You can’t cancel a human being, but in the past year it has become a trend to try as online mobs have started to jump on users for making mistakes or comments that come across as offensive.
Social media is a great avenue for activism. It allows for people to be educated on almost any issue, raise awareness, start boycotts, or donate to a cause. However, on different social media platforms, an echo chamber can be created and users may become more and more polarized from each other by only hearing perspectives from the people whose beliefs align with their own. From this, cancel culture and mob mentality is spawned.
If you have been on Twitter, Tumblr, or YouTube in the past few months, you have probably seen posts “calling out” people, whether they be celebrities or average, everyday users. A person will post something that others interpret as offensive and deem them “canceled” or “problematic.” Very rarely are apologies accepted and sometimes the targets are affected by it in real life, losing their job or ability to exist online as a result.
In February, 2017, a 20-year-old online artist who went by the name of Zamii came under fire for her fanart of a Steven Universe character, a popular animated series on Cartoon Network. She portrayed the character as thinner than the original character design and was quickly accused of fatphobia by the Tumblr community.
Despite deleting the original art and apologizing if her depiction hurt anyone, she continued to be berated by hate messages, often telling her to commit suicide. 42 blogs were created for the sole purpose of compiling the things she posted that they deemed problematic. Zamii attempted suicide shortly after.
Fortunately, she survived, but the kind of harsh, overboard criticism she received was unwarranted and didn’t allow her to learn from making a human mistake. One person saw her artwork and interpreted it as morally wrong. In an attempt to feel like better, more socially conscious people, other people jumped on the bandwagon.
This is not to say people should not be corrected and educated when they do something that hurts someone or a community, but casting aside genuine apologies and continuing to bully someone has the opposite effect. Who wants to listen to criticism of their behavior when the people telling them to do so are being unnecessarily cruel and abrasive?
Maybe people join these mobs because it makes them feel morally superior to the person they are calling out. Maybe it is because sharing things online and sending people hate messages is easier than actually making an effort to educate and advocate for certain issues. Either way, this pressure to be morally pure and the punishment of those who seem not to be have real effects on the people behind the screen. Think critically before you join the mob.