Cancel Culture

The term “canceling” typically refers to a practice in which someone or something is sanctioned for something that is perceived to be offensive, objectionable, or harmful, either recently or in the past. The act of being canceled often comes with the loss of a job or other livelihood, as well as your public reputation.

While most people on the left and right tend to disagree about what cancel culture means, they disagree about  whether cancel culture actually exists and if it does, whether it has a place in modern society. 

Some believe cancel culture is a negative thing, seeing it as a blatant violation of the right to free speech. Although cancel culture is usually driven by social forces instead of government censorship, this group would argue that applying the spirit and culture of the First Amendment to society is positive. They believe that Americans should largely be allowed to freely express themselves without punishment or censorship, regardless to if that expression hurts someone's feelings. They claim free speech helps societies innovate, course correct when they are wrong, and mitigates extremism. They might use the phrase “sunlight is the best disinfectant” to describe why it is important not to censor or shout down speech perceived as harmful.

In addition, many on this side argue that it is specifically conservative ideals and language that are being targeted by cancel culture as more individuals and companies begin abiding by a new “woke” set of ethics. These people believe that so-called “offensive” language should be dealt with through debate rather than what they view as public shaming or cancellation. This group claims that  free thought requires the risk of being offensive, as without it society cannot aptly pursue the truth. They argue that cancel culture goes far beyond mere accountability and argue it ultimately harms American discourse by eliminating any form of counter-speech or opinion, whether the dissenting voices are valuable or not. 

Others say that cancel culture deserves a place in society as freedom of speech does not mean freedom from social consequences. People in this camp believe cancel culture is more about withdrawing support from people or establishments that give a platform to dehumanizing and prejudiced viewpoints rather than taking away people's right to free speech. They claim that it would only be a violation of the First Amendment if it were the government or violent actors preventing someone's voice from being heard and that social pushback is how societies progress and become more equal, showing which viewpoints are tolerable. In this view, cancel culture is an essential tool of democracy; it is the power of the people used to keep powerful figures and institutions in check. Many also cite the use of boycotting as a form of acceptable cancellation in the past, such as civil rights activists protesting restaurants that would not serve black people. These people believe that if someone's speech aims to invalidate the humanity of others, then their speech should be invalidated as well. 

Some go further and say cancel culture does not exist at all, only accountability. These people claim that the term “cancel culture” is only used as a boogeyman phrase meant to delegitimize critics of offensive speech. They again claim that cancellation does not violently prevent someone from speaking and thus is not violating freedom of speech. They also cite that many “canceled” people have been able to resume their careers and sometimes even gain more fame from the cancellation, proving that being canceled is not as harmful as it is often said to be. Many who feel this way also claim that  people who criticize cancel culture are hypocritical, as they often engage in the suppression of other’s views as well.

Those who firmly believe cancel culture does exist may point to those whose careers ended permanently. Those who believe that cancel culture has gone too far sometimes share a concern about the mental health of the canceled, as several have ended up taking their lives after cancelation campaigns. 

While some disapprove of cancel culture entirely, others only disapprove of how we have chosen to go about canceling, and which ideas and perspectives are targeted. They accept and acknowledge that harmful ideas have negative consequences on society and believe some views should warrant cancellation, but not the views that are currently targeted. They may think that some ideas should warrant cancellation, but that current instances of cancelation are unwarranted and based on harmful ideology, mistakes, misunderstandings, or stances that a significant number of people agree, with rather than genuine malice on the part of the canceled.