Cancel culture: Is this the new digital witch hunt?

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Cancel culture: Is this the new digital witch hunt?

Cancel culture: Is this the new digital witch hunt?

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Cancel culture is either one of the most effective accountability methods or another form of public opinion weaponization.
    • Author:
    • Author name
      Quantumrun Foresight
    • December 1, 2022

    Cancel culture has become increasingly contentious since the late 2010s as the popularity and pervasive influence of social media continues to evolve. Some praise cancel culture as an effective way to hold people of influence accountable for their actions, past and present. Others feel that the mob mentality fueling this movement creates a dangerous environment that encourages bullying and censorship.

    Cancel culture context

    According to the Pew Research Center, the term “cancel culture” was reportedly coined through a slang term, “cancel,” which referred to breaking up with someone in a 1980s song. This phrase was later mentioned in film and television, where it evolved and gained popularity on social media. As of 2022, cancel culture has emerged as a fiercely disputed concept in the national political discussion. There are numerous arguments about what it is and what it signifies, including whether it’s an approach to hold people accountable or a method to punish individuals unjustly. Some say that cancel culture does not exist at all.

    In 2020, Pew Research conducted a US survey of over 10,000 adults to learn more about their perceptions toward this social media phenomenon. About 44 percent said they heard a fair amount about cancel culture, while 38 percent said they didn’t know. Additionally, respondents under 30 know the term the best, while only 34 percent of respondents over 50 years have heard of it. About 50 percent consider cancel culture a form of accountability, and 14 percent said it’s censorship. Some respondents labeled it as a “mean-spirited attack.” Other perceptions include canceling people with a different opinion, an assault on American values, and a way to highlight acts of racism and sexism. In addition, compared to other groups, conservative Republicans were more likely to perceive cancel culture as a form of censorship.

    Disruptive impact

    According to news publisher Vox, politics have indeed influenced how cancel culture is waged. In the US, many right-wing politicians have proposed laws that would cancel liberal organizations, businesses, and institutions. For example, in 2021, some national Republican leaders said they would remove Major League Baseball’s (MLB) federal antitrust exemption if MLB opposes a Georgia voting restriction law. Whereas right-wing media Fox News raises concerns about cancel culture, prompting Gen X to do something about this “issue.” For instance in 2021, Out of the network’s most famous personalities, Tucker Carlson had been particularly loyal to the anti-cancel culture movement, insisting that liberals attempt to get rid of everything, from Space Jam to the Fourth of July.

    However, proponents of cancel culture also point out the movement’s effectiveness in punishing influential people who think they are above the law. An example is the disgraced Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein. Weinstein was first accused of sexual assault in 2017 and was only sentenced to 23 years imprisonment in 2020. However, even if the judgment was slow, his cancellation was swift on the Internet, particularly on the social media platform Twitter. As soon as his survivors started coming out to recount his abuses, Twitterverse leaned heavily on the #MeToo anti-sexual assault movement and demanded that Hollywood punish one of its untouchable moguls. It worked. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences expelled him in 2017. His film studio, The Weinstein Company, was boycotted, leading to its bankruptcy in 2018.

    Implications of cancel culture

    Wider implications of cancel culture may include: 

    • Social media platforms being pressured to regulate how people post comments on breaking news and events to avoid lawsuits. In some countries, regulations may force social networks to enforce certified identities instead of allowing anonymous identities to raise the liability risk of initiating or spreading slander.
    • A gradual societal shift toward becoming more forgiving of people’s past mistakes, as well as a greater degree of self-censorship of how people express themselves online.
    • Political parties increasingly weaponizing cancel culture against opposition and critics. This trend may lead to blackmail and suppression of rights.
    • Public relations professionals becoming more in demand as influential people and celebrities hire their services to mitigate cancel culture. There will also be increased interest in identity-scrubbing services that delete or observe past mentions of misbehavior online.
    • Critics of cancel culture highlighting the tactic’s mob mentality that can lead to some people being unjustly accused even without a fair trial.
    • Social media being increasingly used as a form of “citizen’s arrest,” where people call out perpetrators of alleged crimes and acts of discrimination.

    Questions to comment on

    • Have you taken part in a cancel culture event? What were the consequences?
    • Do you think cancel culture is an effective way to make people accountable?

    Insight references

    The following popular and institutional links were referenced for this insight: