What is ‘cancel culture’?
At its most basic, ‘cancel culture’ is the shaming of an individual or a group of individuals that have done something wrong and/or offensive. People will call out what they have done wrong, and declare that they should be ‘cancelled’, i.e. fall from public favour, through various means. Stop consuming their content, boycott their work, and in some cases, throw out any of their work that you have previously bought. People will comment on their social media with the word ‘cancelled’ or something similar to express their opinion.
The thing they did to be cancelled doesn’t have to be the recent past either; we have seen instances of people going back years into someone’s social media history to find something to ‘cancel’ them for.
‘Cancel culture’, or call-out culture has been around for quite a while, but has picked up speed on social media in recent years. This is because it is easier to delve into someone’s past actions because of the increase in social media apps, such as Twitter, Instagram and Facebook. Also, if they have a private Instagram account, also known as a ‘finsta’ (fake Instagram), which is only available to their friends, these are easily hacked, to reveal personal information.
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Cancel culture can affect anyone, but people in the public eye, such as celebrities or social influencers, are more notably affected. People in the public eye who have been affected by cancel culture include – J.K.Rowling, the Bon Appetit Test Kitchen from YouTube, Ellen DeGeneres, Shane Dawson and, probably one of the most famous cases, Taylor Swift.
The effect of ‘cancelling’ on free speech and opinion.
In times like this, when political opinions and debates are at an all time high over things such as wearing masks, social injustice or the American presidential debate, people are calling for others to be cancelled left, right and centre.
In academic opinion, the effect of cancel culture has seemingly brought a halt to debates. Earlier this year, 150 writers, activists and professors signed a letter, in which they express concern that new “moral attitudes” are weakening the idea of free speech and debate in favour of “ideological conformity.” While before it was okay to take an opposing side to debate on topics, now if one person’s opinion is seen as ‘wrong’ then they are most likely going to be cancelled.
While in some cases, calling out behaviour that is morally or ethically wrong is not a bad thing, we can’t completely dismiss others’ opinions; rather we should engage them in ways to show the differences in thinking.
Does ‘cancelling’ someone actually do anything?
Yes and no. As an explanation I will use two of my previously mentioned examples – The Bon Appetit (BA) Test Kitchen and Taylor Swift.
In the case of The BA Test Kitchen, cancel culture actually did have an effect. In light of the Black Lives Matter movement, a picture from one of the editor-in-chiefs at Condè Nast, the company in charge of BA, came to light. In it, the editor-in-chief was seen in brownface during a Halloween party in 2004. The public outrage was immediate and support for the online show dropped. Many of the staff there refused to work until he was fired or resigned, which he did. So in this case it did, indeed, work.
It is clear that, although Taylor Swift was temporarily ‘cancelled’ after her public feud with the Kardashian-Wests in 2016, (the use of the now infamous snake emoji being posted on her timeline), she came back stronger than ever. In 2019 she became the first woman who’s sixth consecutive album sold over 500,000 copies in a week with her album Lover. However, she did say in an interview with Vogue, that it was an ‘isolating’ experience and her life felt “out of control” . So while her career was hardly affected long term, her mental health took a large blow.
So yes, while it is effective in cancelling people who have done definitive wrong, such as racist acts, a lot of people tend to jump the gun to help cancel someone who their favourite celebrities call to be. This is sometimes done without solid proof and confirmation of the act they are being cancelled over, most people going off of hearsay. We also don’t, and most probably won’t, know the mental toll that cancel culture has on someone who has been affected unless it happens to us.
Now, one of the very real dangers that people who are being cancelled face is doxing. Doxing is the form of revealing someone’s personal, identifying information online, in the hopes that people will find them. This can be the place they work, their phone number, the place they live at, and in some cases, the place where their families live also. This information is both found and published online through public websites, social media pages and, in some cases, hacking. It is usually done with malicious intent, such as harassment, online shaming (‘canceling’), coercion, blackmail or vigilante forms of justice.
Cancel culture can indeed be dangerous, both from an academic standpoint, for the concept of free speech but also from a physical standpoint. While it is okay to stop supporting someone because you don’t agree with them or they have disappointed you, mindlessly attempting to ‘cancel’ someone, especially by releasing personal information, should never be something that happens, as all people have a right to anonymity and to be safe.
What is your opinion on ‘cancel culture? Share it in the comments below!
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