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  • Writer's pictureLive Oak Management

The Politics of Cancel Culture

Written by Ellie Caraway

Account Executive

It has never been easier to call someone out than with social media. No one is safe. No one is immune. The force of social media will find that old tweet, and they are going to have a field day.

The term “cancel culture” has become prevalent in today’s society as we have begun to hold people accountable for past actions, statements, and beliefs. There is no sympathy for how long ago someone made an offensive comment, how heartfelt their apology was, or how good their public relations team is. Cancel culture is rooted in public shaming where calling out is not enough. There is an overarching goal to condemn and silence the voice.

The fear of being "canceled" has become a threatening presence on the internet, compelling those who are chronically online to be more cautious and concerned about their online behavior. Prominent figures, from celebrities to famous brands, have experienced the wrath of cancel culture and faced long-lasting repercussions. Notable examples include J.K. Rowling and Balenciaga, once celebrated names now subject to the scrutiny of online critics.

Although the phrase "cancel culture" is relatively new to the last ten years, its origins can be traced back to the '90s when discussions of "political correctness" were at their peak. Back then, the focus was on having the most morally upstanding opinion on complex subjects and using the least offensive language to articulate it. Social media's advent has taken this concept to a whole new level as we are granted access to both public and private dialogues online. While this can amplify marginalized voices, it can also amplify the ruthless nature of online criticism.

Cancel culture has even evolved into our nation’s political discourse with high-profile politicians being exposed and the deeper root of canceling being questioned; what is the goal of this if people are still getting away with their behavior? The polarized issue regards cancel culture as unjust punishment that suppresses free speech vs. a means of holding individuals accountable for their actions.

Political parties hold differing views on the effectiveness and fairness of cancel culture as studied by the Pew Research Center in 2020. Survey results noted that Democrats are far more likely than Republicans to say that calling people out on social media for posting offensive content holds them accountable (75% vs. 39%). 56% of Republicans believe this type of action generally punishes people who don’t deserve it, compared to 22% of Democrats.

The question of whether it is more important to have a comfortable online environment or to preserve speech remains a prominent and relevant issue. The balance between safe online environments and free speech has not reached middle ground yet on social media platforms, Twitter in particular. It is unclear if it will in our divided political climate.

Jon Ronson, British journalist and author, suggests that maybe cancel culture is not so much of an issue of right vs left, but regards private individuals being held to the same standard as public figures. Overall, the extremes of canceling someone on social media, which detriments a career and reputation, might not be a productive way to hold individuals accountable. For now, it is important to comprehend the power of social media and be aware of the consequences of our own actions.

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