Content Warning: mentions of suicide and sensitive content involving sexual violence.

For society today, being on social media is just another aspect of our everyday lives. It’s the first thing we check in the morning and the way we put ourselves to sleep at night. As a whole, social media is what provides us with the ability to connect with the world. Whether that be posting on Instagram, tweeting on Twitter, or scrolling aimlessly through the For You page on TikTok, we are constantly keeping up with other people’s lives and simultaneously keeping them up to date with our own. Social media appeases our human need for socialization with even more ease of deciding precisely when and where we want to socialize. Although by putting our lives online we have the chance to interact with and meet new people, this, unfortunately, also makes us vulnerable to being scrutinized. 

As new social platforms continue to emerge and gain popularity on a daily basis, the exposure of both our mental thoughts and physical appearances are depicting a supposedly accurate digital idea of who we are to our followers. By putting ourselves out there through the amount of information we give, our emotions become linked to these apps and the people that we interact with on them.

It’s no secret that there is just as much negativity online as there is positivity. When posts are being projected out for millions of people to see, it is only a matter of time before opinions are formed on them. Cancel Culture, which is most often used against influential people in the entertainment industry, is the process of boycotting someone whose actions or opinions offend a large group of people. In the past decade, the phrase has grown to be a key indicator of the way that social media is currently used as an outlet to address negativity with negativity. By working in this way, it can be challenging to create change using Cancel Culture since it leaves no opportunity for dialogue and instead, immediately places blame. Since the main targets of Cancel Culture are celebrities, who expose personal aspects of their lives to more people than the norm, there is more opportunity for them to be judged. And, most of the time, with a harsher response because of the preconceived opinions and overlook of real emotions that become lost behind the screen. 

Cancel Culture has not always been entirely bad. When it is used correctly as a way of progressing society forward the power Cancel Culture holds is hugely significant. For movements that began on social media like #BlackLivesMatter and #MeToo, the ability to bring light to toxicity in the media and celebrities who often escape wrongdoings are being condemned. High profile celebrities, like R. Kelly, depict the positive outcomes of Cancel Culture and the full effect that ‘cancelling’ someone should entail. As a result of Cancel Culture, his music is no longer played on the radio, and no longer appears on any streaming services, limiting the exposure and wealth he receives by removing people’s access to him. As Vox points out at the beginning of his accusations, his music was increasing rather than decreasing in streams, but because of the successful pressure social media placed on the industry to have his music removed, his following disappeared with it. The efforts of using social media to equalize the treatment between celebrities and average people who commit criminal acts demonstrates the good that Cancel Culture can provide.  

Unfortunately, it seems a new celebrity is trending every week under the hashtag, #isoverparty which, based on its frequency and equalization of lesser issues with more serious ones, has little impact on ‘cancelling’ anyone. Most commonly, it is used on Twitter for celebrities that people have outstanding issues with. Most notably Taylor Swift was ‘cancelled’ in 2016 after she said she did not give permission to be referenced in Kanye’s ‘Famous’ music video leading to Kim Kardashian leaking the phone-call where Swift supposedly agreed. Cancel Culture leaves no time for the accused to defend themselves or their actions before they are criticized. It feeds off of people’s mistakes and allows these to define who they are as a whole. In serious cases, this is understandable like R. Kelly or Harvey Weinstein but handling all issues the same discredits the power that social media and ‘cancelling’ can have. In Swift’s Documentary Miss Americana, she explains her many experiences of being cancelled, saying: “I don’t think there are many people who can actually understand what it’s like to have millions of people hate you very loudly. When you say someone is cancelled, it’s not a TV show. It’s a human being” (Stylecaster). This powerful statement is a reminder of how we as a society must be careful in the way we engage with social media because of the obvious strength it can have against people who may not be entirely deserving of the backlash.

The effects that cyber-bullying and hate on social media have brought to people both famous and not have been clear since the beginning of many platforms’ popularity. In February, Caroline Flack, a British reality and competition tv host of Love Island and X-Factor, took her own life. Before her death she acknowledged how the pressures she was experiencing in her own life combined with the hate she was receiving online and had been for many years, were effecting her, captioning an Instagram post with “this kind of scrutiny and speculation is a lot … for one person to take on [on] their own”. Only one of many, Caroline represents the problems with dissociating real people from their presence on social media. Her story is an obvious example of how Cancel Culture and hate online can result in actions far past just being ‘cancelled.’ 

The power of social media is evident. The combination of millions of people all considered equal in their ability to be heard allows for light to be directed on serious issues.

Although, it is clear that Cancel Culture itself under the hashtag #isoverparty is limited in its ability to spark change because of its clear negative undertones and the lack of follow-through. Once the hashtag starts trending, the support from those frustrated by celebrities’ ease of escaping consequences shows how the entertainment industry as a whole is lacking in its ability to show accountability just as the rest of society has to. For situations like Taylor Swift’s cancellation which is compiled into the same hashtag as criminals like R. Kelly or Harvey Weinstein, the credibility of movements that are trying to spark change is limited since everyone becomes equally vulnerable. Unfortunately, with celebrities constantly being in the spotlight, people will form an opinion on everything they do. Sure average people would be called out for lying just as celebrities are, but on a totally downplayed scale and often are given the chance to explain themselves before others make their opinions about them. Forgetting this, which I myself have been guilty of limits our ability to equalize the treatment of celebrities with average lives when the power social media holds is used with the wrong intentions. The #MeToo and #BlackLivesMatter movements which are being supported more now than ever before can gain ground because of people’s understanding that toxicity in the media has gone on long enough. So, for us to be able to spark real change the #isoverparty trend isn’t going to cut it and more productive uses of social media to condemn actions must be supported instead.



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