Is cancel culture a problem? Should there be social consequences for some views? Which views? Explore all perspectives and stances about cancel culture with AllStances™ by AllSides.

Controversy has been raging in the United States around cancel culture, a practice in which institutions are pressured into sanctioning someone who has done or said something that is perceived to be offensive, objectionable, or harmful, either recently or in the past.

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Being “canceled” takes many forms. Cancel culture most often involves someone being fired from a job or having their business ties cut, but it can also take the form of the boycotting of a brand, product, or person, the removal of advertising revenue, the removal of a TV show, book, or movie from streaming, broadcast or purchasing platforms, or career consequences such as “deplatforming,” such as disinviting speakers to events, preventing people from speaking at universities and conferences, or getting someone banned from social media.

Explore all stances and perspectives around cancel culture. Are we missing a stance or perspective? Email us!


Stance 1: Cancel Culture Doesn't Exist

Strong criticism doesn't amount to persecution or mean a threat to free speech.

Some arguments for this stance:

  • There is no “cancel culture,” just accountability.
  • Phrases like “cancel culture” are boogeymen phrases, myths used to delegitimize criticism from marginalized voices.
  • Privilege has historically shielded many people from scrutiny; now that they are coming under fire for illegitimate views and beliefs, they have invented a narrative of persecution.
  • We shouldn’t tolerate dehumanizing viewpoints, and dehumanizing viewpoints can be a form of violence that threaten our lives.
  • It is not the government nor men with guns who are preventing someone from speaking; free speech doesn’t mean freedom from consequences.
  • Some supposed victims of “cancel culture” have resigned, not been fired. They are also still able to speak on social media or go on comedy tours or otherwise engage in careers even after the fact. If they were truly canceled, we wouldn’t be able to hear from them at all.
  • Some speakers invalidate the humanity of others, and thus their speech should no longer be a public good. The parameters of public speech must be continually redrawn to accommodate those who previously had no standing.
  • We only ever hear about cancel culture from those who are unlikely to be harmed by it. Many public figures have fame and fortune that increases with every cancellation attempt.
  • Many of those who complain about cancel culture are hypocrites and often engage in suppression of views themselves, such as Donald Trump.
  • Civil rights leaders of the past have been celebrated and accepted for staging boycotts of businesses that, for example, didn’t serve black people; withdrawing support from someone by refusing to do business with them over their views is essentially the same thing.

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Stance 2: Cancel Culture Has Gone Too Far and Should End

We can see clearly that cancel culture exists, and free speech is under attack. People should not be fired for their views; the answer to speech you don’t like is more speech.


Some arguments for this stance:

  • Evidence cancel culture exists is all around us, and we should recognize patterns when we see them: there are high-profile examples of executives and celebrities being canceled as well as opinion page editors, university speakers, and everyday people: electric employees, firefighters, school principals, teachers, reporters, editors, sheriff’s deputies, professors and more professors.
  • Intolerance, public shaming, and cutting someone off from their livelihood are distinct from “holding someone accountable.”
  • Cancel culture has gone too far. It harms civil discourse and debate, and leads to a climate of fear and self-censorship in which Americans are afraid to speak or explore ideas at all, afraid of losing their ability to feed themselves and their families.
  • In a civil society, we should engage with views we disagree with.
  • Cancel culture is about exercising power and intimidating people. Ruining someone’s life over their speech is a way to institute ideological purges and shame those who will not conform to their orthodoxy.
  • In order to be able to think, you have to risk being offensive. If we can’t risk being offensive, we can’t pursue the truth.
  • Not all issues are settled. There is always something new to learn. Cancel culture risks putting good ideas into the shadows, not just bad ones.
  • While it is not the government nor men with guns who are preventing someone from speaking (and that would also be bad), modern-day consequences for speech wielded by private actors are still disproportionate, unjust, oppressive, and harmful.
  • Cancel culture threatens our democratic system because it stifles speech that either a large group or a small, powerful minority deem offensive. Sometimes it is done by a powerful group claiming to defend a minority. This is how freedom ends — when counter-speech, even majority opinions, are silenced or punished.
  • At its core, cancel culture is a hateful practice where mobs attack and harm individuals. Our country is supposed to protect individuals, not harm them based on whatever is currently deemed unfashionable by pop culture — often things that were deemed acceptable just a few years ago.
  • There are already legal protections against truly harmful speech, such as yelling “fire” when there is none.
  • Cancel culture harms the very people it is supposed to protect, by making words more painful instead of helping people to build resilience. Open dialogue about ideas that are supposedly harmful actually helps us to deal with them better psychologically. When we can’t discuss ideas, we actually give them more power over us. Pushing speech to the shadows interferes with people’s social, emotional, and intellectual development.
  • We should take a charitable approach when interpreting other peoples' statements, instead of assuming they meant offense.

