By Avalon Kelly
Cancel culture: the social media-based trend of calling out and ostracizing individuals for past actions that were perceived as objectionable or offensive. This trend of ‘canceling’ people—celebrities and peers alike—has been popularized along with social media use. While promoting social change through condemning harmful actions or practices contributes to collective reform and greater understanding, ‘canceling’ individuals for singular actions does not. Rather, cancel culture encourages social exclusion and prevents reparation of past mistakes.
By creating an environment with no room for (or acceptance of) a middle ground, cancel culture forwards toxic polarization. This extreme division is just a modern example of tribalism: us vs. them; in vs. out; right vs. wrong. The results of such exclusion can be absolutely devastating to individuals—depression, antisocial behaviors, and self-harm can all result from social ostracism. ‘Canceling’ someone will not fix past harms, but it can exacerbate their harmful behavior.
Another fault of cancel culture is its magnification of past misdeeds. Humans are human, and so much more than their worst mistakes. People live and mess up, but these mistakes provide an opportunity to learn—and to live more respectfully, open-mindedly, and kindly. Simply ‘canceling’ an individual defeats this chance to learn and live better. Victims of cancel culture can lose everything: jobs, relationships, and respect. The best way to promote positive social change is by building a collective understanding of right and wrong, holding one another accountable, and giving second chances—because in the end, we are all human, and we will all mess up. Cancel culture just defeats our ability to rise above our past mistakes and initiate progressive reform.