Cancel Culture and Social Media
Denying Free Speech or an Expression of Capitalism?
Yesterday I looked at the history of the cancel culture. In today's blog I examine how social media impacts the cancel culture. Social media posts reflect the historical movement from offline to online cancel culture including bullying behavior.
When we think of the cancel culture what comes to mind right away is how social media is used to call someone out for their words or actions as offensive to a group. Those offended go on social media and start a firestorm of criticism against the offending party. Before you know it, others have taken to the internet to voice their views. The result may be to cancel the offending party by denying them the status they may have achieved or blacklisting them in the mind of the public. It some respects it is like ostracizing a person or group. However, in other cases it is an expression of capitalism, which is where a company is boycotted by the public. The public stops buying a product and uses social media to influence others to do the same.
Social media is where a molehill becomes a mountain. Once an issue hits the virtual realm, it is no longer subject to private resolution—it is out there for the world to judge, critique, and potentially fight for. Right or wrong, with or without all the facts, workplace problems become everyone’s business. In my last blog I addressed workplace problems that might ensue.
Whether the public punishment corresponds to the act that sparked it may be up for debate, but the growing number of such incidents has fueled controversy over what has become known as "cancel culture." Critics of cancel culture say the process stifles free expression, inhibits the exchange of ideas and keeps people from straying from their comfort zones. Others, however, argue that it has empowered people to challenge the status quo and demand accountability from those in positions of power.
Cancelling Out or an Expression of Capitalism
In many cases the goal of the cancel culture is to steer the public away from buying the product of a company that is being called out. In this regard it is a form of boycott and an expression of capitalism. After all, making a person or organization pay for their controversial words or actions has gone on for many years.
The goal of a boycott is the withdrawal of financial support, political support, social, economic support to silence someone or an organization by withdrawing attention to it by actively seeking to deny them a forum for their ideas and, in some cases, boycotting their product by the public. A recent case in point is Mike Lindell, the “My Pillow” guy who was an ardent supporter of Trump and conspiracy theorist of how the election was stolen from him.
Lindell co-chaired the president's reelection campaign in Minnesota and has helped fund Trump lawyers Sidney Powell and Lin Wood. After Trump lost the election in November, they peddled the false theory that he was the victim of voter fraud.
This conspiracy theory was a catalyst for the hundreds of insurgents who swarmed the Capitol building on January 6, resulting in the deaths of five people. Lindell has claimed that the insurrectionists were Antifa activists, not Trump supporters.
Lindell was quickly denounced and companies acted to take his product off their shelves including Wayfair, Bed Bath & Beyond, Kohl's, and H-E-B. All dropped My Pillow products, leading Lyndell to claim he is the victim of cancel culture. He laments the attacks against his company and the price he has paid for exercising his free speech rights. Estimates are the lost revenue to the company will be $65 million.
Some say Lindell should only blame himself for his business woes. He publicly aligned himself with a historically unpopular political figure and remained by his side after he incited an insurrection at the Capitol building. He had to know he was putting his business in jeopardy by publicly supporting a man who is one of the most disliked in the country.
Boycotting an Individual or Product
It is not unusual for the public to react to offensive comments or actions by a company by boycotting their product. Lindell is not the victim of a woke mob, he is a perfect example of what happens in a properly functioning capitalist system. One of the freedoms of the capitalist system is getting to vote with your wallet. Companies and consumers do not want to support a brand that is fronted by a guy who supported an attempt to overthrow the U.S government. They would rather give their hard-earned pillow money to someone else.
Another famous case of the cancel culture at work is JK Rowling of Harry Potter fame. She was cancelled for ant-trans remarks and for using anti-feminist lyrics. It started after she tweeted her support for Maya Forstater, a tax specialist who lost her job for what were deemed ‘transphobic’ tweets. Forstater, a British researcher lost her job at a nonprofit think tank following a series of tweets that were criticized as transphobic. Forstater, filed a complaint against the think tank, the Center for Global Development, which works to reduce global poverty. The judge said Forstater's speech violated the "dignity" of transgender people and was not protected under U.K. law. Rowling sent her tweet shortly after the decision became public.
Rowling's public support of Forstater after the judge's ruling sparked accusations of "transphobia" from LGBTQ advocates. Rowling has more than 14 million followers on Twitter, and many have commented that it is "dangerous" for a public figure with that large a following to voice her support for Forstater.
Effects on American Society
The cancel culture is a phenomenon with wide-reaching effects on American culture in all forms. From politicians to famous authors, sports figures, entertainers, and everyone in between, the cancel culture is dangerous because it seeks to deny someone the freedom of speech. It stifles dissent and creates an environment of fear in the minds of those cancelled by the public. However, there are instances when the cancel culture is justified, especially when it results in the boycott of a product – an expression of capitalism -- and distinctions should be made.
A statement attributed to Lao Tzu, a mystic philosopher of ancient China best known as the author of the Lao Tzo (The Way and Its Power), which is the original Taoist text published in the 3rd century, is instructive when characterizing how someone can get into trouble for their words or actions and become cancelled is as follows.
“Watch your thoughts, they become your words; watch your words, they become your actions, watch your actions, they become your habits; watch your habits, they become your character; watch your character, it becomes your destiny.”
Posted by Dr. Steven Mintz, The Ethics Sage, on May 6, 2021. You can sign up for his newsletter and learn more about his activities at: https://www.stevenmintzethics.com/. Follow him on Facebook at: https://www.facebook.com/StevenMintzEthics and on Twitter at: https://twitter.com/ethicssage.