Last week, amongst the outpouring of support for the Black Lives Matter movement, social media was also awash with posts about influencers who had previously posted content which went against everything they were posting about online against racism. In fact, their past tweets, blog posts and comments were themselves racist in nature.
Let me start by saying that in no way do I condone racism. I don’t know how it feels to be a minority, I am aware of my own white privilege, but I do know what is right and wrong, and what these people had written in a public domain was most definitely wrong. However, in most cases, these people had said these things many years ago and it is fair to believe that their opinions and attitudes may have changed in this time, and they may no longer act the way they did back then.
Over the past few years, as social media has continued to grow and grow, cancel culture has become commonplace. The act of forcing somebody out, by creating an environment where it is no longer possible to continue, is quite a scary concept, especially for those of us who put ourselves out on the internet. But it is this experience which has made me want to write this post, as I don’t agree with this ‘cancel culture’, but I also don’t agree with making excuses for people who have done something wrong.
If you have made a mistake, regardless of when that mistake was, you have a responsibility as somebody in the public eye, to put your hands up and admit that you are wrong. From there, you should have the chance to show society that you understand your mistake and that you are willing to make amends, to learn from what has happened and to move on, wiser.
One of the bloggers who was pulled up on her past language is somebody who I used to follow on social media. At one point I read every post she published and I loved her outlook on life. Over time, this outlook seemed to shift and change and I no longer found her as relatable so I unfollowed. However, this meant I did recognise her name when it came up on Twitter, regarding the racial slur she had used in a blog post from several years ago.
I saw what people were saying about her being notified several times about the use of the word in the post, and her dismissal of these comments, and I wondered how the blogger would respond. As it turns out, she put out a brief statement and then went silent on social media. Ultimately this wasn’t the ‘right’ thing to do, and comments were left on her social media posts and across Twitter about her actions and insufficient apology.
The blogger in question then reappeared to announce that she would be leaving social media entirely. So had the cancel culture succeeded again, or should this woman have handled the criticism in a different way, accepting the blame and working to show her following that she had indeed changed?
It’s a difficult one, and not something I claim to know the answer to. The other influencers, who I hadn’t really heard of before, have each handled their own criticisms in their own way. One has decided to, at least temporarily, switch off her social media accounts, and the other has posted her apologies and attempted to move on, despite many feeling that she has not sufficiently worked to change her attitude, and comments being left on her new posts saying so.
So what is right? Obviously in an ideal world, people wouldn’t need to be brought up on their past actions, but nobody is perfect, everybody has a past, and sometimes people’s actions are wrong and need to be addressed in order to move on and become a better person. The death of Caroline Flack earlier in the year resulted in a massive outpouring of ‘be kind’ on social media. Caroline herself had been subjected to cancel culture, after she made her own mistakes (involving allegations of domestic violence towards her partner).
Ultimately the hatred she received from society online led to her taking her own life. So, although some will view the announcement from this blogger that she is closing the door on her social media as cowardice, perhaps it is important to remember that online opinions can have a serious impact on mental health. The woman in question has previously been vocal about her own mental health, and she is currently heavily pregnant, so I think her decision is right. After all, do those criticising her really want to push her to breaking point?
Yes, what these people have said and done was wrong, and I am not trying to diminish the importance of the Black Lives Matter movement, or stand up for them, but I don’t feel comfortable with this ‘cancel culture’ either, and the repercussions it can have on an individual’s mental health. Surely there is another way to encourage change, without targeting an individual until they feel like there is no escape?