In recent years, free speech and cancel culture have been in a constant battle. Since 2014, cancel culture has grown in a way that is harmful towards society. In addition, this span of cancel culture now conflicts with aspects of free speech. It has become an assault on our 1st Amendment rights.
Origins of Cancel Culture
Believe it or not, cancel culture started with a song. The song Your Love is Canceled by Chic is where it was first used. The song compares breakups to the cancellation of TV shows. Although it had not formed its current identity, it still held the expression that cancellation of something. However, its earliest application was in 1991’s New Jack City. This was the first time that it was used to describe the cancellation of a person.
As you can see, early cancel culture was more of a reference. It did not have a social movement behind it. However, that would change in 2014 with the arrival of the #MeToo movement.
From Reference to Social Movement
In 2014, cancel culture’s use was changed. As The #MeToo movement became more prominent, “call-out culture” was a focus. For this new movement, that means calling out individuals that have sexually harassed or hurt women in the work environment. This could even include male employees who could be facing the same issue but are less likely to report.
As a culture, this is fine. After all, it was supposed to bring to light individuals that were getting away with terrible things. This would allow action to be taken so their power would be ‘canceled.’ A great example of someone who probably deserves the wrath of cancel culture is R. Kelly. And it has worked against shrinking his influence over people by calling out his behavior. Overall, this is the most appropriate way to use cancel culture in this author’s opinion. After all, anyone who commits those sexual harassment and assault against others does not deserve to hold their position of power. However, the use of cancel culture expanded beyond canceling people who deserve it.
The Cancel Culture Spiral
Although “call-out culture” towards people who commit horrible deeds was a great start, cancel culture went downhill quickly. Instead of targeting people who deserve to be canceled, it went after people that committed minor offenses. Cancel culture became less about exposing people who need to be held accountable for their actions and more about people’s personal decisions and words. Regardless if it was serious or a jest.
In 2015, this version of cancel culture went viral. People started to shame people online for the personal decisions of a single individual. Outrage and mob mentality dominated the scene as a single tweet could make hundreds of people target a single person. Isolated instances became more common. In the end, cancel culture became an outrage culture. And this outrage culture has become antithetical to free speech principles.
Free Speech Against Cancel Culture
When canceled culture began, it was not an enemy of free speech. In fact, its single focus on speaking out against people was one of the ideals of 1st Amendment principles. What people were doing was using their rights to speak out against individuals. As long as it was not slanderous, then people could say what they want. Basically, it was a symbiotic relationship. However, as the culture’s target changed, it found itself at odds with free speech.
After all, people’s speech is protected. If someone has an objection to what an individual says, they can express it. However, cancel culture has made this basic social dynamic a war zone. After all, there is a difference between expressing your opinion and having a mob trying to cancel and silence you. This is a bit of a challenge because this mobbing is allowed. However, context is important to see how this affects free speech.
Just imagine you make an opinion on an event. For example, it could be about police brutality or internet censorship. Either way, it is something you believe. The next thing you know, people are reposting your message. People are commenting about how you do not deserve a voice. Suddenly, your job does not want you to come in. Your friends are avoiding you. So all you can do is go silent. Because you are afraid of what people will do next. This is called a true threat. When an individual uses their words to intimidate a person or group to stay silent. This use of fear is an active threat to freedom of speech.
People can justify using these threats, especially through social media to silence people because they don’t agree or want their opinions.
Free Speech Needs to Win
When it comes to cancel culture, free speech principles need to win. While cancel culture started with good intentions, the evolution has caused it to become a true threat to free speech in the United States. This is an issue for everyone, because of the acceptance of silencing voices. Where and when people cannot speak because of fear, free speech will not exist.