Imagine a world where mistakes are not forgiven, and even the smallest one, from years ago leads to ostracization. Each word or action taken will come back to haunt you in some way, resulting in everyone always walking around on eggshells. This is the scenario cancel culture creates within an online environment.
With the rise of social media platforms, the term “cancel culture” has been thrown around often in the past few years. Cancel culture is a movement meant to hold public figures or corporations accountable for exhibiting offensive behavior. This is done by expressing disapproval and contributing social pressure to the guilty party. The goal of “canceling” an individual or company is to boycott them or take away their platform.
The problem with online cancel culture is its toxicity. Some argue that cancel culture uplifts the voices of less powerful individuals or marginalized groups to influence social change. However, its overall negative impact on online culture and the mental health of social media users cannot be ignored.
The phrase cancel culture was popularized in late 2017, at first used to describe ostracizing someone because of their offensive behavior. Recently, it has been used by people attempting to defend themselves after committing wrongdoings, saying that cancel culture limits their right to freedom of speech and promotes censorship.
This is because canceling an individual decreases their reach and devalues their platform, reducing the impact of any messages they communicate on said platform. The defensive use of cancel culture puts a negative connotation behind the term, making it a subject that is not discussed as often as it should be.
Online cancel culture is often framed in two lights: A way to hold people accountable for their actions, or a manifestation of a society that is too unforgiving to understand mistakes and give second chances.
But it’s also important to discuss the toxic nature behind online cancel culture. When an individual is canceled, they are done. Their online presence is diminished and they have little hope of recovering. Their online profiles may even be banned.
The process leaves little room for redemption or change. Mistakes should be things to learn from and build off of. But with online cancel culture, the chance to learn from mistakes is not given due to the immediate removal of online presence. The swift and irreversible nature of the consequence makes it so that even when offenders do learn, their platform has been destroyed in a way that allows little chance for redemption.
Online cancel culture also encourages cyber bullying. Threats, invasions of privacy and overall negativity targeted at an individual because of something they did wrong are common on cancel culture dominated platforms. This threatens the mental state and physical safety of someone who is being canceled. While the deed exhibited by the canceled party may be offensive or very wrong, do they deserve to be targeted for what could have been an uneducated mistake?
Another issue within cancel culture is its selectiveness. One person may do the same thing as another, but because of certain factors involved in the situation, they will be treated differently by society. And due to misinformation being spread easily, sometimes it’s difficult to see who’s in the wrong.
A similar issue is knowing where to draw the line. Suppose society has canceled a certain musician for an offensive comment. Is it still okay to listen to their music? And what does cancellation really mean if the masses still continue to support the guilty party?
Overall, the toxicity within online cancel culture lies within the fact that it is a system that runs on opinions and allows few learning opportunities or second chances. It is a system that promotes negativity and prevents growth.
People have argued some benefits to online cancel culture. It ensures accountability for unacceptable behavior and is effective in combating serious wrongdoings. It causes social change and allows oppressed individuals with minimal voice to have a platform against injustice. But as said before, it is based on opinions and focuses on removing problematic characters from power, instead of bringing a way to learn from mistakes.
If the toxicity of cancel culture is recognized, a more positive online environment can be developed. When society allows individuals to take accountability and address their mistakes before rushing to deplatform them, it allows for a learning opportunity. Not just a learning opportunity for the individual, but also for others online to understand why something is wrong.
Ultimately, having an accepting online culture that encourages learning from mistakes is a good way to maintain the positive impact of cancel culture and eradicate the consequences that come along with it.