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Stance 3: Certain Views Should Warrant Cancellation

Freedom of speech doesn’t mean freedom from consequences. Some views are too harmful to allow in public.

Some arguments for this stance:

  • Some expressions, such as those that are sexist, racist, or homophobic, should be considered beyond the pale, and private actors should use their power to reduce the space in which those expressions are socially acceptable.
  • Ideas can have consequences, and must be shut down before negative consequences from those ideas can occur, such as harmful government policies or violence.
  • We shouldn’t tolerate dehumanizing viewpoints, and dehumanizing viewpoints can be a form of violence.
  • Cancellation is well within the bounds of the First Amendment. It is not the government nor men with guns who are preventing someone from speaking. We must constantly discriminate amongst views, and determine which views are welcome, promoted, or tolerated in our society.
  • For the most part, the views that people are currently being canceled for are the wrong views — views that are dehumanizing and for which there should be social consequences.
  • Some speakers invalidate the humanity of others, and thus their speech should no longer be a public good. The parameters of public speech must be continually redrawn to accommodate those who previously had no standing.
  • Civil rights leaders of the past have been celebrated and accepted for staging boycotts of businesses that, for example, didn’t serve black people; withdrawing support from someone by refusing to do business with them over their views is essentially the same thing.
  • Cancellation is largely about which cultural factions possess power; oppressive and prejudiced factions have historically had cultural power. Many views that were once deemed acceptable no longer should be.

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Stance 4: Certain Views Should Warrant Cancellation — But Not Those That Are Currently Being Canceled

There should be social consequences for some views, but not the ones currently deemed unacceptable.

Some arguments for this stance:

  • Any society will have ideas that are considered beyond the pale, and private actors should use their power to reduce the space in which those expressions are socially acceptable.
  • However, many of the ideas that currently have consequences are either ideas that warrant more discussion, are the right ideas, or are not offensive nor harmful.
  • It is primarily those whose ideas go against liberal, “progressive” orthodoxy who are canceled — when liberal Justin Trudeau or Democratic governor Ralph Northham wear blackface, or liberal talk show host Jimmy Kimmel employs racial slurs, they are not canceled. This shows liberals are protected and forgiven for their mistakes, but conservatives aren’t.
  • There are many harmful ideas that should warrant cancellation due to their negative consequences on society, such as ideas that promote communism, the destruction of the traditional family, etc., but these ideas are not canceled; instead, people who argue for the existence of biological sex are, or those who dissent against powerful political groups. Cancellation is largely about which cultural factions possess power; harmful factions currently have cultural power.
  • There is an overwhelming lack of consensus in favor of ruling certain views and actions as morally out of bounds — especially when it comes to race, gender, and sexual orientation. Activists are leaping ahead of public opinion, and cancelling people without allowing due diligence for society to determine what is really right and wrong.
  • A radical contingent of society is determining which views are acceptable; their beliefs are often wrong and should actually be the ones that are considered out of bounds.

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Author:

Julie Mastrine, AllSides Director of Marketing, Lean Right bias

Reviewers/Editors:

John Gable, AllSides CEO and Co-Founder, Lean Right bias

Henry Brechter, AllSides Managing Editor, Center bias

Matt Byrne, AllSides Director of Dialogue, Center bias

Joseph Ratliff, AllSides Daily News Specialist, Lean Left bias

Rick Wytmar, AllSides Marketing and Research Intern, Lean Left bias