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Opinion: Caught in cancel culture

www.telanganatoday.com | November 21, 2023

Cancel culture has evolved as a powerful force in the ever-changing sphere of social dynamics, altering public discourse and influencing individual lives

For the most part, the meaning of the phrase ‘cancel’ has not been particularly difficult, but it has acquired a new sense in the last decade, particularly in the context of the internet lingo. ‘Cancel culture’ is described as the denial of support for people who have acted in an unacceptable or problematic manner on social media, its viewing, or concerning the purchase of goods or services (Explained: What Is “Cancel Culture”? 2020; Mueller, 2021).

Cancel culture has evolved as a powerful force in the ever-changing sphere of social dynamics, altering public discourse and influencing individual lives. While supporters see it as a tool for accountability and social justice, others see it as a tool for intimidation and mob mentality. Investigating the psychological foundations of cancellation culture reveals a complex combination of human emotions, motivations and societal trends.

Impact of Cancel Culture

‘Cancel culture’ has the power to ruin at least till some time some people’s lives. ‘If charged, must apologise promptly’ was the most important significant predictor of overall participation in cancel culture. Around two years ago, when Rihanna, a global superstar known for her music, uploaded a topless photo of herself wearing a pendant of the Hindu deity Ganesha, she was accused of cultural appropriation and religious insensitivity. The image surfaced with her sporting a bracelet, a big set of earrings, and what looks to be a diamond-studded carving of the elephant-headed god among her matching purple gems. Indian social media users called this act “disrespectful”. The cancel culture does not only apply to influencers and movie stars, firms can also be ‘cancelled’ through boycotts of their products or services. With the cancel culture phenomenon aimed at businesses, the desire to cancel can also lead to a boycott of a brand or business (Mueller, 2021). When it comes to businesses, Indian retailer Fabindia retracted an advertisement for a new Diwali collection after receiving backlash. The compilation was called Jashn-e-Riwaaz, which means “celebration of tradition” in Urdu. They were accused of adopting an Urdu tagline in the advertisement to promote a collection for the Hindu holiday of Diwali.

The demand for cancellation is an attempt to weaponise dormant communal ideas, which could result in boycotts. The psychological reasons for cancelling activities are complex. Some recognise a wrong and wish to lift the metaphorical veil, bringing shame and a crumbling reputation. Experiencing powerful negative emotions such as fury, ridicule, and dread is an important aspect of cancel culture psychology (Newport Institute, 2021).

Cancel culture psychology automatically allows people to reject empathy and forgiveness in favour of justified frustration. It is characterised by a complex interplay of social, cognitive and emotional elements. People have distinct moral standards, and cancelling generally entails violations of these moral foundations, and the response is often impacted by which foundations are most salient to the person or group. It also appears to be related to confirmation biases, in which people seek and interpret information that confirms their pre-existing ideas. As a result, people are only exposed to opinions that bolster their outrage, creating an echo chamber effect.

Digital World

For younger people looking to find and investigate someone, X (earlier Twitter) is the most effective platform. “Twitter, do your thing” was a common title for tweets expressing worry for an individual (Johnson, 2021). “Hashtag activism” is a sophisticated digital communication approach developed by social movement organisations. The masses make tactical and deliberate use of social media to spread their message to simultaneously persuade the general public, reaching wide audiences and overcoming geographical constraints made possible by the internet.

According to McCrindle, an Australian research company, Gen Z, who are more likely to be on their gadgets, are using screens as a significant source to learn about people. However, it is also true that cancel culture began with screen-based devices and the internet. Even though open about activism, Gen Z is also the group that is more likely to hide their opinions on current topics because they are frightened of how others will react (33% Gen Z, 21% Gen X 16% Baby Boomers) and are more likely to agree that they have confronted to be their real selves for fear of criticism and exclusion (McCrindle, 2022).

Cancel culture is detrimental to both cancelers and witnesses. Young people who might cancel others could be motivated by strong moral convictions, which is excellent. Instead of learning how to have effective debates about issues with which they differ, cancelers just exclude and outcast people they believe are wrong, as well as everyone who supports them. Those on the sidelines frequently experience fear and guilt for not standing up for someone who was harshly cancelled (Newport Institute, 2021). The question then arises is; Are we not ready to tolerate opposing viewpoints? And how can we strike a balance between free speech and safety from hate and bullying?

The Way Ahead

On the internet, the discussion over cancel culture, in which people are ostracised for holding beliefs that are deemed objectionable, continues. What is important here is to comprehend the experiences and ideas that lead to diverse points of view, to be allowed to make mistakes and apologise. It is of utmost importance, more so than ever, to learn to have respect, tolerance, empathy, forgiveness and basic human decency (which seem to be forgotten) for opposing viewpoints (Note: Which does not harm or demean any individual, group or community).

While the purpose of cancel culture is to hold people accountable for their actions or opinions, it has become super toxic and lost its ultimate aim many times. There is no denying the fact that people and organisations need to be accountable for their words and actions. Too many people have spoken and acted inappropriately and gotten away with it, which is wrong, to say the least. While voicing our opinions (or trolling people), policing people and cancelling organisations are an everyday occurrence today, is it truly the way forward?

Strict Note: By free speech, we do not mean using words to hurt, harm or demean any individual, group or community. Free speech is not bullying or hate speech. We strictly condemn the latter two.

This article has been authored by Aarya Deshpande, Undergraduate Student, FLAME University, and Prof. Moitrayee Das, Faculty of Psychology, FLAME University.

(Source:- https://telanganatoday.com/opinion-caught-in-cancel-culture )