The Problem with ‘Cancel Culture’ in United States’ Social Media Platforms

Social media is the supreme triumph of the commonplace, the undiluted voice of the commonplace, the perfect means of viral transmission of the commonplace. All excellence is tracked down and exterminated. The commonplace infects everything. It grows like weeds everywhere and strangles all beautiful, exceptional flowers. All tall poppies are all cut down.

― Joe Dixon, The Mandarin Effect: The Crisis of Meaning

What does it mean to be #Canceled? In North America, the term has gained popularity on online platforms—such as Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook—over the past couple of years. The infamous hashtag gained traction rapidly, and was widely accepted on social media in the 2010s, beginning with Tumblr’s cheesy star-fandoms and continuing with what is called ‘Cancel Culture’ in modern-day Pop Culture [3]. This means that generational movies, television shows, and internet communities have adopted the culture’s values and beliefs as their own—primarily because this phrase has picked up a lot of steam, electronically. Becoming “cancelled” has transcended its traditional boundaries, and integrated itself into social and political public expression by both the Republican and Democratic parties [5]. The Left describes the act of cancellation as reconciliation for people whom are not deemed “politically correct,” while the Right adheres to the censorship of discourse that is meant to exist within the ever-changing complexities of the modern world. Meanwhile, although each group has conveyed their ‘Cancel Culture’ intentions—what falls between has inevitably ruined the image of not only famous and influential individuals, but the common as well. We are all human beings that make mistakes—so instead of #Canceling one another, particularly on social media where words, photos, and videos circulate forever—it is time to start educating ourselves and forgiving others for their communal shortcomings. #StopTheTyranny

An Undetermined Conversation

The strange phenomenon of ‘Cancel Culture’ highlights the fundamental differences of what’s considered right and wrong through the lens of social media—which in itself is inherently and characteristically, problematic. Online platforms are naturally composed of click-baits and fake news, that deliver false information and advertising to individuals who are gullible enough to believe everything they read as the sole truth. For instance, writer J.K. Rowling has been experiencing the tyranny of ‘Cancel Culture’ when she accidentally “favourited” an anti-transgender comment from Twitter users in 2020. Rather than granting Rowling, the famous ‘Harry Potter’ series author the benefit-of-the-doubt, the New York Post noted that she was gathering evidence for a “present-day crime scene she [was] working on” [Kato, Brooke, 3]. She wrote, “I began screenshotting comments that interested me, as a way of reminding myself what I might want to research later. On one occasion, I absent-mindedly ‘liked’ instead of screenshotting. That single ‘like’ was deemed evidence of wrongthink, and a persistent low level of harassment began,” [Licea, Melkorka]. Despite an acknowledgement of her mistake, this gesture was taken the “wrong way” in the eyes of ‘Cancel Culture,’ where J.K. Rowling reported having been canceled at least four or five times by trolls. Trans-activist sent her a letter later that year stating how they ultimately condemned her personal stories about domestic violence and abuse but undermined those against trans-rights and non-binary rights [4]. She has received extensive backlash by social media’s “canceling” communities for identifying as a “Trans-Exclusionary Radical Feminist,” and wonders how such “good, kind, and progressive people” could be so cruel [Licea, Melkorka, 4]. J.K. Rowling’s “social slip” had the media up and arms until this day, although she is allowed to speak in defense of women and their situations in the name of feminism. Not everyone has to agree, and that is one of Cancel Culture’s largest issues.

‘Canceled’ Accountability: Statistics, Data, and Socio-political Opinions

Regardless of whether or not #Canceling should be reconsidered or cancelled in itself, much research indicates that ‘Cancel Culture’ was never a thing, to begin with. Again—generationally—most individuals 50 years and older do not understand or recognize what this culture is, and how it functions within the hypocritical realms of the modern society. The Pew Research illustrates that “Overall, [about] 44% of Americans say they have heard at least a fair amount about the phrase, including [only] 22% who have heard a great deal” [Vogels, Emily A., et al.] and its familiarity depends on socio-demographics and economics. It is clear that younger people know most about this undeniable, yet obscure social and political atmosphere that online platforms trail through daily; however, their ignorance in conceptualizing what being “canceled” might parallel with the state of someone’s well-being. Instead of blaming the “canceled” for their faults and introducing consequences—find a better and more accurate way to teach people about hot button socio-political issues, with the balance of reconciliation and censorship with ‘Cancel Culture.’ Unfortunately, we live in a torn world—where we are either punished or taken accountable for our actions [5]. The Republican and Democratic parties have their fair share of rights and wrongs but as a united nation—we must come together to solve each problem with sympathy, respect everyone’s opinions, and end this war. It boils down to the people of today, and what they have chosen to do with these terms. The ‘Cancel Culture’ has converted itself from a comical online trend to a tyrannical, toxic community of people with no heart. The culture has served as the biggest factor in today’s #Canceled celebrities, politicians, and businessmen, along with being the most controversial social media issue in the United States today.

