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The Good, the Bad and Ugly of Cancel Culture

Whether you use social media for advocacy, dispelling myths, or even posting some great selfies, developing an online presence can open a world of support from others around the globe. However, because everyone is entitled to an opinion, it can also result in messy debates depending on what you decide to share, or even better, what you decide to ‘Cancel’. In recent years, social media, online communities and platforms have made sure no one is a stranger to ‘cancel culture’.

Now there is a worldwide platform in the form of social media for everyone to speak their minds. Almost at the click of a button, a person can call out a celebrity or a person with influence and others who agree with them follow. Having the power of a tool like social media, where a lot of people follow a herd mentality, it is easier to make a mountain out of a molehill and get people to follow along. The world saw a lot of cancelations on social media throughout 2020 and 2021, and as if our Mental Health wasn’t suffering enough with the devastating effects of the pandemic, cancel culture sure served as the icing on the cake for those unfortunate souls who had to experience cancel culture first hand. In this piece, we will look at understanding cancel culture as well as the Mental Health implications of it.

“Cancel Culture”, the phenomenon of promoting the “cancelling” of people, brands, and even shows or movies due to what some consider offensive or problematic remarks, ideologies, or corporate leadership, isn’t actually a new concept. Cancel culture is in essence the evolution of the term boycotting and can be viewed as a contemporary form of ostracism, in which someone is eliminated socially or professionally, typically online, on social media, or even in person. Looking at a broader level, when an individual gets cancelled, they might be at the risk of other harmful and toxic situations such as facing public ridicule (usually driven by fear, hatred and anger), being at the receiving end of offensive and hateful comments and remarks (particularly on social media), experiencing shame, facing social rejection, being at the receiving end of collective bullying - particularly on social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter and also in some situations, Mental health concerns such as depression and anxiety.

The terms ‘cancel culture’ and ‘calling out culture’ are often used interchangeably, but it is important to understand that they are different. While Call out culture is about calling attention to someone's wrongdoing and giving them a chance to learn; Cancel culture, does not give the person the chance to learn from their mistake and instead, the person is immediately labelled as "bad." Speaking up against bad behaviour is important and speaking up when you think someone has said something offensive and wrong is a good thing. It helps our society progress and creates a more equal and fairer world for everyone. However, the difference between correcting someone on something they said and cancelling them is that cancel culture is done using shame and gives the person no opportunity to apologise, be forgiven for and learn from their mistakes. Where Cancel Culture is involved, there is very little room for error and the slightest hiccup or mistake can result in a person being cancelled.

Cancel Culture has become a concern for Mental Health practitioners as owing to cancel culture, individuals might face isolation, bullying, and an overall lack of support that can induce or add another dimension to pre-existing Mental Health conditions such as anxiety and depression. There are several Mental Health implications of Cancel culture and there are a whole host of reasons as to why ”getting cancelled” is terrible for our mental health. Research suggests that anxiety and depression are at an all-time high because of cancel culture as individuals who get cancelled feel extremely isolated, lonely and feel as though no one will accept them. As the adage goes that ‘To err is human’, unfortunately cultivating cancel culture leaves little room for mistakes and even less room for redemption. The motive behind calling someone out should be to help them and others grow and cancel culture does none of that. Additionally, cancel culture becomes even more undeniably toxic when it involves criminal threats, invasion of privacy (doxing), or driving a person to suicide.

When someone is cancelled out, it is usually fuelled by anonymous users online and followed by a pact of users calling out the person in question. The aim of the movement is to get as much people on board to shame the person for what they have done. It is like making a mistake and a hall full of people start crowding in to yell at you and point fingers. This shaming and targeting can induce feelings of anxiety, fear and affect an individual’s self-esteem. Cancel culture functions by building momentum. The noise caused by the online users comes across as much more believable than anything the person being cancelled could ever defend them self with which can make the person being targeted to feel more cornered, alone, bullied and victimised. It is a cruel and manipulative form of calling people out and offers no room for progression or growth.

What cancel culture teaches us is that if someone does something wrong, or speaks up on something the majority doesn’t agree with then we must stop supporting them immediately, no if’s or buts - this can lead to black and white thinking as well. They are over, cancelled, finished and never to be heard from again. They are then branded with the mark of cancellation - a tag which becomes hard for individual’s to shake off and it goes on to impact not just their self-esteem, future prospects but also their sense of wellbeing. It can also make them afraid to share their opinion and speak up in fear of facing the wrath of an angry online mob again, and this stifles their voices.

Let’s remember that no one’s perfect, we all say and do things that can come across wrong at times to someone and there may also be times where we say something without realising that it might be hurtful or offensive. We are all human and we make mistakes, but the way we progress and grow is by learning from our mistakes.

The issue with Cancel Culture is that it achieves absolutely nothing because it only gives the pack of cancellers an ego boost and leaves the person being cancelled suffering with horrific mental side effects such as guilt, paranoia, embarrassment and even depression without an opportunity to learn from their mistakes and improve. It is important and humane to demonstrate understanding, respect and compassion to those around us regardless of how widely different their opinions might be. The future of Mental Health depends on it.

Perhaps it is time to introspect and cancel Cancel Culture, for good.


Written by: Yash Mehrotra

May, 2022


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