcome as they have sought accounts that align with their viewpoints.
Third places can also be found within hashtags including #BlackLivesMatter, #CentralParkKaren, DogParkKaren – once a hashtag hits off and goes viral, users use a hashtag to have a particular subject matter in one place and have conversations.
I hope this sheds some light on your query! Thank you for taking the time to read my paper and I look forward to reading yours.
Keipi, T., Näsi, M., Oksanen, A., & Räsänen, P. (2019). Online Hate and Harmful Content: Cross-National Perspectives (Routledge Advances in Sociology) (1st ed.). Routledge. https://doi.org/10.4324/9781315628370
Moore, R., Hankinson Gathman, E., & Ducheneaut, N. (2009). From 3D Space to Third Place: The Social Life of Small Virtual Spaces. Human Organization, 68(2), 230–240. https://doi.org/10.17730/humo.68.2.q673k16185u68v15
I really enjoy reading your paper, as myself a part of my paper talk about the cancel culture.
I really like to read a paper concentrating only on this subject, I do not know if you share the same opinion as me but cancel culture bring more fear online as anyone can be cancel out of nothing.
I would personally liked if you had talk more about who those people who are cancel live it online and offline.
it would be great if you had a look at my paper I we tackle a bit the same subject and let me know if you like it!
Here is my Link : https://networkconference.netstudies.org/2021/2021/04/26/performance-of-ideal-self-online-having-a-detrimental-effect-on-social-media-influencers-identity/
Thank you for taking the time in reading my paper and I’m pleased that you enjoyed it.
I agree that the cancel culture does institute fear amongst people in terms of the possibility of being cancelled but it’s not because it is over nothing, but more so how the public chooses to interpret the situation to appear ‘woke’.
As I mentioned in my paper, the lack of fact-checking and the permittance of the spread of misinformation is what is negatively impacting cancel culture. An example stated in my paper, Natasha Tynes was cancelled causing her to lose a book deal because of a seemingly innocent Tweet about a Metro worker eating on public transport where commuters are not allowed. Causing a propagated narrative that the worker was singled out because of her race and the chosen narrative spread virally.
Cancel culture is a contemporary subject, it is difficult to find academic sources that explain the repercussions of being cancelled in their online and offline life.
This was one of my limitations whilst researching my subject and I wanted to ensure I have collated relevant and credible references.
In saying that, celebrities are easily discussed since it plays out publically and put together how they are dealing with the situation but they tend to be private so information is hardly credible.
In terms of innocent victims of cancel culture, I was able to research another victim, Mary Purdie. Purdie was accused of plagiarism for a piece of artwork that she created for a brand, it was later found to be false but the damage was already done. Purdie stated that she still “deals with the residual trauma” (Hauler, 2020) of receiving harassment from strangers telling her she should kill herself, Purdie has declared that even though that she has survived cancer and endured 5 miscarriages, this was the worst thing that she has had to experience.
I believe that innocent victims tend to leave the spotlight after being ceremoniously cancelled online and feel that there is no sense in attracting more attention towards it when they are trying to circumvent the situation. I deduce that this is the reason why it is difficult to find credible information in regards to your question.
I will definitely read your paper and look forward to discussing the topic with you.
Hauler, L. (2020, January 17). I was ‘canceled’ and it nearly destroyed my life. Good Morning America. https://www.goodmorningamerica.com/living/story/canceled-destroyed-life-68311913
Really enjoyed reading your paper. Thought you presented very strong points and backed up with solid research.
I personally grapple with the idea of cancel culture. I think it’s fantastic in some cases but other times I think it’s just mob mentality trying to blow a simple misunderstanding out of the water. Twitter allows interpretation on tone and meaning in a lot of cases. It seems it can often be people who don’t know or follow the person in line to get ‘cancelled’, who pile on and sometimes take things out of context. I agree with you that at times it appears to be less about education and more about shaming people and their opinions without facts.
I also see the idea of ‘cancelling’ celebrities as a pointless task often. When it results in people like Weinstein behind bars, thats fantastic. However, it seems a lot of celebrities are getting cancelled by the public but facing almost no personal, financial or legal trouble despite being ‘cancelled’ by Twitter and other digital communities. For example, Eddie McGuire gets forced to resign as the president of the Collingwood Football Club for a string of insensitive, narrow-minded and racist comments over a number of years. However, he still keeps all of his media jobs including working for the company and league he was supposed to be ‘cancelled’ from. This is whay bothers me about it, as cancel culture seems to not affect these people where it matters and all that happens is they get forced out of one spot and continue to thrive in others. Now that might be more of a reflection on the power of celebrity and big business then anything, but I’ve seen it in smaller music circles too. Music producers get ‘cancelled’ for sexual assault charges, then reappear as a different alias down the track working behind a smokescreen.
Anyway, really enjoyed this topic being covered and thank you for your discussion.
I’m glad that you enjoyed reading my paper, it is definitely a topic that has been highlighted recently online to the negative connotations it now has attached to what was meant to be online activism.
I agree with your statement in regards to cancelling celebrities and how there are no proper repercussions for their actions. It seems as though that average people who live normal lives who become the subject of being called out are the only ones that receive life-altering consequences for their actions.
I feel as though brands and corporations do the bare minimum when enforcing ramifications for celebrities, like your example of Eddie McGuire, along with other celebrities who have problematic past with a history of bad behaviour. It’s difficult to support brands and companies who support damaging misconduct. There are many celebrities who are still reaping the benefits of their stardom such as Jefree Star, Ellen Degeneres, JK Rowling.
