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Cancelling Cancel and Call-Out Culture in Society

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Please note! This essay has been submitted by a student.

 In this essay, I will be examining the impact of our current culture, and the effect that social media has on the issues of consequences, forgiveness and rehabilitation.

When a person has done something against the norm or where norms have changed a person may suffer potentially severe negative consequences that can be out of proportion to the “offence”. Rolling from this is the question of whether a person can ever find forgiveness or healing in this current cultural environment.

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One potential consequence is that a person may find themselves ostracised from their social or workgroup. What does the word ostracism mean? Meriam-Webster dictionary states that it is “a method of temporary banishment by popular vote without trial or special accusation practiced in ancient Greece” (1) In society today, it seems that we have not left behind the Greek’s way of life. No matter how big or small your offence, society, usually has a way of causing you to be ostracized. Only now social media allows this to happen without much thought, and no one is voting unless you count the number of shares or likes a negative story about someone might get. The impact of this type of ostracism can be devastating, with people losing their livelihood, homes and social relationships.

It is normal to see someone differently who does something truly awful such as killing another person, as we could never fathom doing such a thing. However, this can lead to a frame of mind that is especially damaging as these people are then dehumanized by others, and we see them as not having the chance or drive to get better and reintegrate themselves back into society. This can be particularly true when we think about people who have been in prison. It is disheartening to think about how hard it must be for someone who has served their time in prison to come out and try and reintegrate themselves into society.

For our society to be healthier, we need to help people, human to human, so that everyone feels included and knows that they have the chance to do better and make a positive difference, even in a small way. One way to do this could be giving communities where there may be a high crime rate the tools to do more and feel more empowered. something. This could be as simple as supporting people to get a job or start a business or learn basic living skills. Although there is a risk of such attempts being interpreted as degrading to a community or an individual if it is not done in the right way.

If we keep putting people and communities down for being problems or seeing them as coming from a “bad” community, rather than seeing what they are capable of, then we are setting them up to fail. Who would want to do better when they are constantly labelled based on things they have done in the past? We need to break this cycle and start lifting people up rather than tearing them down.

In the age of social media when it comes to information online something or someone can be ostracised just as harshly, but with the added aggression of speed and impersonal detachment as everything put on the internet can go global in an instant. When it comes to a celebrity saying the wrong thing, a company putting out a campaign that some people find offensive, or people bringing up old material that could make a person look bad, they put it online for other people to see and the people then rally behind others on message boards to “cancel” these things and have the person shamed or shut down for something they have said or done, even when it could have been twenty years in the past. This is referred to as cancel culture or call-out culture the definition of these terms is it “is a form of public shaming where people identify offences committed by members of their community and publicly “call out” the offenders, thereby shaming or punishing them”. (2)

A very disturbing effect of this is that individuals who call others out can do it anonymously, and without any accountability for what they say and the accuracy of what they are saying.

The detrimental effect this has on an individual by being publicly shamed is they may lose their jobs, relationships and suffer severe emotional distress. Not enough understanding is given to the aftermath of something like this the individuals, as their lives may be changed forever because of the ostracism and negative reaction of others, making it hard for them to be able to pick themselves up and move on. When personal, difficult parts of our lives are put online, that information is there forever and can be resurfaced and create more ostracism at any time, even years after. Just like an inmate in prison, it makes it difficult for the person to get a job or they may develop anxiety and self-doubting thoughts. This could and has resulted in individuals to have self-harm, and suicidal thoughts as individuals feel trapped and see no way to come back from the shame and embarrassment of what has happened.

Ostracism and social isolation are not new, people have been dealing with them for centuries. Humans want to be liked, to feel included and for that to happen we often adjust the way we act around or even dress around other people. In Kipling D. Williams’s article, he talks about this exactly by saying “When belonging is threatened, the individual is motivated to attend more carefully to social cues, presumably to achieve success in subsequent social interactions.” (3). He studied the effects ostracism can have on an individual and how the need to belong is a fundamental importance in our lives.

Along with Williams’s research, many others have used his template to do further investigations into the effects social ostracism has, and with social media more integrated into our lives now, there are tons of new research coming out all the time.

I found another article that talks about student’s perception of the effects of social media ostracism. It said that “Social media ostracism was perceived by both university and secondary-school students as threatening to mood and psychological need fulfilment (particularly the need to belong).” (4) This goes back to what Williams talked about in his research and how even years later the effects social media has is essentially the same, maybe even getting worse.

I imagine that adjusting one’s behaviour might help an individual to fit in with certain groups, but now that we have the added stress and intensity of social media it is too easy to put someone down for behaving or dressing differently as everyone is carrying around phones and taking and posting pictures and videos, with little thought of the consequences this may have on the person involved.

This leads to my question; can we change this negative, unforgiving aspect of culture? What would it look like if we all took the attitude that kindness to others was more important than sharing information that we often do not even know is true, just to get a few likes? This I hope would lead to more thoughtful research and questioning about the stories we try to find out on others. More thoughtful research might stop people from jumping onto a hate bandwagon, or even better would lead to the understanding that humans can not and should not be defined by a single event or action, and not giving hateful stories any space to grow. We need to realize that we are all human, and we all make mistakes and if given the chance we can all change for the better.

I hope that in the future call out or cancel culture shifts to calling out hateful, narrow, and pointless judgements on others. 

Works cited

  1. Meriam-Webster Dictionary. (n.d.). Ostracism. In Merriam-Webster.com dictionary. Retrieved April 26, 2023, from https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/ostracism
  2. Heineman, D. S. (2019). Cancel culture: A millennial concept with roots in the 90s. Journal of International Business and Law, 18(2), 71-80.
  3. Williams, K. D. (2009). Ostracism: A temporal need-threat model. In Advances in Experimental Social Psychology (Vol. 41, pp. 275-314). Academic Press.
  4. Fehr, B., Sprecher, S., & Underwood, L. G. (2011). Forgiveness: Theories, research, and applications. Routledge.
  5. Haney, C., & Zimbardo, P. G. (1977). The socialization into criminality: On becoming a prisoner and a guard. In J. L. Tapp & F. J. Levine (Eds.), Law, justice, and the individual in society: Psychological and legal issues (pp. 203-222). Holt, Rinehart and Winston.
  6. Keller, J. (2019). The limits of forgiveness: Case studies in the distortion of a moral ideal. Routledge.
  7. Mazerolle, L., Bennett, S., Davis, J., & Sargeant, E. (2013). Legitimacy in policing: A systematic review. Campbell Systematic Reviews, 9(1), 1-103.
  8. Murphy, J. (2017). The rise and fall of American forgiveness. Oxford University Press.
  9. Restorative Justice Online. (n.d.). Restorative justice resources. Retrieved April 26, 2023, from https://restorativejustice.org/restorative-justice/about-restorative-justice/tutorial-intro-to-restorative-justice/restorative-justice-resources/
  10. Vassileva, J., Kaufman, J., Martin, E. M., & Tersigni-Tarrant, M. A. (2018). Rehabilitation and forgiveness: Neurobiological and cultural processes. The Journal of neuropsychiatry and clinical neurosciences, 30(3), 187-196. doi: 10.1176/appi.neuropsych.17070138

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