Reasons Why “Cancel Culture” Is Effective
Tue, April 20, 2021

Reasons Why “Cancel Culture” Is Effective

Cancel culture is now officially in the 2019 dictionaries and even Australian English Macquarie Dictionary named it the Word of the Year / Photo by: 4-life-2-b via Shutterstock

 

Cancel culture is now officially in the 2019 dictionaries and even Australian English Macquarie Dictionary named it the Word of the Year. It has been defined as the “attitudes within a community which call for or bring about the withdrawal of support from a public figure, such as cancellation of an acting role, a ban on playing an artist’s music, removal from social media, etc., usually in response to an accusation of a socially unacceptable action or comment.

Understanding Cancel Culture

Before the actual definition from the dictionaries, cancel culture was also referred to as outrage culture or call-out culture. It is a form of public shaming, wherein people publicly “call out” the offenses committed by members of their community. In a way, it is punishing or shaming them. When a person is thrust out of their professional or social circles, they are considered to be “canceled.” This canceling behavior is, however, perceived as problematic, especially with the rise of social media.

Increasing One’s Sociometric Status

University of Cambridge’s Rob Henderson, Ph.D. explained that there are research-backed reasons why cancel culture has become so effective nowadays. One study he cited was titled "The Local-Ladder Effect: Social Status and Subjective Well-Being." Published in the SAGE journal, the study reveals that admiration and respect from our peers, which is also called sociometric status, is more important in our sense of well-being than our socioeconomic status (social standing or class). In relation to cancel culture, it means that calling out people in the public increases one’s social status. 

Those of high social class also prefer status and wealth compared to those of low social class. This means that those who already have status and money still have a stronger craving for status and the reason why many wealthy individuals constantly seek new ways to avoid slipping down or move upward. Cancel culture served as a new opportunity for these people to move up but it also means taking other people down.

Another reason why people enjoy canceling people is that it helps strengthen their social bonds. Since the activity of canceling people is not a solitary act, people unite against a perpetrator. It brings members closer and increases their status while they broadcast the misdeeds of others.

Moral Grandstanding

The study also shows that moral grandstanding or the use of moral talk for self-promotion improves the social rank of people. If there is a platform of activity that will enhance the status or a group or a person, people are motivated to do it. So, they broadcast the bad behavior of others and receive quicker social rewards than giving moral praise for a good act. It “reduces the social status of enemies,” added Henderson.

Cancel culture likewise enables people to determine who is loyal to their group or movement. Broadcasting the wrongful acts of others will force others to respond, which means an opportunity to determine a friend from a foe. Those who are asking for evidence for the alleged transgression or question the severity of the wrongdoing reveal themselves to be unloyal to the movement or cause of the group. 

Lastly, cancel culture produces immediate social rewards. The danger that those criticizing the target may be the next to be called out is considered abstract and distant. So, most people would prefer immediate rewards.

Impact of Public Shaming in the Digital World

Advocate and family internet safety expert Sue Scheff, who is also the author of the book "Shame Nation: The Global Epidemic of Online Hate," shared that humiliation tactics are now used for activism. People's online activities can stir up distrust, undermine truth, and jeopardize one’s well-being both in terms of emotional and physical health. It kills privacy, creates larger social divisions, and weakens the democracy.  “Are we now blurring the lines between activism and cyberbullying or humiliation?” she asked.

Scheff cited the case of charity worker Lindsey Stone. The 30-year-old Massachusetts native posted a photo in 2012, where she joked around at a war memorial. The background photo shows “Silence and Respect” at Arlington National Cemetery but Stone posed while her middle finger extended and in a mock scream. Later on, she became a target of hate from war veterans and their supporters. It was just supposed to be a joke but with a click of a mouse, it ruined her life and created reputational damage. “You never want to put a temporary emotion on the permanent internet because what you feel at that time will stay there forever,” reminded the public.

People's online activities can stir up distrust, undermine truth, and jeopardize one’s well-being both in terms of emotional and physical health. It kills privacy, creates larger social divisions, and weakens the democracy / Photo by: fizkes via Shutterstock

 

Hate Speech by Social Media: Statistics

Database company Statista shared the percentage of US teenagers who have encountered hate speech on social media platforms as of April 2018.  According to the findings, 12% of teenagers encountered racist hate speech too often while 52% sometimes came across racist hate speech. On the other hand, 14% often encounter sexist hate speech, 11% anti-religion hate speech, 12% homophobic hate speech, and 21% often encounter any of the above hate speech mentioned.

Internet bullying has also increased. Abuse, bullying, and cyberbullying platform Harford County Examiner reported only one in 10 teens tells a parent if they have been a cyberbully victim and one in 10 adolescents or teens have had damaging or embarrassing pictures taken of themselves without their consent. 

Database company Statista shared the percentage of US teenagers who have encountered hate speech on social media platforms as of April 2018 / Photo by: HBRH via Shutterstock