James Charles is #cancelled.” This phrase has made its way to the top of Twitter’s trending polls and continues to stay there. James Charles is a beauty YouTuber famed for his make-up as well as dramatic flair. Recently, his former mentor and fellow beauty guru, Tati Westbrook published a video exposé attacking him for propagating lies about her, condemned him for alleged comments he made about other beauty influencers, and also claimed he had a habit of sexually harassing straight men. He responded by posting evidence of conversations and explained that most of the claims were fabrications. In wake of the beauty community divide on YouTube, the trend of #cancelled has been on the rise. #Cancel culture, also known as call out culture, is defined as the public shaming of people, mostly celebrities, for bad tweets, opinions or previous wrongdoings. Supporters and critics alike have advocated for and against this controversial culture but almost every social media user has been caught in the spiral. The grassroots of this culture can be traced from Black Twitter which is an identity consisting of Black Twitter users from around the globe focused on issues plaguing the black community, especially in the United States. The widespread usage of the expression 'cancelled', in reference to cancel culture, started in 2018 but has been used since 2015. This culture has evolved to be problematic because it destroys reputations and livelihoods, propagates the message that celebrities are infallible and unredeemable as well as fosters fake news circulation.
#Cancel culture has the potential to destroy reputations and if taken to the extreme, livelihoods of celebrities. Celebrities are at an unfair position as their lives are publicly documented thus any small mistake or tweet has the potential for people to ‘cancel’ them. Aptly put, in this era of attention economy, when people deprive celebrities of their attention, they are depriving celebrities of a livelihood. This is because a celebrity bases their whole branding and image on social media. If they were being cancelled on social media, their image plummets and so does their reputation. When taken to the extreme, if their credibility has been demolished, companies would not want to hire them for fear of public backlash. An example would be the literal cancellation of James’ tour due to his ‘cancellation’ on Twitter (Garvey 2019). Hence, it is clear that this culture can aversely affect the livelihoods of celebrities even if they were unfairly accused.
Furthermore, the notion that celebrities are perfect and can never make a mistake is reinforced with this culture because a small transgression can be exaggerated as a reason to boycott them. #Cancel culture becomes toxic when sometimes it feels like the act itself is more significant than the content of the call-out. Especially in a social arena, it can become a public performance where people show-off their how pure their politics are or how witty they can be. With this motivation in mind, people would be less forgiving of celebrities who made inappropriate comments due to miseducation not malicious intent and would exaggerate a miniscule mistake in order to be able to call them out. This propagates the notion that celebrities are supposed to be infallible and any minor mistake warrants an attack on them. It also implies that they cannot learn from their mistake thus redemption can never apply to them, that is why there is a need to banish them from the circle of acceptable society. Due to this, celebrities would forever be labelled and entrapped. Ergo, the concept of learning from mistakes and redemption will be undermined.
Fake news circulation is not a novel occurrence however with the arrival of #cancel culture, it gives rise to more circulation of unproven claims. All it takes is one false accusation to kickstart a mob mentality which results in celebrities on the receiving end of a bombardment of insults and even death threats. Social media users are always on the lookout for the newest trend and since #cancel culture is trending, they are fast to jump on the bandwagon without prior checking. This is particularly concerning for it cultivates a culture where facts do not need to be verified. The celebrity in question will also unfairly suffer from these attacks that might have stemmed from a false accusation. For instance, in James Charles’ case, he lost 3 million subscribers, friends and insults were plastered all over his YouTube and Twitter. It was only when he displayed evidence of the false allegations and claims from Tati that people realised they jumped on the bandwagon too soon but by then the damage was done. Hence, false news circulation is inadvertently encouraged by this.
Although #cancel culture began with good intentions in the name of social justice, it has been abused and turned into something toxic and damaging. To counter this, constantly reminding ourselves of the true intent of this culture will help towards creating the kind of substantial, permanent changes in people’s behaviour. Perhaps a new culture of call-in can be cultivated where the individual who has done some wrong is spoken to privately, in order to address the behaviour without making a spectacle of the address itself.