Self Censorship Gains Traction In The Age Of Cancel Culture

Social media, particularly Twitter, has become a way to spread information in a matter of seconds, even when that information is false.

Wikimedia Commons

Social media, particularly Twitter, has become a way to spread information in a matter of seconds, even when that information is false.

Mikayla Kudron, A&E Editor

While traveling to Africa in 2013, Justine Sacco, the senior director of corporate communications at IAC (InterActiveCorp), tweeted the following: “Going to Africa. Hope I don’t get AIDS. Just kidding. I’m white!” Before her plane even landed, Sacco had a trending hashtag on Twitter and thousands of responses to the one tweet. This tweet got her fired from her job, accused by her family of tarnishing the family name, and harassed in public and online. One tweet completely changed this woman’s life for the worse. This phenomenon, known as “Cancel Culture”, occurs when a person posts something online that causes severe backlash. Whether these people are celebrities or only have 170 Twitter followers, like Sacco did at the time, anyone can fall victim to cancel culture. Being “canceled” can cause influencers, politicians, celebrities, and any social media user to lose contracts, friends, merchandising opportunities, fans, customers, money, and in extreme cases, their jobs. The most common reason that an individual is canceled is when they are exposed for racism (as was true in Justine Sacco’s case), sexism, homophobia, or other types of targeted hate. Although some people are canceled without reason, cancel culture sends a clear message that bigotry has consequences, even online.

Cancel culture may not be a foolproof way to combat racism, sexism, and homophobia in the media, but it certainly can be effective. Influencers on social media have felt forced to delete their accounts in order to escape online backlash, effectively ending their popularity and harmful effect on the general public. Some people need to be cancelled. The issue with problematic influencers is just that- they’re influencers. People with large online followings influence the lifestyle, beliefs, and habits of their fans. If we give them a free pass on inappropriate behavior, we are telling the entire world this type of behavior is acceptable, when it shouldn’t be. When we take it upon ourselves to judge people, we also need to be mindful that celebrities are people too. When we jump to conclusions, we can cause unnecessary damage and worsen the situation. 

One significant downfall of this cancel culture mentality is the speed at which the public receives information. Between all our favorite social media networks, we often hear of a scandal before the celebrity involved does. The possibility of a scandal is often spread among millions of people, and is spread so fast that there is no time to get all the facts to the public, or give the people involved time to explain themselves. One recent example of this situation would be the allegations against young makeup artist and YouTuber James Charles. James, an openly gay man, was accused of harassing straight men into engaging in sexual acts with him simply because he was famous. James Charles lost one million subscribers from his YouTube channel within 24 hours of the discovery of these allegations. He had lost a total of 2.6 million subscribers from his chanel, which was also his main source of income, before the situation was resolved. Many of James’s friends had made public tweets stating that they were disappointed in him, disgusted by his actions, and YouTuber Jeffree Star even stated that James was no longer welcome in his home. This nineteen-year-old influencer became a victim of cancel culture, as most of his friends turned on him before he had the opportunity to explain the situation from his perspective. Once he had the chance, it was revealed that the allegations were false. He had screenshots of messages exchanged with the original accuser, and he regained most of his following. If he was given time to explain himself before everyone obsessed over the scandal, the entire situation could have been avoided.

Controversy between four beauty YouTubers (Laura Lee, Jeffree Star, Manny Gutierrez, Gabriel Zamora) began in 2018 when evidence of Star’s racist past was dug up by the public. An old MySpace skit resurfaced, in which Star states that he wants to throw battery acid on a black woman in order to lighten her skin and match it to her foundation. When his fans found out about the video, there was an uproar on social media, followed by investigation by his followers into his past on social media. The result was the discovery of tweets and videos in which Star used racist and sexist slurs. Soon after, the racist pasts of several other YouTubers in the beauty community came to light as well, resulting in a dramatic decline in support from their fans and employers. Laura Lee was exposed for racist and body shaming tweets- some of which are suspected to have come from parody accounts pretending to be her- and lost half a million subscribers from her YouTube channel, and main source of income. Jeffree Star still continues to gain followers, and add to his 15 million subscribers to his YouTube channel. He is known for his two documentaries with popular YouTuber Shane Dawson since the incident, and new makeup products by Jeffree Star Cosmetics are being sold all the time. 

Laura Lee deserves what has come to her for thinking her actions were acceptable. So why hasn’t Jeffree Star received similar consequences for his atrocious actions? Laura Lee has received a harsher punishment than any of the male influencers involved in the series of scandals. Society, in an effort to eradicate discrimination, has enforced it as well. We have used racism as an excuse for sexism in social media. James Charles’s situation follows a similar pattern. Why was he also punished so severely compared to Jeffree Star? The supposed “victims” (again, the allegations ended up being false) of James Charles’s predatory behavior were straight men, where as Jeffree Star was threatening women of color. While trying to get justice for communities and individuals threatened by celebrities, we still prioritized majority groups. When we treat issues in this manner, we are sending the world a message that hate towards men is unacceptable and will end your career, and doing the same to women of color is acceptable.

Cancel culture is a necessary defense mechanism against discrimination in the age of social media. This behavior is keeping celebrities from sending messages of hate and violence to the audience that idolizes them. This mentality is acted out on a wider scale as well, reaching to politicians. Many politicians have lost practically all support when inappropriate behavior has been discovered. Again, this is good when done right. We need to keep hateful actions out of politics. However, we also don’t want to lose valuable politicians in the rush to cancel them due to false accusations. We as viewers need to analyze ourselves with as critical a lens as we use on celebrities. If we don’t, our own societal biases worsen the situation.