Cancel culture: behind the social media madness


Elizabeth Trevathan

CANCELED. Cancel culture has gained traction in the media in recent years, and many have varying opinions on it. “I think it’s important to hold these people that have a platform accountable for their actions, but I think it should not be used so lightly,” junior Julia Colbert said.

What is cancel culture? Can you “uncancel” someone? Should cancel culture end?

Cancel culture came to life on social media in 2019 and has only evolved over the last three years. The act has caused the careers of those canceled in the public eye to plummet quickly and has started debates on free speech and censorship.

This modern form of ostracism is broad, and ends up meaning something different for everyone. Some consider cancel culture to be limited to social media influencers, while others believe cancel culture is broader and includes politicians and real-life situations. Junior Julia Colbert said, “[Cancel culture] is more of an internet thing where if an influencer does something wrong, they’re held accountable for it and lose their platform.”

Essentially, canceling is calling someone out on a public platform for something they have done wrong and removing them from social or professional circles. Usually, a public figure is canceled for saying or doing something offensive, and political issues fuel the canceling. This will then lead consumers of their work to boycott them, so their profits decrease.

Though action from being canceled is unlikely, sometimes the person receives disciplinary action from an employer, usually in the form of losing their job. For example, Shane Gillis lost his job at Saturday Night Live in 2019 after people discovered racist and homophobic jokes and canceled him on social media. Other times, nothing happens, for example, J.K. Rowling was canceled in 2019 for her transphobic comments, but there was no change or result to the situation. In both instances, canceling gave publicity to the person. YouTube hosted Gillis’s comedy special in 2021 with news headlines that highlighted that this was his chance to show audience members what he’s made of since he never got the opportunity on SNL. Rowling’s publishing company, Bloomsbury’s sales grew following the backlash by 28 percent, with Rowling’s Harry Potter books being a best seller.

Colbert said, “[The influencer] is always going to have some sort of fan base if they continue posting. I feel like they won’t get to the popularity or degree they were before. […] I think it’s important to hold these people that have a platform accountable for their actions, but I think it should not be used so lightly and used only for situations where they need to be held accountable and need to be talked about.”

Canceling has become a vital way to hold someone accountable, especially if it’s a person who has a large internet platform.