Should we Cancel Cancel Culture?

The term ‘cancel culture’ has become pervasive on social media within the past few years. The idea that a person could lose all their following and potentially their livelihood based on a badly worded tweet from eight years previously has rightly outraged many people. However, how many celebrities and public figures who have been touted as being cancelled have really faced long-term consequences?

‘Cancel culture’ on social media has connotations of being toxic, problematic and of twisting truths.

The use of weak and often out-of-context evidence to declare someone problematic can create false reputations for people online. An example of this is James Charles, who has been accused of transphobia as well as predatory behaviour towards straight men. While neither of these claims had any solid proof, and James Charles provided an apology for any harm caused, these incidents have left a lasting scar on his online reputation. Without making any judgements on James Charles’ actions, this is an obvious example of old social media posts coming back to haunt people, calling into question the internet’s capacity for forgiveness and the ability of individuals to be able to change and move on from past mistakes.

The Me Too movement is a prime example of the internet’s ability to hold people to account, with a worldwide show of support and real consequences being seen for those involved, primarily Harvey Weinstein. Those celebrities who have been truly cancelled are those who have faced criminal charges and even prison time. In which case, can it really be called cancelling? However, this is frequently not the case. Very few public figures have truly been ‘cancelled’, with Milo Yiannopoulos being one example. Those celebrities who have faced backlash for problematic behaviour frequently seem to have nine lives, bouncing back from these accusations with little to no long term consequences.

While the examples of politicians are far removed from those of internet celebrities, when we all use social media in the same way it can be an equalising force. Recently Labour politicians such as Rosie Duffield have come under fire for comments made on social media. After the backlash caused by a tweet with transphobic undertones, Rosie Duffield left the social media platform but has not faced any public reprimanding or consequences from the party. Leftists are often held to a higher standard of behaviour than other politicians as we rightly should be, and if we can’t hold our politicians to account for inexcusable comments, even if they are just tweets, then we can’t claim to be more tolerant or supportive than any other group.

Internet accountability is not a bad thing. While it is possible to change and learn from your past mistakes, the growth of social media - especially Twitter - means that for many celebrities and politicians there exists years’ worth of thoughts and opinions that can be accessed by anyone, though this should always be taken with a pinch of salt. Though we should not be condemning anyone for a badly worded post from several years ago, it can be beneficial to have a record of the opinions of those we look up to or who represent us that we can use as a touchstone. ‘Cancel culture’ may apply primarily to internet celebrities, but the internet does provide us with a new means of holding people to account for opinions they express on social media, and perhaps we should be using it as an opportunity to be able to call out inexcusable behaviour in a way that can reach the source much more quickly and easily than official channels often can.

While ‘cancel culture’ as an internet phenomenon may have connotations of being ‘toxic’, and in some cases it has been, in an age where the views and actions of our representatives have never been so publicised, we have been given a new opportunity to hold people to account for their actions. It is true that in its current state, cancel culture has been used to carry out petty grudges or exaggerated claims, however there could be potential in a form of ‘cancelling’ that could be utilised effectively against those who truly have caused harm to others through their actions or statements to alert others and withdraw support when necessary.

Nia Brace

7 Sept 2020

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Should we Cancel Cancel Culture?

Image by Simon Hayes