Cancel culture puts free expression in jeopardy

May 5, 2023


As you scroll through your social media feed, you come across an opinion that gets your blood boiling. You want to speak up and express your viewpoint, but the fear of being attacked holds you back. Will your opinion be respected, or will it be met with hostility and the threat of social banishment?

Cancel culture, which is the act of boycotting or shaming individuals or groups for saying or doing something that is deemed offensive or inappropriate, has become an increasingly common phenomenon. 

It is now affecting everyone from celebrities to everyday people. While the intention behind cancel culture is to hold people accountable for their actions, the negative effects of this phenomenon exceed any potential benefits.

One of the main issues with cancel culture is its impact on free speech by creating a chilling effect where people are afraid to speak their minds for fear of being ostracized or reprimanded.

The lack of nuance and context in cancel culture leads to a toxic environment that is intolerant of mistakes and personal growth.

A 2022 survey conducted by the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, a nonprofit civil liberties group, found that almost 60% of Americans believe that the nation’s democracy is in danger due to the fear of expressing one’s opinions. This undermines democratic values and limits the ability to engage in meaningful dialogue and debate.

Cancel culture is also unfair and unjust, as it often lumps together individuals who have committed vastly different offenses. For example, the cancellation of R&B singer R. Kelly for his multiple sexual assault charges is not equivalent to the cancellation of model Chrissy Teigen for her acts of cyberbullying. The lack of nuance and context in cancel culture leads to a toxic environment that is intolerant of mistakes and personal growth.


Furthermore, cancel culture takes a toll on the mental health of those who experience it. Constant online harassment and public shaming can lead to anxiety, depression and even suicide, according to Refocus, an addiction treatment center in Australia.

This is not a healthy or productive way to encourage people to take responsibility for their actions. It is important to hold individuals accountable, but it must be done in a way that promotes understanding and reconciliation.

Cancel culture also creates a distraction from real issues by focusing on minor infractions rather than systemic problems. While it is necessary to address individual incidents of racism, sexism and homophobia, cancel culture often puts more energy into tearing down individuals than dismantling oppressive systems and structures.

Moreover, cancel culture tends to be selective in who it targets. Some individuals, like comedians Bo Burnham and Kevin Hart, have been able to weather the storm of cancel culture despite making offensive comments, while others, like former “Saturday Night Live” cast member Shane Gillis, have been canceled without opportunity for redemption. This inconsistency sends a mixed message about what behavior is acceptable and what consequences are appropriate.

Cancel culture may seem like a quick fix to address problematic behaviors, but, in actuality, it operates as a misdirected snooze button that keeps going off.

We need to wake up and acknowledge that the negative impacts of cancel culture far outweigh its attempts to hold people responsible.

Instead, people should encourage a culture that does not hit “cancel” at the first sign of misunderstanding or disagreement.

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