The modern perception of media discourse has become one of the major contributors to the genesis and development of an innovative model of social cognition driven by the influence of events and images represented in social media platforms. As the impact of social media increases at an unprecedented rate, research questions the value of such a tool by characterizing its beneficial and detrimental aspects (Hemsley et al., 2018). In previously, people were the mahoe actors in terms of managing the image on social media, today’s power of this instrument has gone far beyond an impact that one individual may have over another.
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A prime example of such power is the rise and rapid dissemination of cancel culture. According to Clark (2020), cancel culture stands for ‘an expression of agency, a choice to withdraw one’s attention from someone or something whose values, (in)action or speech are so offensive, one no longer wishes to grace them with their presence, time, and money’ (p. 1). Although the phenomenon itself has already obtained mass recognition in the media world, the attitude to the ‘canceling’ as a process remains rather controversial in terms of the range of precedents and behavioral patterns that justify the ethical predispositions of marginalizing people.
Thus, the purpose of the following research is to define the extent to which active social media users perceive cancel culture to be a manifestation of justice. Essentially, the research aims at defining some common precedents to canceling individuals and outlining the overall users’ attitude to boycotting people for certain actions. The present study will be significant for the overall research due to the fact that the phenomenon of cancel culture is relatively new for the sociological paradigm, and little information is currently present on the matter of users’ perception of the culture’s appropriateness in today’s media discourse. The research questions of the study are as follows:
- How do modern social media users feel about the rapid increase of ‘canceled’ individuals?
- What are the possible precedents that justify one’s decision to ‘cancel’ an individual on social media?
- Does the timeline of a precedent discussed (when exactly the precedent happened) affect one’s decision to ‘cancel’ an individual on social media?
The objectives of the present study include:
- Analyzing the phenomenon of cancel culture in the context of the modern media theoretical frameworks;
- Defining social media users’ attitude to the cancel culture;
- Outlining the most common reasons and actions that justify one’s ‘canceling’;
- Defining the significance of the time gap between the precedent and one’s ‘canceling.’
Considering the information above, one may assume that the concept of cancel culture has a tremendous impact on modern society and one’s consideration of individual actions in the social context. However, it is vital to define the extent to which modern social media users conform or criticize the phenomenon.
The literature review relevant for the aforementioned topic will concern two major perspectives:
- the considerations of media theorists who examined media’s role in socio-cultural cognition and personal image creation;
- the existing research focusing on the widespread adoption of cancel culture and its origins.
The first and arguably the most significant aspect of media theory in terms of characterizing cancel culture is the analysis of public opinion and its contribution to the overall social hierarchy. Habermas was one of the first theorists to outline the notion of a public sphere that stood for the environment where public opinion formed and evolved (Wessler, 2019). According to the scholar, media should be considered a tool for exercising democracy. Thus, it is vital to perceive the process of ‘canceling’ someone as people’s inherent right for public opinion and the consequences that follow this right.
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Another important theoretical framework to consider in the context is John Berger’s fundamental work ‘Ways of seeing,’ a collection of theorist’s assumptions on how the context of specific media content may alter people’s perception of the same event (Conlin, 2021). Another core phenomenon to be addressed in terms of cancel culture is the theory of moral panic presented by Cohen in 2002. Essentially, the author states that moral panic is a process of somebody or something being marginalized from society and regarded as a threat after the empowered sector of society declares them as such (Watson and Williams, 2018). As far as the perception of social identity is concerned, is it necessary to address the works of Erik Erikson, who defined the fundamentals of the transactional approach to identify formation, emphasizing the interrelation between one’s ‘self’ and social context (Rogers, 2018). Finally, the process of perceiving information that might be crucial to one’s decision to cancel an individual is closely associated with the theory of encoding and decoding information. According to Hall (2018), there are four major ways of encoding the text, namely, full acceptance, negotiated position, oppositional position, and aberrant reading. Thus, it may be concluded that there are many media theorists who anticipated the power of social thought in media and its complications for separate individuals or social groups.
Although there are not many publications on this relatively new topic, some research studies may serve as a foundation for the present research. In a study conducted by Ng (2020), the author analyzed the scopes of digital media’s role in terms of enforcing and popularizing cancel culture. Williams (2021) ponders the relevance of cancel culture in the context of rapid social changes while promoting the demand for critical evaluation of the situation prior to labeling someone as ‘canceled.’ Saint-Louis (2021) tries to dwell on the issue of unequal allocation of cancel labels through the prism of misogyny, as the author suggests that women tend to be more discriminated against when canceled by society. Finally, Rom and Mitchell (2021) present exhaustive research of cancel culture’s impact on teaching political science. All of the aforementioned studies may help define a current background on the impact of cancel culture on the population and social patterns.
The target population for the present research will be social media users born after 1990, also known as millennials and zoomers. This population tends to take the most active part in terms of social judgment and the use of social media. With the help of a quantitative research framework, a sample of approximately 377 millennial/Gen Z social media users will participate in a survey comprising 15 questions. The questions will concern the participants’ personal canceling experience, their overall attitude to the phenomenon, and a number of simulated scenarios in which participants will have to define whether the actors should be canceled. The answer options will be presented in the form of a scale varying between extreme options such as ‘yes’ and ‘no,’ ‘strongly agree’ and ‘strongly disagree.’ To calculate the results, a statistical analysis will be employed to calculate the mean of the answers. Socio-cultural variables of the population will be included in the analysis for the sake of objectivity. The possible limitations of the study include the limited sample collection and lack of previous research on the topic of cancel culture’s perception among social media users.
Clark, M. (2020) ‘Drag them: a brief etymology of so-called “cancel culture”,’ Communication and the Public, 5(3-4), pp.88-92.
Conlin, J. (2021) ‘Lost in transmission? John Berger and the origins of Ways of Seeing (1972),’ History Workshop Journal, 90, pp. 142-163.
Hall, S. (2018) ‘Popular culture, politics and history,’ Cultural Studies, 32(6), pp.929-952.
Hemsley, J., Jacobson, J., Gruzd, A. and Mai, P. (2018) ‘Social media for social good or evil: An introduction,’ Social Media + Society, 4(3). Web.
Ng, E. (2020) ‘No grand pronouncements here…: reflections on cancel culture and digital media participation,’ Television & New Media, 21(6), pp. 621-627.
Rogers, L.O. (2018) ‘Who am I, who are we? Erikson and a transactional approach to identity research,’ Identity, 18(4), pp.284-294.
Rom, M.C. and Mitchell, K. (2021) ‘Teaching politics in a call-out and cancel culture,’ Political Science & Politics, 54(3), pp.610-614.
Saint-Louis, H. (2021) ‘Understanding cancel culture: normative and unequal sanctioning,’ First Monday, 26(7). Web.
Watson, K. and Williams, S. (2018) ‘The common core moral panic,’ North American Chapter of the International Group for the Psychology of Mathematics Education. Web.
Wessler, H. (2019) Habermas and the media. New York: John Wiley & Sons.