Is cancel culture real? Well, it's a human-made concept, so it's exactly as real as we want it to be.
What is real is that we have an incredibly small number of social media companies, arguably few enough to be counted on one hand, through which we are pouring vast amounts of information and opinion that is filtered through a profit motive. Facebook and Twitter are likely the two biggest.
Let's build some background here. Cancel culture is a term that emerged pre-2017. I can't remember what year it was the first time I heard the term or when I first heard something like "so-and-so is canceled." But I know it was before 2017, because that is the year that mainstream media articles site as when the term "cancel culture" first emerged on Twitter. As per usual, the concept began in Black communities, where all the best new forms of English language begin before they're co-opted and ruined by us white people.
I first saw people getting "canceled" on Tumblr. There is, by the way, a fascinating phenomenon in which a lot of philosophical discussions and social debates seem to start on Tumblr, with the community arguing over and examining every possible aspect of it before it's pretty much settled (or people just get bored of it) and then years later, that same debate emerges on more mainstream and profitable social media platforms.
Here's where Tumblr landed: There is nothing wrong with "canceling" those with enough money and social power that even if they never worked again, they would be able to live out perfectly comfortable lives. Mel Gibson was and absolutely should have been canceled and the fact that he still somehow has a film career is gross and terrible. Also, it's not actually a crime against humanity to hurt someone's follower count if they say or do something harmful. But there is a line.
That line is nowhere near banning someone like Donald fucking Trump from social media, however. The real place that cancel culture gets out of control is when people start digging through people's social media posts going back several years to find problematic things they said out of ignorance, particularly if they were underage when they did so. The actual problem is young, sometimes underage people with no real power in the world at all being dogpiled and harassed for making a mistake and having to delete their accounts even after apologizing because people tend to just react without checking to see if someone has already learned their lesson.
At some point, where that line should be exactly gets tricky, because of course it does. But that place is, again, nowhere near people who have held the most powerful political office in the entire fucking world.
People like Nikki Haley and other members of congress have no idea what a truly detrimental version of "cancel culture" looks like. I've seen it, as have many other Tumblr users. What's so interesting about Tumblr, though, is that it has become a social media platform where profit is essentially impossible.
One thing I and other users love about Tumblr is that posts from the people you follow show up on your dashboard in chronologically order, the end. On Facebook and Twitter, posts are organized for you by algorithms that are closely-guarded company secrets and are, of course, designed with one key goal in mind: Profit. You see what you see on social media because that's what makes Mark and Jack the most cash money.
Cancel culture is not a threat to you. If you were fired because you attended the attempted coup at the Capitol on January 6, "cancel culture" is not at fault. The real threats are the conspiracy theories that hijacked your brain, the politicians who exploited that, and the society that makes it so losing your job can literally kill you.
But there is also a massive problem with social media today, and that is the fact that a couple of massive corporations are having such a huge impact on human society and have so much control over what information you see and how that information is framed. Two dudes named Mark and Jack have an intense amount of power over the shaping of your entire perception of the world.
That's fucked up, folks.
As a professional news regurgitator, I can provide real-world examples of this. I write daily political news articles for a side website of the Daily Dot created for fans of one of those social media accounts that pretends to be God. Though I am given a lot of leeway when it comes to commentary and framing, there are strict content rules we have to follow because otherwise we risk being penalized by Facebook. Most of our clicks, meaning our ad money, comes from Facebook. Without our Facebook page, we'd be sunk and I'd be out of a job.
We have have our reach severely penalized, which in turn is a huge blow to the Daily Dot's profits, and our page threatened with deletion for making jokes about how privileged groups such as men and white people suck. I am not allowed to write "men are trash" in any of my articles and can't even embed a social media post that says this in any of my articles because Facebook's offensive content detector could pick that up. I have even been told that I should not be identifying white people as being white in my articles unless it's absolutely necessary, because pointing out the race we invented might offend white people and Facebook will have our jobs.
The vast majority of my professional stress in this position has been because of this. I have resented Facebook for over two years now because of how much power the platform has over my job and, by extension, my life. I have to stop and consider whether it's okay to point out the race of a white person assaulting a Black person in a nation created by and for white supremacy because some fucking nerd steeped in toxic masculinity got dumped and created a website for ranking women in college by physical attractiveness.
So perhaps you can see why I have zero patience for federal members of congress crying crocodile tears over Parler getting deplatformed because a full 10 percent of the posts on there were calling for the murder of George Soros and their moderators were all VOLUNTEERS.
Here's something you might not know. Yes, there has been a large purge of right-wing accounts on Facebook and Twitter, many of which are by actual nazis, but they're also purging left-wing accounts. Many of the more popular accounts of leftists, communists, and actual anarchists (lol @ people calling the Trump supporters who stormed the Capitol anarchists btw) have been temporarily restricted or banned entirely as these two companies work to quash any political discourse they view as being too radical. God and Radicals makes an interesting point that no institution has had so much power over public discourse and speech since the heyday of the Catholic church.
This isn't about "cancel culture." Reducing this issue to hand-wringing because some rich white guys for once are facing consequences for their actions is just embarrassing. This is about the rich white guys who are controlling what information you get and how that information is framed. This is about the fact that any further power we give them to control that will be used against whatever they see as a threat to their profits, whether it's looking bad for giving nazis a platform or allowing people who think their vast power should be reduced and their vast wealth redistributed to the people to spread those sentiments.
And who benefits? That would be whoever Mark and Jack want to benefit. It will be whoever Mark and Jack decide are "moderate" or "reasonable" voices, like the TIME article written by a neoliberal white dude who says that not only should we not allow any further government regulation of these social media companies, we should be thanking Mark and Jack right now.
And even if you are a US "moderate" (but I gotta remind you that you're solidly right-wing by global standards), do you really want literally two guys to have that much power? Because their politics might not always line up with yours. And even if they did, I would hope that you would be morally and intellectually honest enough to see why that's messed up.
Do I think Trump supporters should have a platform to spread their violent and hateful rhetoric? Hell no. But I believe in community deplatforming, or what Republicans love to call "cancel culture." That is a large group decision, also sometimes referred to as democracy. What I don't like is giving all that power that should be in the hands of the people to two dudes named Mark and Jack.
How do we put that power back in the hands of the people? It's not by disallowing Twitter and Facebook from banning people or transferring that power to the hands of a couple white dudes in government. We need to address the larger problem of so much of our civil discourse being controlled and manipulated by these platforms. How do we do that? You know I'm gonna say abolish capitalism.
But to start, we need to have a real conversation about this. We need to confront the fact that we see the world largely through a filter we call an "algorithm." We do not need to thank Jack and Mark for anything, ever.