Cancel Culture vs Accountability

By Anouk Jones, G12

#cancelled… An all too familiar phrase that we see being thrown around on social media. Whilst it’s necessary to hold people accountable for their actions, how far does this rising culture/label allow for accountability?

What is “cancel culture”?

“Cancel culture refers to the popular practice of withdrawing support for (canceling) public figures and companies after they have done or said something considered objectionable or offensive.”

At first glance, this could be seen as a natural and rational response to an insensitive act, however there are two factors playing into this that bring about problems in regards to the usage of this term.

Sensationalism & Misconception 

Initially, seeing a trending hashtag can be enticing — after all, the person is being cancelled for a reason, right? However, this can lead to an over-usage of the phrase, resulting in the loss of the underlying sentiment — the withdrawal of support for those who have been insensitive or offensive.

Looking at the specific context of social media today, the connotation that I often make when hearing the term “cancelled” is more targeted toward the purposeful destruction of one’s career and even wellbeing due to a past problematic act. This is a dangerous perception of the term that we see being increasingly held in regards to influencers online, and it completely diminishes any action done by someone under public scrutiny, thus resulting in a more dismissive reaction from the public and the person being “cancelled” is given a free pass due to the issue being supposedly unworthy of attention.

Finally, the term “cancel” in itself indicates a ceasing or termination — applying this to someone’s career, it is used in reference to being done, over, even ruined; is this the right way to be handling a situation in which someone could end up recognising their mistakes, apologising, and finally using the situation as an opportunity to grow?

Of course, looking at the context of what I have been writing about, I’m discussing the use of this term in situations where a simple action of taking accountability could right the wrong, show remorse and regret to anyone offended by an action. I am not discussing public figures who have committed crimes of any degree – these are the types of people that the term “cancelling” could fit (looking at the act of ceasing one’s career), and in no way do I believe that anyone who has committed a crime or used their status to incite hate – such as racism, sexism, homophobia – is deserving of a platform.

What next?

The immediate action when someone is being “cancelled” is dismissal, but whilst this shows a shared feeling of disapproval, does this actually teach anything to the person as well as people who share a harmful opinion? The answer is no, and there is a danger in this instance as they are still at liberty to continue offending or hurting others.

Looking forward, what can we do to change the model of cancel culture to encourage more productive responses to taking accountability

“Accountability is the obligation to explain, justify, and take responsibility for one’s actions.”

Although it can be against impulse, I strongly urge that the next time you find yourself scrolling through any social media and see any messages of #cancelled, or #isoverparty, take a step back and truly evaluate the situation being presented. In order to do this, ask yourself these questions:

  1. What was the intent?

It is extremely important to recognise the inevitability of people making mistakes and the role of context in regards to not only the person being “cancelled”, but also the context of those reacting and meeting the person with the intent to end their career. This should in no way undermine the impact of the person’s actions, however the willingness or even eagerness to accept and thus change a past behaviour should be recognised.

Is this a habit or simply a mistake?

As an onlooker, it is difficult to grasp the extent of harm done by an action, however there should still be an effort to gather whether the individual’s actions were consistent and doing continuous harm, or a momentary lapse in judgement with an owning up to the harmful nature of the action.

By asking ourselves these questions, and not simply jumping on a bandwagon of instantly ending someone’s career before any discussion has been had over the issue at hand, we are able to create a culture of accountability – what I believe to be the most essential in creating a productive environment for society to progress.

Image courtesy of Casper Blog

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