When you decide to post something on the internet, always watch what you post. Although the Internet is popular, it can be dangerous out there. You never know when your past words could come back and haunt you. In today’s day and age, Cancel Culture has become such a prominent force on the internet. Everything you say on the Internet in the past may be weaponized against you in the future, regardless of your initial intentions.
So, what is Cancel Culture? By definition, it is the withdrawal of support towards a person or business that has done something offensive in the past. In theory, Cancel Culture is supposed to hold people or businesses accountable for their wrongdoings. However, recently, this is rarely the case.
Nowadays, people tend to be primarily involved in Cancel Culture when someone who has a reputation to uphold makes a mistake. This means that public figures, notable names, and celebrities are the ones who ‘netizens’ keep a close watch on. In many cases, past or current mistakes are brought up to receive extra attention, in addition to slandering the person’s reputation. Even when the person involved owns up and apologizes, some ‘netizens’ would still bring up the situation and use it as ammo, despite the fact that the lesson is learned and apology made. Ultimately, the person will then be unable to move on from their past, as the Internet neither forgives nor forgets the unfortunate mistake.
It may seem like a minor problem at first, but when you take a closer look at the situation at hand, you realize that its effects are quite severe. With the existence of Cancel Culture, someone’s life could be completely ruined just because of a tweet they made decades ago. Think long and hard about it: Is this justifiable? Should a person be known by the public only as the past person who made an offensive comment years ago without realizing the severity of their words? Or should we let them put it in their past, allow them to learn from their mistakes and be a better person in the future?
Some might wonder, why is it such a big problem? Most people don’t realise that the severity of its effects is amplified by the fact that people on the internet tend to jump on a bandwagon if an issue is currently trending or if there’s a majority of people supporting a certain cause. Instead of looking at the situation from all perspectives, they would automatically ‘cancel’ the person and ruin their reputation for the greater good rather than understanding why the situation happened in the first place. Take the incident that happened with the former Miss Universe Malaysia 2017 winner Samantha Katie James as an example.
In May, after the horrific murder of George Floyd, the Black Lives Matter movement grew in popularity, extending its reach to other countries around the world. As the #BLM hashtag started trending across Social Media, Malaysians too started posting the infamous ‘Black Screen’ on their Instagram, as a sign of support for the movement.
Samantha Katie James, the former Miss Universe Malaysia 2017 winner, decided to take to Instagram to voice out her opinions on the matter. Her “questionable” opinions about the matter were seen as ‘insensitive and offensive’, as she started talking about how she believed that African American POC in America should “remain calm” because they “chose to be born as a ‘coloured’ person in America”, among other controversial comments.
As James’s posts started gaining heat over the next few hours, many jumped on the bandwagon to take a shot at the former Miss Universe Malaysia, calling her inconsiderate and ignorant towards the issues happening in America. Many demanded for her to be ‘cancelled’ and started a petition to strip her from her Miss Universe Malaysia 2017 title.
Photo by change.org
The situation further escalated when people began to attack her by sending her curses and death threats in the comments section of multiple tweets and instagram posts. While the blame clearly was James’s own, the Internet took the extra step by threatening her family as well.
Photo on Twitter
Although these comments constitute cyberbullying, we can’t ignore the individual who brought about the situation in the first place. Samantha Katie James wasn’t entirely innocent in this case. As some would say, it takes two hands to clap. Both parties are to be blamed as one contributed to creating the problem, while others escalated the matter further. James made some highly insensitive remarks that shouldn’t have been said; knowing that racism is a serious issue in America as it dates back to a long history of slavery, discrimination, and wrongful persecution. What’s worse, was when she was called out on her ignorance, she proceeded to justify her comments without reflecting upon what she said, which further escalated the situation.
Does that mean that we, as spectators on the Internet are entitled to “lay judgement” upon another? Do her mistakes mean she deserves to be cursed and slandered across the internet? Shouldn’t we try harder to help James understand that she isn’t in a position where she can comment on the issue, due to the depth and complexity of the situation? Shouldn’t we help James understand that certain opinions can be insensitive in the eyes of the public, as the late George Floyd’s murder happened less than a week before her post and is still a fresh wound? Shouldn’t James be given the opportunity to learn from her mistakes, and understand that her words can hurt others despite it being over an Instagram post? As seen by James’s follow-up comments and apology, she still lacked remorse for her actions. Maybe, if we had addressed the situation better, and educated her instead, she would realize the severity of her words, and felt true remorse for her actions. Educating someone on their wrongdoings, while tough and requires utmost patience, teaches them more in the long run, than if we slander them across the Internet. As Dr. Martin Luther King himself stated: “Hate begets hate; violence begets violence; toughness begets a greater toughness. We must meet the forces of hate with the power of love.”
Yes, people who have committed wrongdoings must be held accountable for their actions. In the past, Cancel Culture was created as a way to give power to the people. For us to have our voices heard. As a way for us to be able to hold those in power accountable for their actions. Cancel Culture has allowed us to prosecute and advocate for the ‘cancellation’ of multiple public figures for their crimes and offenses (such as sex-related offenses and ongoing racism), which otherwise, would have been covered up. However, with Cancel Culture’s current state, we must question honestly and without bias if Cancel Culture is causing more harm than good. Things change as time goes on. Actions and words that were considered acceptable before might not be acceptable in our current time. Actions and words that are considered acceptable now might not be acceptable in our distant future. Who are we to judge a person based on something they said or did in the past and present?
To err is human; to forgive, divine. We are constantly going to make mistakes throughout our lives, and by making these mistakes, it gives us the opportunity to learn, grow and improve ourselves. With Cancel Culture growing into the monster that it is today, we are denying people the opportunity for personal growth, and instead forever haunting them with their past mistakes. We are defining others by their mistakes, and refusing to accept what they have done right. Imagine if it was you in their shoes, being judged by everyone based on a mistake you made long before you knew better. How would you feel? How would you react?
With that being said, should Cancel Culture in itself... Be Cancelled?
By: Schuyler Choong