Is It Ever OK to Cancel Someone?

Cancel culture has expanded beyond celebrities and influencers—now, anyone can be canceled. But is that a good thing? Two Choices advisers weigh in.

Illustration by Taylor Callery

YES

When a girl at my school was caught spewing racist remarks online, she was canceled: People immediately blocked her on social media and ignored her at school. The girl was suspended for five days, but more important, the episode sparked a movement to stomp out racism at my school. The message: Offensive behavior will be condemned by students and administrators alike. Now if someone does something inappropriate, they’re likely to be confronted by another student or sent to the principal’s office.

This is the power of cancel culture: being able to publicly “call someone out” gives students an effective tool for fighting social injustice in their communities. What’s more, canceling empowers individuals to stand up for themselves with the support of allies. Victims of bigotry may feel more confident telling their stories if they don’t have to speak out alone.

One criticism of cancel culture is that it doesn’t leave room for someone to correct their mistakes. This argument may hold true for celebrities who lose sponsorships and suffer financially when they’re canceled, but it doesn’t apply to non-famous people. If a person genuinely wants to make amends, there are plenty of ways to become “uncanceled.”

For instance, in the case of the girl at my school who posted racist comments online, the Black Student Union invited her to a meeting to give her the opportunity to make amends. Being canceled might be painful, but, at least among teens, it doesn’t have to be permanent.

Even if the person being canceled is unwilling to learn from their mistakes, cancel culture is beneficial for its potential to make people think before they act. Social media makes it dangerously easy to post something without considering the consequences. The threat of being canceled encourages people to post and act responsibly online—a reminder all of us can use. With its power to combat injustice, empower individuals, and promote online civility, cancel culture is one of the most effective tools my generation has for bringing about change.

NO

Imagine waking up to find that your friends have “canceled” you. They’ve unfollowed you on social media, they ignore you at school, and students who don’t even know you think you’re a bad person. Worst of all, you may never be able to redeem yourself. Just imagining this scenario is gut-wrenching. That’s why I think that, as a punishment, cancel culture is just too extreme.

In theory, the point of canceling someone is to call attention to offensive actions and punish people for doing or saying something unacceptable. The problem is, canceling denies the person a chance to share their side of the story and explain what happened.

Worse, people who get canceled have no opportunity to learn from their mistakes and correct their behavior. Instead of creating a dialogue to help the person understand how their actions hurt others, canceling literally shuts down all possibilities of communication. How can you apologize or show that you understand what you did wrong if you’ve been blocked on everyone’s social media and no one will talk to you anymore?

Another problem with cancel culture is that it has become so common, people now use it without any intention of bringing about social change. Instead, it has become a way to launch a social attack on a person, sometimes for very little cause. People search for a reason to cancel each other. For example, in my grade, you can be canceled for posting something to Instagram that your classmates simply don’t agree with, like saying you like a certain band or even a certain type of food. Your classmates might say the cancellation is just a joke, but it still feels horrible when it happens to you. In this way, canceling can feel a lot like plain old bullying.

When a celebrity does something truly awful, being canceled by their fans might be an appropriate response, because the good of the awareness the cancellation raises around an important issue may outweigh the negative repercussions of being canceled for the celebrity. But for students still learning from their experiences, our first instinct should be to talk to each other one-on-one. I’m not against holding people accountable for their actions, but I support giving my peers a second chance.

Tracy Walker

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