“This is how it all begins.”First line in I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson
Hi, guys. I’ve debated a lot with myself whether or not to write this post, but I came to the conclusion that I had too much to say to just stay quiet. I have a background in communication and I have seen so many communicative problems with cancel culture that I wanted to offer my input. To start off, I quickly want to define what it is I’m referring to when I say cancel culture:
Cancel culture is mostly a social media phenomenon where people “cancel” or withdraw their support for someone/something in a very public manner because of something the person/company did or said. It very often involves public shaming or bullying of that person/company in different ways.
In this post, I’m going to discuss the effects of cancel culture with a communication perspective and why cancelling someone is the worst way to solve a problem. First, however, I want to you to, please, forget about whatever topic we’re cancelling people over this week. This post will NOT reflect my opinions on anything other than the use of cancelling to solve issues.
How I See Cancelling Used
From what I’ve seen, the method seems to start on Twitter where people call out a person for behaviour or an opinion they don’t agree with. The ball rolls very quickly after that as Twitter is great if you want a message spread fast. If the person doesn’t correct their mistake or apologize immediately, they will get cancelled. Sometimes, it doesn’t even help to apologize.
That is one part of it. Another side to cancel culture is about attacking the people who don’t cancel that problematic person. I see so many tweets telling people to unfollow and stop supporting someone (as if those are naturally synonyms). They are often very aggressive about it and thereby pushing other people to follow along. You see, these tweets often include threats about you being cancelled too, if you don’t comply. Being cancelled seems to mean that it’s okay to bully you, which you obviously want to avoid.
The purpose of cancelling seems to be to change that one person’s opinion and maybe even the similar opinion of others. I suspect they also want to create a more lasting change in society by showing that that opinion/behavior is not okay.
How Cancel Culture is Inefficient
In my experience, “cancellers” are not helping their cause. They often see an issue as binary, as if you don’t have the exact same opinion as them, then you’re against them and what they’re fighting for. That eliminates any discussion that might have been had because they refuse to listen and learn about nuances and gray areas. I often see conversations shut down because one side is trying to argue how cancelling isn’t solving anything. It’s the equivalent of bickering about battle strategy with your allies while the real enemy escapes. That becomes an even bigger problem if we’re shooting at our own allies. The real fight is taking place somewhere else.
Refusing to engage in conversations and discussions will not change anything about society. It only helps YOU. And let me be clear: If you decide to unfollow someone or stop supporting them because of your own personal reasons, then that’s totally fine. If they’re ruining your mental health or you just don’t like to engage with them, then you don’t have to of course *whispers* there’s just no reason to announce your unfollow if that’s the reason.
But back to those who believe they’re creating change. The unfollow and harassment of the person they disagree with, also indicates that there are no conversations taking place between the two parties. The very thing that could have changed the person’s opinion. Instead, they attack which just doesn’t help. When we as humans are attacked we naturally get defensive and will defend our opinion with everything we’ve got. Not because it makes sense but because we see it as an attack on our entire self. You have to be very self-aware to not go down that route. Also, try to remember the last time someone changed your opinion by yelling at you. Not an effective method.
What To Do Instead
I think a part of why cancel culture exists is because people feel a need to “do something” but feel sort of powerless, which I totally understand. Pressing that unfollow is an easy way to feel like you’ve actually taken action. Then the harassment comes along because unfollowing wasn’t quite enough.
But yeah, that’s the easy way and as we’ve established, not very effective. If people feel a need to create change then that’s much harder because they need to talk to people they disagree with (the horror!!). As someone with a communication degree, I’m often frustrated with the fact that communication isn’t a mandatory subject in schools because, damn, do people need it! It would solve so many problems before they even start. So I’m now going to list off a few pointers on how to have a genuine discussion/conversation:
- Get off Twitter! 280 characters are not enough to express anything properly. You have a higher risk of coming off as rude and harsh which will kill any conversation. The best way to discuss something would be in person, of course, but I understand how that’s not always possible. Most other social media platforms have unlimited characters so those would always be better than Twitter. If you can have the discussion privately, that would be a major plus so that no one else can interfere.
- Enter the discussion with the intention of learning something. Probably the most important point. A discussion is an exchange of ideas. It’s not a lecture where one party tell the other how wrong they are. If that’s your mindset, you might as well save yourself the trouble and avoid the discussion. But that won’t solve anything, of course. Everyone needs to enter the discussion with the awareness that they don’t know everything. Something one party brings to the table might be a gamechanger for other.
- Listen. In connection with the previous point, every party needs to listen in order to understand the other. Understanding where people are coming from and why they hold a certain opinion will help immensely when trying to create common ground. When people feel understood, they are more likely to accept any suggestions you make.
- Be nice and respectful. Yeah, I also think it’s sad that we need a point like this, but have you seen Twitter? I’m not going to teach you how to be those things. But again, people are more likely to accept your suggestions if they like you.
These are some very general things to be aware of but every discussion is different so this list is not exhaustive. And even if you can check off all of these, the other party might not be willing to. If you still want to engage in a discussion, I can only recommend that you put your ego aside for a bit and just listen and understand that other party. Let them take control of the situation to begin with. And other times, one just has to accept that there’s no conversation to be had and walk away. I know that doing this won’t solve everything, but it will always be a necessary starting point.
This is all very, very hard! But no one said change would be easy. There are also several other problems with cancel culture that I haven’t touched upon in this post, but that would simply have made this too long. I only focused on the communicative problems because those have been the most frustrating for me to watch unfold. The most important take away from this post should be that screaming into the void on Twitter isn’t changing anything. It only creates the toxic environment on Twitter that we all hate.
I hope this was helpful. I’m not the most popular blogger but I sincerly hope this reaches someone who will have use of it. Please share your opinions on the topic in the comments, whether you agree or disagree. I would love to continue the discussion.