Increasing reliance on social media for information about current events has created an environment in which misinformation and unsubstantiated claims can be posted and disseminated to millions of people quickly. This ability to rapidly share information has sparked the emergence of what is known as "cancel culture".
As celebrities, influencers, and other public figures are constantly scrutinized under the prying eyes of social media, it seems like every wrong thing they have ever done finds the light of day and negatively impacts their reputation. As media consumers, our willingness to believe any and all information on the internet poses a threat to the trust and reliability of legitimate news sources.
However, the real issue behind the emergence of cancel culture is how the phrase is being used to avoid facing the consequences of one's actions.
Although many in the public eye have been unfairly and prematurely “canceled”, plenty also use the term as a way to shift the narrative away from their actions. Using cancel culture as a scapegoat instead of taking accountability for one’s actions allows individuals to escape facing any consequences.
Putting the blame on cancel culture is a form of whataboutism that derails the conversation away from taking responsibility for one’s wrongdoings and taking the time and effort to learn from mistakes.
The demonization of cancel culture seeks to create an environment in which we are not accountable for what we say and do. While we are all entitled to make mistakes, this does not exemplify anyone from experiencing consequences for their actions.
Many recent incidents included in the debate of cancel culture involve racist remarks or actions. For example, fans of country singer Morgan Wallen were frustrated by what they viewed as attempts to “cancel” him over his use of an anti-black racial slur. His sister took to Instagram to criticize cancel culture and urge people to let her brother admit his mistake and learn from the experience.
Although her sentiment may be well-intentioned, her response implies that those outraged by his use of the slur are not entitled to their frustration. People should be allowed and encouraged to learn from their mistakes while also facing accountability from those hurt and angered by their actions.
Forgiveness is not a given. Those offended by Morgan Wallen’s racism have a right to their outrage, and they can choose whether or not to continue supporting him.
Wallen’s sister claims that his actions do not reflect his true kindness and openness, and while this may be true, his actions of late reflect the direct opposite. Pushing back on the hate Wallen has received for his use of this slur downplays and ignores the systemic racism and violent history of the word. Regardless of his intentions, his words and actions caused emotional harm to many of his supporters and their feelings towards the situation should in no way be invalidated.
Just as scandals involving public figures should be well researched and truthful and members of the public should not jump to attack celebrities, feelings of anger, sadness, and frustration in response to acts of hate and discrimination should not be immediately discredited. There is a stark difference between canceling an individual prematurely and choosing to not support an individual based on racist or discriminatory actions.
If public figures did not rush to discredit the backlash they are receiving and instead chose to respond with an apology and commit to improve or educate themselves, supporters would likely respond more positively.
Scapegoating cancel culture discourages not only celebrities but everyone, from learning through their mistakes and educating themselves. What we say and do has the tremendous potential to hurt those around us, and to perpetuate systemic inequalities. In order to create a safe and more equitable society, we must be cognizant of our words and actions.
We are responsible for what we say and do, and how that impacts those around us. We must face the consequences for any and all hateful or prejudiced behavior, regardless of the shortcomings of cancel culture.