Social Justice vs. Polarizing Mentality: The Ethics of Cancel Culture

Written by: Mariah

Edited by: Martin

Visual by: Sarah

J.K. Rowling received backlash for her transphobic claims. 3 million people unsubscribed from Shane Dawson after his old videos resurfaced revealing his racist and pedophilic remarks. Ellen DeGeneres faced allegations for her inconsiderate behavior towards her co-workers and interviewees. To quote Twitter lingo, all of these celebrities have been “canceled”. The act of canceling refers to modern-day ostracism. If someone has said or done something considered offensive or disagreeable, then others should retract their support for that person. Another act that ties in with canceling is calling out the individuals for their wrongdoing. Although the term seems relatively new, cancel culture has been prevalent for several decades. Cancel culture holds individuals accountable for their misconduct. However, it also has some toxic aspects.

Cancel culture has been effective in combating sexism and racism, among other types of social wrongdoing. People of color, women, and other marginalized communities are able to voice their opinions with just one tweet. It demands social change and addresses inequalities that the justice system fails to acknowledge. For example, producer Harvey Weinstein evaded lawsuits and sexual abuse allegations for 25 years until the #MeToo movement started. Public pressure from social media prompted police action, and in 2018, Weinstein was charged with six counts of sexual abuse. By expressing dissent, cancel culture forces dynamic and necessary change.

On the other hand, cancel culture is not entirely ethical. At its core, the culture is fueled by a polarizing pack mentality. Social media has promoted the democratization of public shaming. It encourages people to be quick to dismiss and reluctant to forgive, which creates a toxic environment that does not allow anyone to correct their behavior or learn from their mistakes. Cancelling individuals without giving them a chance to resolve their issues does not lead to equality and justice; it only alienates them further. However trite it may be, mistakes are what make us human, and are important in our growth and development. Cancel culture denies individuals opportunities to apologize and to be absolved, as it deems that individuals are irredeemable. For example, when Kevin Hart, a comedian, profusely apologized for his past homophobic tweets, many netizens did not accept it. In cancel culture, a written or verbal apology is never enough – it demands that the individual must be de-platformed. Even after a celebrity has been redeemed, the impacts of cancel culture still stain their reputation.

The toxicity of cancel culture permeates into the real world, too. In a world where one can be attacked for their seemingly disagreeable opinions, some start to develop fears of being canceled. Cancel culture may have taught individuals to keep their behaviors in check, but now it intimidates and shames people for their beliefs. Cancel culture has infiltrated society’s morals to the point where individuals are afraid to learn and speak up.

Calling out an individual for their wrongdoings promotes social justice, especially if the actions deliberately hurt and discriminate against others. But elements of public shaming and shutting down have been counterproductive as they have cultivated an atmosphere of fear that leaves no room for transformative change. We all have committed mistakes in the past, and we all deserve second chances, even on the internet. Instead of canceling people, we should choose to converse with them and allow them to learn from their mistakes. Perhaps someday, Twitter will cancel cancel culture. Until then, we must learn to express our opinions with respect and treat people with understanding.

Works Cited:

D’amour, Alexandra. “Cancel Culture: The Good, the Bad, & Its Impact on Social Change.” On Our Moon, 22 Sept. 2019,

Silverton, Lily. “All the Reasons Why Cancel Culture Is so Toxic for Our Mental Health.” British Vogue, British Vogue, 5 Mar. 2021,