What’s the Verdict?

Citizens, both online and in real life, should not be afraid to utilize their voices to an external advantage. ‘Cancel Culture’ has created a space that has negatively impacted even the most “woke” and “culturally-aware” communities [1], where even Feminists and People of Color are struggling to find the correct words to say. Living in fear is to not live at all—so it is a necessity for our youngest generation to keep pushing for social and political education and structure, rather than oppression and disrespect towards the “canceled.” How is this possible? An article written by a young Leftist via On Our Moon sheds light on the greater problem—the United States justice system. She, along with another politician named Amanda Marcotte, writes in-depth stating: “If we had a justice culture, would we even need to worry about cancel culture?” When we are unable to rely on a justice system to punish those who have committed a crime, or expressed racial or sexist behaviors, we the people turn to cancel culture for retribution” [D’Amour, Alexandra]. Nevertheless, when marginalized parties are not represented, it manifests and becomes an issue in more places than one—hence, being #Canceled online. These problems reside in the real world, and once they are carried into online platforms—they are immediately misrepresented, misunderstood, and ultimately published for dramatic and inauthentic purposes. Yes, justice must be served, but for it to materialize—sympathy is imperative for those who are reprimanded. Have patience for those around you, and then it will be possible for social and political teaching to take place. You would not want to risk yourself being #Canceled for racist, sexist, ableist, or homophobic comments on social media, so aid others with your intellect and become a more reasonable human being—this way, we can grow together.

REFERENCES

[1] D’Amour, Alexandra, “Cancel Culture: The Good, the Bad, & Its Impact on Social Change,” ON OUR MOON (April 2 2021), https://onourmoon.com/cancel-culture-the-good-the-bad-its-impact-on-social-change/

[2] Greenspan, Rachel E.,“How ‘Cancel Culture’ Quickly Became One of the Buzziest and Most Controversial Ideas on the Internet,” INSIDER (August 6 2020 8:30AM), https://www.insider.com/cancel-culture-meaning-history-origin-phrase-used-negatively-2020-7

[3] Kato, Brooke, “What is Cancel Culture? Everything to Know About the Toxic Online Trend,” THE NEW YORK POST (June 25 2021 10:57AM), https://nypost.com/article/what-is-cancel-culture-breaking-down-the-toxic-online-trend/

[4] Licea, Melkorka, “J.K. Rowling Defends Controversial Trans Comments in Lengthy Essay,” THE NEW YORK POST (June 10 2021 4:37PM), https://nypost.com/2020/06/10/j-k-rowling-defends-her-controversial-trans-comments-in-lengthy-essay/

[5] Vogels, Emily A., et al., “Americans and ‘Cancel Culture’: Where Some See Calls for Accountability, Others See Censorship, Punishment,” THE PEW RESEARCH CENTER: INTERNET, SCIENCE & TECH (May 19 2021), https://www.pewresearch.org/internet/2021/05/19/americans-and-cancel-culture-where-some-see-calls-for-accountability-others-see-censorship-punishment/

[6] Waterson, Jim, “Trans Activists Write to Sun Condemning J.K. Rowling Abuse Story,” THE GUARDIAN: NEWS AND MEDIA (June 15 2020 2:53PM), https://www.theguardian.com/books/2020/jun/15/trans-and-non-binary-activists-write-to-sun-in-support-of-jk-rowling

Abigail C. Ross is a junior at Emerson College in Boston, Massachusetts, in the United States, pursuing a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Creative Writing. Her talents reside in cultivating unique stories, articles, and personal essays that reach a wider audience. Ross holds positions in and writes for on-campus organizations, including YourMagazine and EM Magazine, but has dreams of becoming an author in the near future. As a student in the Writing, Literature, and Publishing department at Emerson—she has participated in extensive academic exploration through paper writing, which has guided her to work as a Research Intern with The Wall of Justice.

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