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Cancel Culture Explained

America loves social media. Whether we use our platforms to interact with friends and family, actively voice our opinions on current events, or share memes with our friends, most people are either on social media or are aware of its existence. The same could not be said less than 20 years ago when social media was first being introduced into the mainstream. Now, platforms like Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter are referenced in everyday personal and professional conversations.

Social media has changed the way we do business. It has changed the way that we interact with the world. The public has gained access to platforms where they can freely express their feelings and opinions on any topic or discussion of debate for public viewing and interaction. Traditionally, access to the public was reserved to those who were backed by some sort of credibility. The social media revolution has not only impacted how we receive information, but also how we interact with the information.

As the social media revolution continues to grow and expand into new territories, people are being introduced to speech that they disagree with on a more frequent basis. Views that, until recently, were never granted access to the mainstream media bypass the traditional outlets and enjoy publicity on their own terms.

Public platforms on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter gain popularity through marketing. The better you are at marketing yourself, the more views and interactions you may achieve. Access to the public is no longer based on credibility or merit alone, but rather popularity. This has flooded the free market of ideas with misinformation and ideas that some argue are dangerous to society. The people were not prepared for this influx of unpopular speech, nor were they equipped with the resources needed to address dissent.

Prior to the revolution, unpopular speech was challenged in the courts. The cases challenged in courts, when oversimplified, were often pertaining to relatively peaceful demonstrations confined to small areas that rarely received nationwide attention. Expressions of dissent that did enjoy nationwide attention were driven by media narrative and not by the voices of those in protest. Although people convicted of crimes related to the content of their speech were often victorious when tried in court, the government and the media maintained a level of control over what forms of speech were publicized and which were ostracized.

Speakers who did not echo the messages of the masses did not enjoy real access to the public until the social media revolution. Today, protesters from every cause and organization are given the opportunity to publicly express their message. We no longer only receive the filtered narrative formulated by the media. The social media revolution has granted us behind-the-scenes access to a variety of different outlets to learn new information.

Major social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter have recently made attempts to limit misinformation or speech that is of particular danger to society, but most forms of speech find their way to a public audience, even if its lifespan is short-lived. People who are accustomed to speech being filtered by the media and the government are now being introduced to ideas that offend their very way of life.

People who would have previously supported free speech if asked as a survey question are more likely to welcome government restrictions on speech that they perceive as valueless to society. People are learning for the first time that the expression of radical views that challenge traditional ways of thinking and their publication are protected from government action by the First Amendment.

This all happened rather quickly, and we live in a country that reacts when met with what we perceive to be a crisis. We can no longer go on our phones or laptops without being bombarded with articles and posts that both agree and disagree with our own personal thought processes. The content that echoes what we already believe to be true is non problematic. The problem arises when we come in contact with speech to which we disagree. When we see something that we disagree with gaining public attention, our natural instincts overwhelm us, oftentimes causing us to overreact to situations.

The people have evolved from the government’s failed attempts to silence unpopular speech using the courts. Discouraged by these failures and outraged by the newly surfacing content circulating social media platforms, the people have discovered a new way to silence speech they hate. This practice is best known as ‘canceling.’ The act of canceling someone is to raise awareness of their behavior, spark outrage, and force the person out of the public spotlight.

Major corporations have made significant changes to their marketing and branding efforts in direct response to ‘cancel culture.’ Celebrities, athletes, and politicians have all made public statements apologizing for past jokes, comments, and other actions they have taken during the duration of their entire life. Historical statues have been removed by both the hands of the people and governments because of their present implications. Tolerance for disagreement appears to be at an all-time-low in modern history, while the power to silence dissent is at an all-time-high.

Cancel Culture is a product of the social media revolution and the overreaction to the circulation of previously filtered speech and its public availability. While the culture does not directly impose a threat to our First Amendment right to free speech, their utilization of market forces to silence unpopular speech has created a chilling effect on any speech that goes against the new way of thinking.

Not allowing ideas to flow freely restricts our ability to achieve best societal practices. If we cannot openly discuss the issues we are currently facing without fear of being canceled, efficient and effective solutions will never be achieved. Instead, we will have solutions that lack real-world application due to the chilling effect placed on opposing ideas. Cancel Culture is the new effort to silence the speech that we hate, and an end to the culture is nowhere in sight.

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