Written by Anvitha Shoroff and edited by Monu Malik
The term “cancel” has been floating around on social media, but for such a common word, it carries quite a lot of power. In today’s world, celebrities, influencers, and regular social media users are all affected by “cancel culture,” a term defined as the practice of completely withdrawing support for someone who does something considered offensive.
In theory, “cancelling” sounds like a reasonable way to keep people accountable for their actions, but a rapidly changing political climate and high racial tension has made it more difficult to draw the line between accountability and toxicity. In a series of recent online interviews, students’ opinions on the impact of social media’s cancel culture were gathered.
A few people believed that “cancelling” celebrities and public figures was justifiable, given that those who are “cancelled” are often people of power. “They are held up to higher standards… if people aren’t being over-the-top about it, it might be brushed under the rug,” said Abbey Cramer, a college junior from Georgia. Zoe Hynes, a college sophomore from Syracuse, noted that “it’s important to have the ability to call out the people in power because they are ‘influencers’.” As a whole, accountability appeared to be the strongest justification for today’s cancel culture.
However, the large majority of interviewees felt that the toxicity and permanence of being canceled was too powerful to ignore. For one, Kayla Gunderson, a sophomore from Washington, believed that people are quick to jump to conclusions without looking at a situation from multiple angles. “It creates a pretty toxic environment on the internet and I think that it can trickle down into people’s everyday lives as well… people are very afraid of making mistakes because they are so scared of what people will think.”
Additionally, advocates against cancel culture brought up the tendency of people to simply follow others without truly understanding the impact of their actions. “What people don’t understand is that they can be participating in cancel culture by jumping onto a trend. Cancelling things doesn’t seem like a solution to issues people are calling to cancel,” said Simone, a college sophomore from California.
Some also noted that actions people are calling to “cancel” were once acceptable in the past, including Cyrus Ho, a college student from Hong Kong, and Ross Simeral, a student from Rhode Island. “The norm of today could be the red line of tomorrow,” Cyrus stated. While this may not be a justification for improper behavior, canceling someone for this goes against the idea that people are capable of change, and that past actions do not have to define who someone presently is.
“Personally, I didn’t really understand cancel culture that much before, but now I realize that it’s harmful because it doesn’t allow people to learn from their mistakes. Instead, it just spreads the message: ‘You’re wrong, so you aren’t allowed to have a voice anymore.’” said Thu Vu, a college sophomore from California. Though there is little we can do to change a collective culture, understanding the impact of our voices is the first step towards making a difference.
*All students referred to in this article were personally interviewed by Anvitha Shoroff.
Cover Photo sourced from Chelsea Stahl of NBC News; originally from Getty Images