The Rise of the Cancel Culture

The cancel culture is on the rise and acting or expressing an opinion that differs from what most consider politically correct can have serious consequences, especially for public figures. This violates freedom of expression and poses a risk to society.
The Rise of the Cancel Culture

Last update: 28 June, 2021

The cancel culture is a recent phenomenon and consists of withdrawing support from public figures or companies in response to an action considered offensive.

The supposed intentions of this phenomenon are often commendable as it’s about eradicating harmful or criminal attitudes. However, the consequences tend to be ruthless and cause irreparable disproportionate damage to those affected. It’s even harmed people who didn’t commit a crime just for thinking differently.

That said, the cancel culture represents a danger to society. This is because it fosters intolerance, restricts freedom of expression, and puts integrity at risk. Below are more details about this phenomenon and some alternatives to prevent its negative consequences.

The rise of the cancel culture phenomenon

One of the first appearances of the term happened in the 1991 movie New Jack City in which one of the characters says: “cancel this f*****, I’ll buy another one.” It appears again in the reality show Love & Hip-Hop: New York in 2014 when one of the characters says “cancel her” to another.

However, Rommel Piña, director of the journalism career at Universidad Finis Terrae, states that cancelation is a phenomenon that’s been around for a long time. Every generation has called it differently. For example, not too long ago people referred to it as “shunning.”

The cancel culture, as we know it today, began to gain popularity in social networks in 2017. Especially due to the emergence of the #MeToo movement, which denounced sexual assault and harassment, after the first accusations against film producer Harvey Weinstein.

According to Rommel Piña, the phenomenon is closely related to social networks and some feminist movements have made it popular. Thus, cancellation is the most recent way for Internet users to protest against the offensive or unacceptable facts, comments, or actions of public figures.

Currently, the cancellation culture has many advocates and detractors. The latter group has at least 150 celebrities (including J.K Rowling, writer of the famous Harry Potter saga), who signed a manifesto against this phenomenon in 2020.

A person using their phone.
Social networks have accelerated the presence of the cancel culture in the world.

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How does cancel culture affect free speech?

Freedom of expression is a human right, reflected in Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. This implies that everyone is free to express their opinion by any means, without disturbances or interference.

In this respect, the cancel culture violates freedom of expression, insofar as the emission of a point of view (considered unacceptable) triggers a series of reactions that bothers and harms those who express an opinion.

More often than not, this phenomenon has led to serious consequences for those affected, including public scorn, death threats, and loss of employment. In the latter scenario, it’s common for the offended group to pressure the company where the person works to take action. If they don’t, the mob boycotts the organization.

These reactions also affect the psychological integrity of the victims. It can lead to much more serious results, such as suicide. This is why there’s a call to be kinder and more tolerant in social networks.

The cancel culture, in addition to restricting your freedom, feeds confirmation bias. It makes you less rational, more intolerant, and reactionary.

Finally, shaming, censoring, or mocking other points of view causes the opposite effect. That is, it makes the people concerned no longer question the validity of their arguments, but their own freedom. This impression leads individuals to further defend their opinions and beliefs.

What are the alternatives to the cancel culture?

While this culture has visibilized gender-based violence, sexual abuse, racism, and other repudiatory ideologies, it also has fueled intolerance, violence, and narrow-mindedness.

In general, its supporters use it as an effective weapon against certain social movements. However, it seems to be failing in its purpose, as it creates another set of problems that are just as severe.

It’s like the typical case of fighting violence with more violence. It doesn’t work, because you end up acting just like what you’re trying to eradicate, no matter how noble your intentions.

Listen to others who have a different opinion than yours

Politely invite those who express comments or do actions that are offensive to you to justify their positions, present yours, and question everything. It’ll help you understand their perspective and promote more informed versions of yours.

In addition, both of you will have a chance to notice the flaws of your own discourse. It’ll help you either strengthen or change it.

Be more humble and aware of your weaknesses

Nobody’s perfect. However, it’s difficult to realize and own your mistakes. Indeed, it’s easier to accuse, humiliate and attack others for their mistakes.

Accepting that you’re susceptible to failures will make you more empathetic to the deficits of others. The important thing is to realize and rectify it.

Avoid getting carried away by emotions

It’s common to react and commit actions without thinking about consequences when faced with a comment or action with which you don’t agree.

These can be serious, at times. Therefore, try to be rational and identify the most appropriate solutions in such situations.

People in group therapy.
Dialogue and debate will always be assertive ways to find common ground, rather than criticizing and judging.

Identify the right ways to do justice

The cancel culture can affect anyone because it’s often unfair as the consequences are often disproportionate to the action or opinion issued.

Likewise, misinterpretation of the message further distorts the phenomenon, turning it into an act of injustice.

That said, when faced with the expression of something you consider a crime (such as sexual abuse or racist acts), it’s best to think of the best way to do justice. Appropriating another’s punishment is the worst way to do so.

Thinking differently isn’t a crime

We’ll always encounter people who think differently and that’s alright. Therefore, the fact that someone has different political, social, or cultural opinions doesn’t make them less enlightened than you.

Likewise, it doesn’t mean they deserve to be victims of irreparable harm. In the face of criminal acts, the ideal thing to do is articulate forms of action that contribute to the criminals assuming the fair consequences of their actions.

Nowadays, the need to establish what’s right and wrong is becoming more evident. Thus, anyone who steps outside these limits is canceled. This action won’t make people change their point of view; on the contrary, it’ll deepen polarization and conflict. Dialogue, respect, and integration of points of view seem to be a better alternative.

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