You know the drill. Someone does, or says, something offensive. A public backlash -- typically on Twitter -- ensues. Then come the calls to "cancel" that person, brand, or institution. That usually means the loss of cultural cache, political clout, and often a job or career. While the term "cancelling" has roots in a misogynistic joke, it has come to be one of the most prominent tools of progressive activists. Many see "cancelling" as a modern-day means of holding people to account, calling out injustice, and breaking down ingrained systems of prejudice and exploitation, particularly for the historically marginalized. But others see it differently. They are sounding alarms about the emergence of a new cancel culture where digital mobs police our speech, invade our rights, and even put our physical safety at risk. They argue that cancel culture has created a society ruled by online censorship and eroded our public discourse. Against this backdrop, we ask: Is cancel culture toxic?
- Cancel culture is inherently exclusionary and antithetical to principles of free speech and democracy. When we ostracize individuals for perceived offenses without chances for redemption or investigation, we stifle the free exchange of ideas.
- Cancel culture does not allow for nuance, as the internet mobs rise against individuals before the individual can defend themselves.
- Cancellations often go too far, especially in cases where ordinary people may have made mistakes, resulting in the loss of jobs. However, attempts to cancel the famous, wealthy, or powerful often do not work at all; in fact the additional media coverage sometimes results in greater support for the individuals.
- Cancel culture is a way for the disenfranchised and marginalized to voice their discontents at the powerful in society. Additionally, the act of cancellation is a natural continuation of boycotting and public shaming, useful tools to enforce social norms.
- Rather than a threat to a free society, cancel culture is an exercise in democracy – the act of non-elite citizens coming together to hold those in positions of power accountable.
- Cancel culture has been utilized in defense of those seriously wronged, from women who experienced sexual abuse to trans communities to African American communities. Defending these groups is a just cause in a liberal society, and cancellations help these causes come to light.