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Monday, April 15, 2024

A case for reconsidering cancel culture

Carelessly canceling others isn’t a substitute for listening to those impacted and addressing your own biases

Technology has not only shaped the way we’re able to present ourselves online, but also the way we’re capable of viewing and judging others. The whole experience of using social media is detached: Often the images we post online are highly artificial, either by being manipulated in their angles, edited with photo editing apps or evaluated and vetted for how others will perceive them. Even if we strive to make the images we post seem unfiltered, we often still consider how these images will be viewed by others. 

These barriers also persist in online discourse. When we present virtual versions of ourselves, we limit our ability to have a natural back-and-forth dialogue by reviewing and rewriting every word and sentence before commenting. Rarely do we vocalize unfiltered thoughts as we do while having in-person conversations. 

Often, we try to sense the general reactions to a post before commenting an opinion of our own to gauge how we might be perceived: When was the last time you commented on a post before assessing what others wrote in the comments first, let alone advocated for your original position when it seemed like the majority disagreed? It can feel easier to not contribute at all in these situations, as the fear of being lashed out at online is a powerful deterrent. 

The beauty of social media is its potential for connectivity, meaning you can comment on Kim K’s most recent post or message your favorite singer and pray for a response. Yet this connectivity comes with a price. Words and actions can circulate the globe in a matter of minutes to be judged by thousands, and once posted digitally, they’re rarely able to be retracted. 

In this sense, the ability to spread information so widely is valuable for public awareness, but when the words or actions of a public figure come under criticism online, commenters call for them to be “canceled.” 

Cancel culture, “a modern form of ostracism” as described on Wikipedia, can be problematic, especially in cases where it deters people from learning about their mistakes and actively changing their mindset. Conversations on controversial topics that don’t cause harm to others can be dominated by the majority, with little room to explore less common opinions. By shunning those with different viewpoints, and deeming them unacceptable individuals to converse with because they’re “canceled,” it stunts powerful discussions and the ability of individuals to be exposed to new ideas. 

But not all offenses are on the same level; some transgressions are severe and harmful enough that it can only be up to the people directly affected to determine a course of action and shouldn’t be assessed by strangers online.

That being said, technology and online forums have given us a space for holding important figures accountable for their actions; the act of tearing down someone’s online presence can give a feeling of palpable change when systemic change is slow and frustrating. And in some rare instances, public pressure can result in societal change, like the personal testimonies from sexual assault survivors on social media which fueled the #MeToo movement.

Yet in some cases, when someone unrelated inserts themselves into a situation, canceling does more to uplift their own status than actually opening up a discussion of why the person is getting canceled. It solidifies the canceler’s place in the majority group and sends a sign that if others do not follow suit, they’re at risk of being canceled too.

Especially when an individual’s controversial words or actions from several years ago resurface, immediately canceling them ignores the human potential for growth and change. In certain situations, when the person calling out a mistake made by another individual is in the same place of privilege, it can be a means to virtue signal. While it is important that people in places of privilege hold each other accountable, canceling someone can be a poor, performative substitute for addressing biases and prove counterproductive in effecting change. 

As students, it’s crucial to assess our own role in cancel culture on social media. In instances of canceling, we should be conscious of impacted individuals’ assessment of the incident and check our own privilege. It is vital to consider whether or not an individual has demonstrated a capacity for change and if impacted individuals’ have expressed that irreparable harm was inflicted. We should practice humility and address our own biases and privileges — far more impactful steps when cultivating systemic change than simply blaming others. 


Written by: The Editorial Board



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