In the 2010s, we all came to know what we now call “cancel culture” or being “canceled.” The #MeToo Movement was taking form and holding abusers responsible.
Group shaming and withdrawal of support are the two pillars of being canceled. From Harvey Weinstein to R. Kelly, we saw reputations scorned by credible allegations, rightfully so. It was intentional and necessary, and the media put survivors in positions of power. Even though cancel-culture took root on social media, it had a massive impact that reached farther than a Twitter feed.
The court eventually charged Weinstein, and R. Kelly is actively awaiting sentencing. The success of these two campaigns set a precedent.
Black Twitter was also responsible for giving cancel culture a place in the lexicon. Through an ongoing cultural boycott, social media users have shed light on racists and other problematic figures.
Does their light ever go completely dark?
Maybe canceling a president is a bit far-reaching, but we tried. After Trump’s blatant racism throughout his campaign and presidency, even after retweeting a video of a supporter yelling “white power!” He still is a billionaire who served a full term.
It all begs the question, what is the goal here? Sure, we can call out rapists and racists, but what is the prize to be won?
This culture has perpetuated itself into a dog-eat-dog world social media landscape, where we cancel anyone and anything that might be slightly offensive. It is unproductive and only allows for virtue signaling.
This month, Dave Chappelle has been under fire for making trans people a punchline. The Netflix’s special, “The Closer,” garnered support and condemnation from all sides. Netflix employees coordinated a walkout, and many stood against him.
“What we object to is the harm that content like this does to the trans community (especially trans people of color) and, very specifically, Black trans women.” Netflix software engineer Tara Field said on Twitter. “People who look like me aren’t being killed. I’m a white woman. I get to worry about Starbucks writing ‘Tara’ on my drink.”
Others, like Black trans comic Flame Monroe, came to his defense, saying “nothing is off-limits.”
While we know Chappelle has a history of anti-LGBT jokes that are not even funny, he has had many successful Netflix specials. “The Closer” is possibly the last installment of his comedy deal, garnering 24.1 million. We should turn our eyes elsewhere. A comedian sucks and will still be wealthy.
What’s new? While we twiddle our thumbs and type 280 characters, corporations are profiting, and a cycle of hate is continuously normalized.
“Every obsessive search on Google for proof of wrongdoing, every angry post on Twitter and Facebook to call the guilty to account, is a silent ka-ching in the great repositories of these corporations, which woo advertisers by pointing to the intensity of user engagement.” Ligaya Mishan of The New York Times stated.
So we cancel high-profile individuals, but the social media monster often sinks its teeth into people who can not afford what comes with cancellation.
Calling out bad behavior you see within your community is one thing. Kicking people to the curb is entirely different. Frequently, social media turns canceling into bullying, with no room for compassion or growth. There should be room for dialogue and understanding. Many do not understand the context of their transgressions until people tell them what they have done wrong. While this may seem in favor of micro-aggressions or intolerant people, it favors creating a space for real change.
Instead of shutting down someone, we should diffuse the pack mentality and lean into each other. Listen and be mad, but leave room for an apology.
TikTok user Emmy Lu, @emmuhlu, faced death threats last year after a video of her 14-year-old self leaked her using racial slurs. No one should brush this off, but no one should be the bar of judgment either.
“My parents’ names and phone numbers have been leaked. They’re being called,” said Lu in an apology video. “My old address from New York has been leaked. I don’t even live there anymore—a child and his family live there. Please stop. I was so wrong and disgusting, but please see me.”
Since then, she has removed herself from social media. A platform made for good turned to evil in a blink of an eye. Yes, a 14-year-old should know better, but what if she didn’t?
Instead of alienating her, social media users should have taken a breath. As a society that never physically sees each other, I think Emmy Lu makes a great point, “please see me.”
No one teaches bigotry. We are born into homes and grow up in systems that normalize the concept. For a fundamental culture shift, we need to see each other. The damage culture is causing may be irreversible. We should not crucify anyone for wrongdoings that they can learn from, followed by accountability and reconciliation.
Big corporations, institutions, celebrities’ reputations can survive social media. They feed into cancel culture and get away with it unscathed. Taking down these giants may be the answer, rather than a teenager with a TikTok.
Use your social media for good, or take some time away from it. It can promote positive movements and be a platform for a call to action.
Learn to have conversations with others. We need to see each other.