Cancel culture is a form of group shaming that is performed mostly on social media against a person (usually a public figure) who has done or said something that might be considered objectionable or offensive by other online users. The genesis of cancel culture was well intentioned. It was to ensure that mostly public figures address marginalised individuals with respect. For an example, everyone knows that the term “nigger” is politically incorrect and is punishable by public shaming when said by people who aren’t black. It’s considered commonplace for one black person to say, “hey, nigger” to another black person in conversation, for example. For a white person to use the term would be considered white supremacist, racist and bigoted. The same term said by black people denotes a kind of brotherhood, especially in the hip-hop scene. I get why this is so, we all have a past that we cannot escape. White people in the American south called black people by that word in order to offend and humiliate them.
Lately on social media cancel culture is being used as a tool to silence anyone who dares express an opinion that is contrary to the prevailing dominant opinion. On any social media platform there is always a group of woke individuals who to me seem to patrol cyberspace looking for content to be offended and outraged about. They then use their tool for punishment which is cancelling in order to shame whoever expresses a “problematic” opinion. The problem with cancel culture is that is does not solve anything, I don’t imagine that whoever is shamed into silence changes their mind about the problematic language they used. I imagine instead that while the cancelled person keeps quiet, there is a real possibility that they will resent the shaming and cement whatever bigotry they’ve had in the past. It is very possible that the cancelled person will troll the internet looking for a community of others who share similarly problematic views.
The internet is filled with extremists, partly because while the internet once had the hopes of bridging ideological divides by promoting conversations, it has now become a place where people find others who hold the same opinions as them and shut out whoever views the world differently. Nowhere is this more obvious than on my personal Facebook page.
I am female, queer and black, so are 99% of my Facebook friends. While being surrounded by like minded people online is a good thing, too much of a good thing can become bad. I have started to realise that on my Facebook there is a narrow worldview that is accepted. We do everything we can to keep out people who do not view the world the way we do. I look at friend requests from straight males with suspicion, I am ashamed to admit that on my Facebook I view any male as being guilty of trashiness by the mere virtue of being born male. There is an understanding in my Facebook community that males are bad and women are good. However, this understanding was recently tested, when on a post I wrote about the rampant toxic masculinity within queer circles.
The post garnered hundreds of comments, I was dragged for daring to complain about other females because there is a tacit understanding that female equals good and male is synonymous with bad. For me, the mere comparison of perfect females to broken males was seen as a betrayal.
It was interesting to watch the comment section unfold, some commenters got really personal. I was called a fake lesbian for voicing my opinion, others declared that I am now cancelled, others demanded that I remove the post, while others like me testified to having had experienced toxic masculinity within the queer space – where masculine presenting lesbians see themselves as superior to feminine presenting lesbians and go out of their way to distance themselves from femininity despite being born female.
The post made me defiant. While I understand that there is a possibility that my experience of seeing toxic masculinity within queer spaces might not be universal, I still retain the right to be vocal about my experiences and I do not need universality to rubber stamp them. I kept the post on my wall, I did not delete it, because I said what I said and I meant it. Furthermore people shed actual blood for my right to free speech so I will not let go of it in order to become a bland, quiet queer who echoes the opinions of other blander, more quiet queers.
Our national coat of arms has the motto “!ke e: /xarra //ke” diverse people unite, that requires us to be ourselves. Any online space that demands that you echo the prevailing opinion for fear of being cancelled goes against the constitution which our land is built on, I retain my right to a different opinion, while making sure that my opinions do not infringe on other people’s rights. As a queer woman I have the right to criticise behaviours that are problematic within queer spaces without risking being cancelled and threatened with shaming.
Read one writer’s experiment with giving up social media here
Tell us: Do you think it’s important to promote free speech in the online space? Why or why not?