With the ever-growing popularity of social media, anyone with internet access has the ability to grow a following and share their life online. However, as a result of the huge growth in social platforms, a culture in “cancelling” public figures has taken shape. 

What does it mean to be “#Cancelled”? 

Cancel culture or being “#cancelled” is essentially an online punishment given to influencers, creators, celebrities, brands (etc)  after unforgivable mishaps in the form of mass public shaming. Being involved in cancel culture has become hugely popular online to the point that in August 2019 YouTube rounded off all subscriber numbers to stop viewers watching the rise and fall in cancelled creators’ followers. 

Prior to the recent popularity in cancel culture, being “cancelled” was in fact just a colloquial term used by twitterers in relation to something ‘cringeworthy’ done by a public figure. Then cancel culture was almost harmless… but is this still the case?  

The rise of cancel culture. 

In May 2019, one of the biggest influencer feuds occurred. Social media stars James Charles and Tati Westbrook took to YouTube to essentially ‘expose’ and ‘cancel’ each other for an audience of millions. James Charles, a 21-year-old beauty influencer with a now subscriber count of 22.8 million, was quickly ‘#cancelled’ by the internet after Tati’s (GlamLifeGuru) efforts to take down his career amid speculation of predatory behavior. Internet users saw James’ subscriber count fall drastically from 16.5 million to just under 14 million in 72 hours with the hashtags “#JamesCharlesIsCancelled” and “#JamesCharlesIsOverParty trending over all social platforms for days. This may be the biggest example of a cancelled public figure; although it was certainly not the first and most definitely wasn’t the last. 

“So what?” you may ask, “it’s only followers”. Cancel culture results in huge public relations scandals for those involved, it is no longer about the drop in followers and frankly the least of their worries.  

PR Nightmare. 

From a PR and business perspective, being cancelled is your worst nightmare. To you or me it may seem like nonsense, it’s only losing a few million followers and life goes on but to a public figure it is ‘social suicide’. As a result of being ‘#cancelled’ these influencers and figures lose huge contracts with brands as these brands are now skeptical of damaging their own image by supporting these deemed cancelled individuals. For example, another beauty industry creator Laura Lee was previously cancelled by the internet for her past racist comments over twitter. As a result, Laura lost ties with several major sponsors and even had her makeup line revoked from beauty retailer ‘Morphe’ indefinitely.


The Debate

One of the biggest mainstream cancels this year was J.K Rowling for her transphobic and misogynistic comments; an unexpected scandal that kick started a wider cancel culture debate. Should we allow cancel culture and is it ethical? The pros of cancel culture can seem obvious to most as the public can seek accountability for inexcusable actions, in particular where the justice system has failed. For example, looking at the #metoo movement, cancel culture allows abusers to be cancelled as we saw with Harvey Weinstein. On the other hand, anti-cancel culture individuals highlight the increase in online bullying that leads to violence and threats often worse than the wrongdoing they’re calling out to begin with. Many cancelled individuals reveal the death threats and violent warnings they receive from internet trolls while being cancelled, and often confess to suicidal thoughts and PTSD as a result, like James Charles did during his scandal. So are we taking cancel culture too far? Is cancel culture even productive or is it just toxic?  

Elise Ralph is a final year BSc in Communication Management & Public Relations student at Ulster University. She can be found on LinkedIn