In the last 10 years, social media has profoundly altered the way we interact with the world around us. The contemporary human’s perception and experience of life is not only physical, but digital as well.
Today, the advancements in technology are tightly linked with our standard communication.
Landlines uprooted the telegraph, and then cell phones displaced landlines. Emails uprooted postal mail, and then the emergence of social media platforms such as Facebook and Instagram made the world more integrated than ever before.
Though our communication is now simpler, quicker and in mass, it may not be for the best. The benefits of these technological advancements are insurmountable, but a cost analysis is required.
A byproduct of social media is “cancel culture.”
Cancel culture is the “cancellation,” or reproach of a public figure or a company, often due to an expressed objectionable opinion. Entities can also be canceled if they have conducted themselves in a fashion that the public — the cancelers — hold to be unacceptable.
Oddly, cancel culture arose as a social media trend. When public figures are canceled for offensive remarks or behaviors, social media users gather and demand a boycott of that person.
And these calls are often successful. Many prominent figures faced criticism and cancellation for demonstrating anti-progressive values in 2020.
The New York Times opinion section was even publically tried for cancellation after publishing an op-ed from Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., a well-known conservative. This directly led to the public resignation of Editorial Page Editor James Bennet for publishing the piece.
Cancel culture aims to hold people accountable for their wrongdoings. This, in itself, is an audacious goal.
However, liberals such as myself must ask if the pendulum has swung too far in the wrong direction. Does canceling perform the justice we pursue? Is it fair to cancel those who merely have opinions that we strongly object to?
The answer is no.
One of the basic requirements for a free and just society is the right to think and speak freely. James Bennet likely understood this.
As reported by the Times, Bennet’s goal was to expand the newspaper’s opinion section. He not only hired several progressive journalists to the already liberal department, but also added conservative voices to the mix.
Under Bennet, the department published the widely discussed op-ed written by an anonymous member of former President Donald Trump’s administration titled “I Am Part of the Resistance Inside the Trump Administration.”
James Bennet did not deserve to be canceled or forced to resign for publishing an opinion many readers strongly disagreed with. The section is called “Opinion” for a reason — it is meant to publish subjective viewpoints that readers can and should disagree with.
Bennet’s cancellation is an example of how and why cancel culture can be so dangerous. Generally speaking, actions or opinions “worth” canceling are subjective.
Regardless of right or wrong, cancel culture swiftly becomes mob rule. When the mob decides — subjectively — that an individual should be punished, they will be.
The justice system might define this as punishment without a fair trial. Punishment without a fair trial is the opposite of justice, which is ironically what cancel culture tries to achieve.
In the pursuit of justice, it is easy to get swept up in the popular opinions of like-minded peers around you — the “echo chamber.” Despite this, one must stay grounded without forgetting their desired goal.
Cancel culture is appealing because it gives those participating in the “canceling” the false satisfaction of justice being served. But those who value true justice must caution against cancel culture and recognize it is the very thing it hopes to destroy: injustice.