For the younger generation, a massive part of their daily reality is living in the online world and realm of social media.
This involves being exposed to immersive online cultural trends and keeping up with the latest TikTok videos! These are often more powerful personal formation tools than other influences, such as family and school. One of these social media phenomenons is the concept of ‘cancel culture’.
Cancel culture refers to a form of ostracism in which someone is thrust out of social or professional circles because they have caused offence – whether it be online, on social media, or in person. Those who are subject to this ostracism are said to have been ‘cancelled’. Many celebrities and politicians have found themselves in this state.
There is the good and the not-so-good about this phenomenon. Cancel culture is often motivated by a strong sense of justice and moral conviction. In particular, it has become an important tool for social justice and be used to combat significant power imbalances. It can be said to have empowered people to challenge the status quo and demand accountability from those in positions of power. However, the downside is that it doesn’t just target the problem, it targets people. It ruthlessly names and shames, it is judgmental and reliant on popular opinion. A herd mentality becomes the judge and executioner of who is right and who is wrong.
For me, the real concern is how cancel culture has infiltrated to a personal level. For young people on social media, this can look like cyberbullying. It can involve commenting, unfollowing, bullying, ignoring, and isolating when being “canceled” by peers. It promotes revenge or withdrawal as the response to any mistreatment and shuts off any robust discussion or debate. Cancel culture turns human beings into shooting discs—totally fine one minute and then gone in the blink of an eye. It takes a toll on the ‘cancelled’, potentially leading to anxiety, depression, and trauma.
So, how can we respond to cancel culture? And how can we have hope for this cultural moment? There are three things that I think are helpful to remember as we scroll through TikTok, Instagram, Twitter and the like. One – it is good to stand up for what you believe in and against injustice, however this doesn’t need to be done in a careless and destructive manner that causes greater hurt. Two – people can learn from their experiences and are capable of compassion and change. And three, forgiveness and reconciliation are not weak responses, in fact they can bring about a greater good.
Martin Luther King says it best, “Forgiveness means reconciliation, and coming together again.” This is the hope we can have for healthier relationships and navigating the personal and political issues we face, in the online and offline world.