Cancel Culture

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ancel culture
, also called 'call-out culture', is a term used to describe the act of boycotting people, usually public figures, who share controversial opinions or have done something in the past that a group of people find offensive. A person getting 'canceled' usually culminates as a large series of posts on social media websites that start to go viral. Posts that elicit strong feelings, whether positive or negative, tend to get the most reactions out of people and therefore have the greatest chance of going viral and being spread to millions of people online. When someone with an online following does or says something that could be considered offensive to a group of people, news articles and social media posts about it go viral and spread word about the person.[1]
The use of social media has increased Cancel Culture [2]

How it Started

The term 'cancel culture' came to prominence in recent years starting with the #MeToo movement, where celebrities and other public figures were being exposed as physical or sexual abusers. Millions of people, mostly women, were coming forward and sharing their stories exposing people as abusers. Due to the sheer number of stories being made public, everyone was made aware of just how prevalent sexual abuse was in almost every industry. In response to all of these allegations, "state legislators introduced approximately 200 bills to address workplace harassment."[3]


The social media platform, Twitter, has been the leading contributor to cancel culture. It’s an epicenter for people of all backgrounds to join together on a central application to voice their opinions. One of the most used hashtags used to identify someone as cancelled is #isoverparty, usually with the person’s first name at the beginning of the hashtag[4].

Effects of Being Canceled


Ellen DeGeneres

Ellen DeGeneres’ success came off the back of her generosity, building her brand and popularity through acts of charity and giveaways. However, an article by BuzzFeed News in 2020 revealed a toxic culture of racism, fear, and intimidation hidden behind the scenes. Current and former employees of the show said that they experienced racist comments, actions and microaggressions, and some were even fired just for taking medical leave or bereavement days to attend family funerals.[5] However, following an investigation by Warner Media’s employee relationship group, only three top producers of the show were fired, but “DeGeneres was not a subject of the review” according to a source close to production. [6]

J.K. Rowling was criticized for being transphobic in this tweet [7]

J.K. Rowling

In December of 2019, the author of the famous “Harry Potter” series, J.K. Rowling, tweeted her support for Maya Forstater, after Forstater had lost her job as a researcher at the international think tank, the Center for Global Development, for transphobic tweets that criticized the UK government for planning to allow people to self-identify their gender. [8] Although people were disappointed with Rowling for her comments, most of the focus remained on the Forstater case. However, just a month later, in January of 2020, Rowling published a blog post on her website explaining her views, but many critics called it a “transphobic manifesto”. [9] Despite facing mounting criticism on social media and from fellow authors as well, this was not the last of Rowling’s controversial transphobic comments. In June of 2020, Rowling received backlash once again for being anti-trans after yet another controversial tweet where she mocked the author of an op-ed for using the term ‘people who menstruate’. This led to the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, and LGBTQ organization, releasing a statement saying that “JK Rowling continues to align herself with an ideology which willfully distorts facts about gender identity and people who are trans. In 2020, there is no excuse for targeting trans people.” [7]

Kevin Hart

In 2018, comedian Kevin Hart faced a backlash from fans after it was discovered he had made a series of homophobic tweets dating back to 2009. The amount of backlash both Kevin Hart and the Oscars received put the producers of the Oscars in a difficult position. Due to the amount of backlash from people on social media, Hart was asked by the producers to apologize for posting the tweets. He initially refused to apologize again, stating how he has apologized for those tweets in past years. This refusal to apologize again caused an even greater backlash which resulted in Hart giving up his spot of hosting the Oscars[10].

Johnny Depp

In 2016, domestic abuse allegations were made against actor Johnny Depp by his then-wife, actress Amber Heard. This happened at the height of the #MeToo movement, and as a result, Johnny Depp was effectively canceled and Disney has dropped him from the most recent Pirates of the Caribbean film. In early 2019, details were leaked online of a new lawsuit between Johnny Depp and Amber Heard. The lawsuit detailed abuse Depp suffered from evidence such as audio clips and surveillance camera video proving the case[11].

Bill Cosby

One of the most prominent people to be canceled is Bill Cosby[12]

Bill Cosby was once a beloved comedian and actor who came to prominence in the early 1960s from stand-up comedy and acting in sitcoms such as The Cosby Show. In 2004, Andrea Constand accused Cosby of sexually assaulting her and filed a civil lawsuit regarding the incident, however, the case was settled out of court. Most people forgot about these accusations until 2014 when comedian Hannibal Burress made a joke about Bill Cosby being a rapist during one of his stand-up shows. The video of his joke went viral and prompted a further investigation into the topic. More and more women slowly began coming forward with allegations of sexual assault. His criminal trial began on June 5th, 2017 but ended in a mistrial and a second trial was conducted starting on April 2nd, 2018 and ended on September 25th, 2018 with Cosby being sentenced to 3-10 years in prison. Bill Cosby went from a beloved entertainment personality being nicknamed "America's Dad" to a convicted sex offender with his career now tarnished forever[13].

