The Toxicity of Cancel-Culture

Cancel-culture (by way of outrage-culture and call-out culture) has grown just as toxic as the perceived wrongs or slights which it rose up to correct.

We see it online almost every day. Someone or other is ‘cancelled’ for an opinion, be it currently held or dredged from the deepest darkest recesses of their Twitter timeline. How have we gotten to this point in such a relatively short space of time? And can it be stopped before we lose any room for debate or recourse?

Given the nature of the internet at large, but mostly found within the sphere of social media, cancel-culture is a natural evolution from call-out culture. Without those first brave voices willing to subject themselves to the vitriol and harassment of internet trolls, we never would have had the Me Too movement. What began as a tool for highlighting abuses by influential people seemingly above repercussions has become a weapon wielded by anyone with a grudge against any perceived slight or lack of ‘woke-ness’.

The human condition is a messy, sometimes turbulent thing. Still, this urge to immediately vilify people prevents anyone from learning from mistakes. The desire to be totally ‘woke’ about everything stifles any opportunity for conversation or learning on either side of the perceived battle lines.

A considerable part of the problem is that those most outraged are generally not directly affected by the issue at hand. There was significant upheaval on stan Twitter recently around Charli XCX’s meet and greets, where fans asked her to sign, among other things, their mother’s ashes. It immediately ignited a series of online articles about fan entitlement that caused that much hatred for the two fans in particular that were deemed most ‘problematic’. The singer herself had to post a statement to address the outpouring of outrage on her behalf.

Just days ago, Bodytonic, the owners of The Bernard Shaw, faced severe criticism for an Instagram post advertising the launch of its new location. The post showed a before-and-after of northsiders once The Bernard Shaw’s new location opens for business in Phibsboro.

Familiar tropes of scangers and hipsters meant lightheartedly instead resulted in a backlash that resulted in an apology and the removal of the post from their social media. But again, most of the backlash seemed to come from people outside the area. Many locals took it for exactly its intention — a joke.

In a constant rush to seem the most woke, the least problematic, the most socially aware, and the most ‘un-cancelable’, people have lost sight of the fact that they are ever-growing. Everyone can, and will, change a lot over their lifetime. People learn new things every day. Since the internet became something we carry in our pocket versus a place we had to go, that has only grown exponentially.

Someones off colour jokes may come from an uninformed place, especially in people who initially grew up without the fear of some dinosaur-tweet they have forgotten about coming back to haunt them.

When researching this article, most surprising to me was that President Obama, while speaking at a summit of the Obama Foundation, said he saw most of this behaviour in the last place I expected it. He said;

“One danger I see among young people, particularly on college campuses… accelerated by social media… is to be as judgmental as possible about other people and that’s enough. . . Like, if I tweet or hashtag about how you didn’t do something right, or use the wrong verb, then I can sit back and feel pretty good about myself. ‘Cuz man, did you see how woke I was? I called you out!’”

And, therein lies the problem. The currency of likes and social media status has become so crucial that no one wants to be seen to go against the grain. Young adults of today exist in a 24-hour news cycle. One from which there isn’t much escape and can easily feature them if they don’t toe the socially acceptable line, or god forbid, make a mistake about something. People need to be able to make mistakes to learn in life. This immediate jump to outrage online stifles that avenue to learning and simply fosters more hostility and contempt. It’s time to cancel cancel-culture.

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Kev O'Meara

Kev O'Meara

Recent graduate of DCU's B.sc. in Multimedia. This page features a combination of articles published in the college newspaper, and edited academic submissions.