Social media gives people a platform to speak to large audiences, generate discussion, and promote ideas to initiate change. Being in the spotlight opens the door for amazing opportunities but it also opens the door for critique, opinion, and the possibility of becoming “canceled.” Being canceled means you are rejected by the media and usually leads to a massive loss in followers and support. Old videos surface, old tweets trend, or past experiences are brought to light by old friends. Celebrities usually respond with long, drawn-out, apology videos that appear as sob stories rather than genuine apologies.
You may ask yourself, “How did cancel culture come about?”
Celebrities have been being “canceled” for years now, but it has only entered our vernacular recently due to the massive increase of internet scandals and the size and speed of media. Marshall McLuhan views all objects as extensions of ourselves. These extensions according to McLuhan’s The Medium is the Massage, “invoke in us unique ratios of sense perceptions.” Therefore technologies such as our phones, computers, and televisions are extensions of ourselves. They “alter the way we think and act- the way we perceive the world.” Social media users perceive celebrities or influencers as untouchable figures, available to be picked apart and analyzed.
Most recently, the platform, YouTube, has been the forefront for cancel culture in social media. Why? The permanent nature of YouTubers’ medium allows viewers to uncover old published videos that possess ignorant racist, sexist, or homophobic slurs and references. Anything published on the internet is there forever in some way shape or form.
YouTube is not only permanent, but it also reaches millions of people. Popular YouTubers are able to speak to millions of people in seconds. Controversial videos often make it to the top of trending charts and are further discussed on other social media platforms such as Instagram, Tik Tok, or Twitter.
McLuhan examined the nature of privacy and responsibility in his work Understanding Media: The extensions of man. McLuhan observed how, “individuals began to be held responsible and accountable for their “private actions.” YouTubers have a sense of hyper accountability on and offline. This means every single action they take and word they speak must be calculated to ensure they will remain in good standing with their large audiences. There exists a fine line between acting calculated and acting genuine on social platforms. YouTubers specifically struggle to succeed in either, and constantly find themselves at the fault of their viewers.
Social media is a medium that gives users the ability to cut, paste, and alter messages to fit what they believe will be best received by their audiences. Not only are creators able to do so, but their audiences are able to as well. Many viewers will edit past and present videos to paint YouTubers in the worst possible way in order to gain likes and views. This reinforces cancel culture and encourages overly critical mindsets.
McLuhan wants us to be social critics of the world. He wants us to question our environments and be aware of its flaws. There are many benefits to being critical of our environments, especially in our society today. With greater education and drive for change, our generation advocates for social justice, a result of critiquing our current environment. While we should be critical thinkers, our generation has taken this to the extreme. As a result, we have developed “cancel culture” which works to tear down those who are successful for ignorant mistakes from their past. In order to end this toxic behavior and spread of ideas, we must become more compassionate and learn to discuss and educate each other rather than impulsively “cancel” others.