The who, what, when, where, and why of cancelling.

“Cancel culture”, or “cancelling”, are terms thrown around in social media spaces and are frequently seen in a negative light as runaway online bullying. While, there are certainly downsides and abuses related to cancel culture, it is helpful to fully understand 1) what is cancel culture, or “cancelling”? 2) What is the appeal? 3) What is the downside? 4) How should this platform approach cancelling?

What is Cancel Culture?

Cancel culture is when members of a community with relatively little individual social power, use their collective social power to accuse, embarrass, and/or deplatform a prominent member of that community. This most often occurs in virtual spaces with the use of hashtags like the #metoo movement. However, cancelling can take the form of boycotts. For examples, corporations such as Hobby Lobby and Chick-fil-A were made the target of boycotts for the support of anti-LGBT+ support. Cancel culture differs from other forms of criticism and debate in that cancelling generally holds the goal of creating a social change by reducing a perceived harm to an individual or demographic. This is typically done through deplatforming and defunding rather than calling to an open debate in the marketplace of ideas.

What is the Appeal

The appeal is that cancelling can provide control or even justice for people who are normally denied it by powerful bad actors insulated within a system. For example, #MuteRKelly helped bring awareness to the accusations against R. Kelly and contributed to his being dropped by RCA Records before he was officially indicted in 2019. Cancelling can disrupt the narrative that victims must have done something to deserve their abuse and can provide victims a sense of community and support. The #MeToo movement was famous for both.

What is the Downside

Like most tools intended for defense, cancelling can be weaponized by people who, in bad faith, want to hide behind a victim status. There is a tendency in cancel culture to abstract a person’s actions into a generic label that can eliminate all nuance and make all “bad actors” seem equally bad and worthy of punishment. For example, “Person A told Person B XYZ” which is then relayed as “Person A said something racist”. While the original message may have something that qualifies as “racist” there is no distinguishing between a comment that is racist due to an unconscious, inherited, and unexamined cultural norm or due to a conscious, deliberate, and hateful reason. Additionally, there is a tendency in cancel culture to essentialize a label to a person's identity. For example, “Person A said something racist” turns into “Person A is a racist”. Those are two very different things and there is great danger in attempting to reduce an entire person’s identity to one quality.

Additional downsides include the anonymity which allows participants to avoid confronting real-world consequences of their actions. For example, some targets of cancelling later committed suicide. Also, legitimately abusive behavior, such as doxxing, threatening, harassing, can feel justified by the righteous frenzy that surrounds the target. In conclusion, it’s very easy for cancelling to go too far and produce results more severe than originally justified or anticipated.

How this Platform Approaches “Cancelling”

Recognizing the tendency to rally behind a witch hunt, this platform resolves to take a generous stance towards actors of suspected poor behavior. As written in the Goals of our Mission Statement, this means:

  1. Focusing on and judging actions, not people
  2. Avoiding, as much as is possible, the abstraction of actions into labels. Note, that for the sake of organization, similar actions are tagged with some form of a label. This is unavoidable.
  3. Avoiding the tendency to essentialize a person’s character based on actions.

This platform hopes all readers will scrutinize every instance they encounter for legitimacy about when behavior should be called out and when it should transition to greater character condemnation.

Finally, this platform understands that there is no universal formula that is going to apply to all actions. However, some good questions on can ask are:

  1. Is it possible that this person is acting from ignorance, not hate?
  2. If so, are they open to discussion?
  3. Is it possible that I am wrong in my assessment of their behavior?
  4. Even if an action is hurtful, is it harmful or dangerous?

In conclusion, cancelling is not something this platform takes lightly. In our quest for keeping libertarian spaces free of bigotry and authoritarian entryism, we plan to hold individuals and organizations accountable for their actions while being as transparent, generous, and accurate as possible.