Ethical Issues of Cancelation

Ever since the rise of social media, people have expressed their feelings and opinions on an endless amount of topics. Part of civilization includes sharing opinions and ideas with others, but part of sharing ideas is having people disagree with those ideas. The major problem with cancel culture is the idea that you can just shut down anybody who disagrees with you, no matter the reason. You cannot have civil discourse if you only associate with people who agree with you; instead, you find yourself in an echo chamber of ideas. The principle of freedom of speech is that people can be free to think and say whatever they please, but with cancel culture coming to prominence, people are much less likely to share opinions with others and are more likely to avoid social media altogether[14].

First Amendment

Arguments whether Cancel Culture infringes freedom of speech has been a prevalent issue around this topic[15]

Within politics, many have recognized the potential impact cancel culture can have on democracy. Politicians and individuals with fanbases have used the First Amendment - protection and right to exercise freedom of speech - to voice their opinions and ideas without harsh criticism. This constitutional right is the very grounds for which democracy was built upon. However, boundaries are often blurred between acceptable and unacceptable topics of conversation within the public eye.

Those who disagree with cancel culture argue it has prevented those from speaking their opinion and therefore their First Amendment rights. Contradictory voices are frequently silenced when challenging liberal hegemony ideations. Increased social pressure has also played a role in what is deemed as a lack of acceptance of dissenting opinions, hurting those with different political views[16].

Nowadays, if the majority of people do not agree with the stance, they’ll use cancel culture to call out the individual[17]. Those in favor of cancel culture argue it’s just another form of freedom of speech to hold those accountable for their words and actions. The cancel culture movement instead influences Americans to participate more in democracy and use their right to freedom of speech to identify injustices through the media - giving many communities an opportunity to speak up when too often their voices are silenced[18].

Historically, those in positions of privilege have been able to dismiss their unacceptable behavior or derogatory remarks. Marginalized groups’ responses to these unfair views through freedom of speech were commonly dismissed. From their perspective, those who feel threatened when they’re “called-out” are afraid of losing their privilege[19].


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Created by David Forystek
  1. Romano, Aja.(2020, August 25)."Why we can’t stop fighting about cancel culture". Vox.
  2. West Virginia University.(2020, July 21)."Understanding Cancel Culture for Brands and Marketers". West Virginia University Marketing Communications.
  3. Dastagir, Alia.(2019, September 30)."It's been two years since the #MeToo movement exploded. Now what?". Harvard Kennady School”.
  4. Haasch, Palmer.(2020, June 02)."How #isoverparty became the default hashtag format for Twitter cancelations, from celebrities like Doja Cat to companies like Wendy's". Insider” .
  5. Yandoli, Krystie. "Ellen Degeneres Show Ex-Employees Allege Toxic Work Culture". Buzzfeednews.Com, 2020,
  6. Dasrath, D., & Fieldstadt, E. (2020). Ellen DeGeneres announces ouster of 3 top producers after allegations of toxic workplace. NBC News. Retrieved 20 April 2021, from
  7. 7.0 7.1 Schocket, R. (2020). JK Rowling Is Facing Backlash On Twitter For Her Comments On "People Who Can Menstruate". BuzzFeed. Retrieved 20 April 2021, from
  8. Sullivan, R., & Snowdon, K. (2019). JK Rowling under fire over transgender comments. CNN. Retrieved 20 April 2021, from
  9. Rosenblatt, K. (2020). J.K. Rowling doubles down in what some critics call a ‘transphobic manifesto’. NBC News. Retrieved 20 April 2021, from
  10. Andrews, Travis.(2018, December 07)."Kevin Hart says he’s out as Oscars host after outrage over homophobic tweets". The Washington Post.
  11. Espinoza, Joshua.(2019, March 12)."Why Some People Are Calling to ‘Uncancel’ Johnny Depp in Wake of His $50 Million Lawsuit Against Amber Heard". Complex.
  12. Somarriba, Mary.(2015, May 17)."Bill Cosby’s Rape Allegations Force Us to Rethink Our Attitude on Sexual Assault". Verily.
  13. Francescani, Chris and Fisher, Luchina.(2019, August 19)."Bill Cosby: A timeline of his fall from 'America's Dad' to a 'sexually violent predator'. ABC News”.
  14. (2019, November 12)."Is it Time to Cancel the Cancel Culture?". Ethics Sage.
  15. Meesala, Shriya.(2020, December 04)."Cancel Culture: A Societal Obligation or Infringement on Free Speech". UAB Institute of Human Rights Blog.
  16. Norris, Pippa.(2020, August)."Closed Minds? Is a ‘Cancel Culture’ Stifling Academic Freedom and Intellectual Debate in Political Science?". Harvard Kennady School.
  17. Meesala, Shriya.(2020, December 04)."Cancel Culture: A Societal Obligation or Infringement on Free Speech". UAB Institute of Human Rights Blog.
  18. Shroder, Jared and Maddox, Jessica.(2021, March 11)."Cancel Culture is Just Free Speech Holding Others Accountable". The Hill .
  19. Higgins-Daily, Jacqui.(2020, September 03)."You Need to Calm Down: You’re Getting Called Out, Not Cancelled". Intellectual Freedom Blog .