Since cancel culture is a fairly contemporary issue where it has become more prevalent in the past 3 years, there are very few academic sources that assist in understanding how celebrities avoid the repercussions of this circumstance.
By looking into it further, I found that before cancel culture became a phenomenon, celebrities were still involved in scandals that affected their image. For example, Tiger Woods was embroiled in a cheating scandal and was ceremoniously denounced by the public and had several sponsorships drop him. Meanwhile, Cristiano Ronaldo was involved in a similar scandal but there was no immense backlash from fans or sponsors (Lee et al., 2020). Lee et al., (2020) surmise that this is due to celebrity image, branding and moral reasoning — Tiger Woods was branded as “inspirational” and “eloquent” while Ronaldo was branded as a “bad boy” (Sweeney, 2010). Therefore, the public’s support depends on how they view celebrities and who disappointed them the most.
This displays how many celebrities are able to avoid the dire consequences of cancellation which is unfortunate to the average who do not have that luxury.
In terms of major scandals such as Harvey Weinstein, Kevin Spacey, and R. Kelly — their backlash was immense due to the large number of people who came forward to speak against them, this made it difficult to amend.
It is honestly a difficult question, it seems as though it varies depending on who it is, their human branding, and whether it is worth the time and even the money to enforce consequences. A lot of these celebrities go quiet for a couple of weeks and eventually, there’s a new scandal in the spotlight and they are last weeks news.
Lee, H., Chang, D. R., & Einwiller, S. (2020). A study on the dynamics between the moral reasoning process and celebrity image and their impact on consumers’ support for celebrity comebacks after a transgression. Journal of Product & Brand Management, 29(6), 729–743. https://doi.org/10.1108/jpbm-02-2019-2259
Sweeney., J. (2010, October 1). What’s Next for the Tiger Woods Brand? Ad Age. https://adage.com/article/guest-columnists/marketing-tiger-woods-brand/146228
Thanks for the reply!
Won’t keep you too long this time but thought you made a really interesting point about how celebrities image and ‘brand’ play a part in the cancellation. Seems as though those who have good PR and marketing teams and get on top of it early can avoid being ‘cancelled.’ I personally find myself looking past Tiger Woods’ indiscretions due to personal admiration of his athletic abilities and story but your point makes me wonder whether I should think deeper on it.
I enjoyed reading your paper. It provided a lot of food for thought. I think the point you made about cancel culture affecting regular people—i.e. not celebrities or corporations—is an important take away. It is also evolving to not only cancel what people say or post, but what they do—or what they’re perceived to be doing. For example, the case of David Peterson at Skidmore College (https://www.timesunion.com/news/article/Churchill-At-Skidmore-curiosity-might-get-you-15553968.php) was photographed attending a pro-police rally (Back the Blue). Peterson claimed he only attended the rally with his wife out of curiosity; he wanted to see what these protestors had to say. Yet, there were calls for his dismissal from the Skidmore students when the photograph began circulating online. While Peterson was ultimately not dismissed from his job, the community (Skidmore College) had tried to cancel him without any form of open dialogue. (He didn’t get a chance to ‘defend’ himself at all.)
Does cancel culture force people to be more careful of what they say online? Do people ‘self-censor’ out of fear of being cancelled? I think there are interesting implications when cancel culture begins targeting people through proximity (Peterson’s case) rather than just what they say or post online.
Thank you for your time reading my paper — it was certainly eye-opening whilst writing and researching the topic. I did come across a few cases of innocent victims of cancel culture but did not come across David Peterson.
It did remind me of someone similar that I did not mention in my paper, in the case of Emmanuel Cafferty, where he was driving his company pick-up truck on the way home when people from another vehicle coaxed him to do the ‘okay’ sign which is a symbol appropriated by the alt-right that represents white power. Within two hours, he was fired from his job without a chance to explain himself as it was posted online immediately and went viral. He was guilty before he was proven innocent and that is how accusations become out of control.
It is a similar practice to the Republican US Senator, Joseph McCarthy who was active in the 1950’s, where he had a term coined after him, McCarthyism. A term meaning reckless mudslinging against people without any proof and causing “thousands of people lose their jobs and the imprisonment for years of more than a hundred people” (Shapiro, 2015). It’s not to the extreme as McCarthy, but cancel culture has similar characteristics to Joseph McCarthy’s reign.
It defeats the sole purpose of making people accountable for their actions when it’s becoming meaningless, when you Google cancel culture, the main suggestions are the negative impact it has and the toxicity it brings.
It does force people to be careful of how they portray themselves not only online but also offline as well. Access to a recording device in your pocket is prevalent in this day in age, ensuring that you’re behaving correctly is always on your mind but then again, who constantly thinks about their behaviour when in public. In your mind, you’re behaving correctly, just as Peterson and Cafferty were but were still called out because of a split-second decision out of curiosity and for Cafferty, he believed it was an innocent gesture.
Self-censorship is easier online than it is when you’re out in public, it is definitely interesting to see the implications of cancel culture in the future and how it will evolve and whether there will be viable avenues that will hold people accountable for their actions.
Do you think that self-censorship can be carried out to avoid being dragged online?
Shapiro, J. (2015). Lessons from McCarthyism: Looking back at McCarthyite accusations, as well as free speech threats in the USA today. Index on Censorship, 44(3), 43–45. https://doi.org/10.1177/0306422015605713