Recent years have seen a surge in “cancel culture,” the social media phenomenon which according to Merriam-Webster.com is, “the removal of support for public figures in response to their objectionable behavior or opinions.” At its core, “cancel culture” is about keeping celebrities and public figures accountable. People rally together to prevent those with power and fame from getting away with immoral and offensive actions. In this way, it’s democratic. People choose to join in on the “cancelling,” which functions as a digital non-violent protest that can bring positive changes to online communities. When celebrities are made examples of, it tells their fan base what their idol did was wrong. It also warns other public figures that they will not be tolerated if they make similar offensive remarks. However, while “cancel culture” blossomed from good intentions, it has, in several ways, evolved into something completely different.
One of the major flaws of “cancel culture” is its focus on the past, rather than the present. Posts and comments are often “dug up” from a person’s internet history as evidence to prove the celebrity in question is a bad person. These include comments made years or decades before the accusation, sometimes when the person accused was a child or teenager. And while, no comment that is racist, sexist, homophobic or otherwise offensive should be tolerated, the mob mentality of “cancel culture” often fails to acknowledge the changes in character people have undergone since the posting of a comment. Sure, if someone continually makes the same offensive comments and half-hearted apologies, they deserve to be “cancelled.” But does someone deserve to be “cancelled” for something they said years ago, even after having apologized and gone to lengths to make things right? I should think not, because this accomplishes nothing. Everyone messes up and one mistake does not define a person’s entire identity. “Cancelling” them for something they did years ago will not prevent someone from being a bad person, if that part of their personality already disappeared a long time ago.
Oftentimes, accusations based on rumors and not direct evidence(such as a video, comment or image) are treated equally to those which are. Imagine a rumor is created about you and that rumor spreads to thousands or even millions of people. Thanks to the viral nature of “cancel culture,” your career is over and reputation ruined, all before you even have a chance to defend yourself. There are no immediate consequences to making defamatory comments about an individual on the internet, where procuring mass crowds to attack a celebrity is as easy as making a post or video. This has unfortunately led to a “bandwagon effect” where one accusation leads to mass “cancellation” of a person. By the time the accusation is proved false, the damage is already done.
Although celebrities and public figures seem untouchable, they are just as human as the person making the accusation. People who’ve been “canceled” have suffered internet bullying and even threats to their safety. “Cancel culture” exposes them to ruthless public shaming which can lead to mental health issues and severe damages to reputation, both professionally and personally. Some have even been driven to take their own lives. Hana Kimura, a female professional wrestler who appeared on the Netflix reality show “Terrace House,” was “canceled” after in one episode, she pulled off a male co-star’s hat in an argument. After relentless online bullying and abuse related to the incident, she took her own life on May 23, 2020. Later, the “hat knocking” incident was revealed to be something she was coaxed into doing by the show's producers.
“Cancel culture” does not follow the model of “innocent until proven guilty.” It does not discriminate, even when alleged actions committed have no evidence or are shrouded in ambiguity. Even when people own up to their mistakes and have shown themselves to become better people. This part of “cancel culture” has to change.
While changes need to be made, there is no reason to “cancel” “cancel culture.” It is something much needed in a world where videos are appearing left and right, showing celebrities using slurs and harmful language. However, “cancel culture” needs to change its focus. It should be about holding people accountable for actions they are committing and promoting the individual in question, and their supporters, to change and become educated on important issues. It shouldn’t be about digging through histories, bullying or witch hunts.“Cancel culture” was a movement which started in compassion for those who never had a voice. Everybody on the internet, whether involved with “cancel culture” or not, should stay compassionate and remember that although we are hidden behind avatars and usernames, we are all still people.
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