Benjamin Joffe is a freshman political science major.
Social media has long been an essential part of the free expression of ideas and opinions, providing a platform for millions of people to share their views. One of the most common phenomenons on social media is the public critique of a person who made controversial or offensive statements, opinions or actions, also known as “canceling.”
Right-wing media sources such as Fox News and the New York Post dub the growth of this phenomenon as the invasion of cancel culture, a mob-like effect that socially ostracizes and bankrupts individuals or groups due to their seemingly offensive views.
These outlets claim that celebrities and public figures have been getting canceled more frequently and with less justification. Dr. Seuss, the author of children’s books that have sold nearly 600 million copies worldwide is the most recent figure to be posthumously “canceled,” as many of his works feature incredibly racist caricatures.
These sources claim that the effects of being canceled are so harmful that one’s entire fortune can be reduced to nothing within a matter of weeks. Yet, this does not hold true when considering that Dr. Seuss’ book sales skyrocketed immediately after the controversy surrounding his works began.
This is because the cancel culture preached by right-wing press is a fallacy. The racism, sexism and other forms of hatred embedded in entertainment industries are put on full display by privileged members of these industries, such as film producer Harvey Weinstein, who abused his position to sexually assault 80 women. When it comes to causing substantial consequences for those who abuse their high positions, social media outcry often has no significant effect.
In fact, canceling someone can have contradictory effects for the person facing scrutiny. If someone is canceled on social media, it could increase their profits and popularity by orders of magnitude, as seen with Dr. Seuss’ book sales.
This trend seeps into politics as well. Politicians such as former President Donald Trump have shown that it can be incredibly profitable to be inflammatory, as his hateful rhetoric gained him constant media attention during his campaign for president in 2016.
These points support the age-old saying, “there is no such thing as bad publicity.”
However, what happens on social media can have profound effects in the real world. For instance, social media has become the largest platform for a court of public opinion, where massive outcry could create an investigation into illegal activity that would otherwise have been overlooked.
This type of incident was seen with the conviction of Harvey Weinstein, who was sentenced to 23 years in prison for sexual assault, a case that sparked the #MeToo movement, with over 19 million tweets shared under the hashtag.
But when it comes to holding those in power accountable for their words and subsequent consequences, social media outcry yields little result. The ever-increasing need for constant engagement is often why many cases of controversy last no more than a couple of weeks. As current events ceaselessly progress, it is common for people to lose interest and move on to something else.
It is up to these firms and social media platforms to take action when hate is spread. Otherwise, they will be responsible.
Social media gives a platform to millions of historically marginalized people. Now that hateful remarks are being called out on these same platforms, those who have sown bigotry seek to delegitimize this by calling it cancel culture.
The fallacy of cancel culture has had a profound effect on modern politics, as it is one of the many fear tactics employed by right-wing news sources and politicians. These sources preach to their audiences that the great threat of cancel culture will one day reach their doorstep, and they too will lose everything.
This is damaging as it takes the focus away from the offensive and hateful content being called out to instead further a political agenda that is divisive.
While many argue that canceling someone with views different from their own stifles free speech, in reality these so-called displays of free speech serve as a ruse to advance hate and bigotry.
The right-wing definition of cancel culture has become synonymous with totalitarianism, censorship and oppression. However, free expression of criticism and calling for consequences for those who sew bigotry is one of the strongest displays of freedom of speech.