Why cancel culture should be cancelled in Lancs

‘It’s not the same as being held to account.’

We’ve all seen cancel culture at its peak. Check Twitter and within 15 minutes you’ll see an argument between users that eventually descends into personal attacks and just general, albeit creative, insults.

Cancel culture is basically the equivalent of a group of people targeting someone and reducing that person’s opinions to nothingness, because the group disagree with what that person believes. It’s group shaming. All too often that’s confused with holding someone to account, but in reality there’s a huge difference.

Calling someone out is vastly different to cancel culture, and the sooner we learn that, the better. Seeing something you disagree with online doesn’t mean that it’s wrong, or any less valid than what you think – learning to come to terms with that is part of growing up. At university we’re surrounded by so many different people, cultures and opinions that if we stopped to argue with everyone we disagreed with then nothing would get done!

Holding people to account means going through the “correct” channels; making complaints, putting things on the record, and making legitimate system change. Cancel culture means that in one second we can send a Tweet or a Facebook post, Instagram story or even a YouTube video calling for people to be “cancelled.” This isn’t a new thing, but what was once used as a tool to ensure celebrities didn’t step too far is now used in universities against almost everyone.

In Lancaster there’s been backlash to the Students’ Union’s FTOs, leading at least one FTO to resign due to the environment of the SU – Ben Evans was crucified online over The Sugarhouse, leading to his resignation and him stating: “Through lifting the embargo and allowing the officers to take a political stance and then allowing them to reveal their voting stance (breaking the Trustee code and collective responsibility), and blatantly intimidating me by fabricating reasons for the VNC petition against me, they have sought out to undemocratically get me out of the way, so that they can get theirs.”

There was backlash to the FTOs at the start of the year, and then there was backlash towards student media for not covering the issue more, and then there was backlash towards student media team LA1TV for attempting a doorstop interview with Evans. With cancel culture, no matter how you act you will be punished.

If cancel culture exists within our own Students’ Union, how can we even begin to legitimately hold people to account?

You’re allowed to disagree with someone without hating them, and without making things personal. Just because someone doesn’t think the same things as you, or doesn’t act the same as you, or doesn’t look like you, or doesn’t have the same political beliefs as you, or doesn’t have the same God as you does not mean you have to disagree with them on a personal level.

Cancel culture is the opposite. It’s giving a platform to unjustifiable hate, and causing so much damage to people – especially young people, and students – that we need to put a stop to it. It’s not the same as being held to account.

You can hold someone to account for being a racist, for being a sexist, or a homophobe, or a transphobe, but the moment you start calling people out for trivial things is the moment it becomes unproductive. The idea of holding people to account is to make sure that we’re responsible for our actions, and to show how not to behave.

The main perpetrators of cancel culture are those who try and preach about being tolerant, and then they will later that day go online and spread hate towards people who disagree with them.

One English student, 19, said: “Lancs has a pretty funny position on cancel culture, its a culture that seems to be dominated by the same, small, minority who you would be able to identify if they came for you. It’s laughable because anonymous hate is a funny way to hold someone to account. But, it affects a lot of people, people who are your housemates, your friends, teammates etc. I just wish people saw it as trivial, nobody really takes on the opinions of lancfessions, and if they do – omg i am so sorry 4 u x”

No more so is this evident by anonymous university confession sites, which can be pretty funny at times, but giving a platform to anonymised hate really isn’t going to benefit students at all. If you give people a chance to be pissed off without putting their name to something, then they can be incredibly cruel, and using anonymous sites to call someone out isn’t going to do anything other than publicly shame someone.

In today’s age you can create a bubble online of just those people who agree with you, and suddenly your social media is an echo chamber of everyone who looks, sounds, thinks, and acts like you – that’s not helpful. If you want to cut out and “cancel” people who are personally different to you (without being harmful to you) then that’s fine, go ahead, but that’s a massively unproductive way to do things.

We need to start talking to each other more, instead of shouting. Listen to each other, instead of interrupting. And learn from each other, instead of ignoring.

I’m not saying that we need to let EVERYTHING slide, and nobody should be called out. I’m saying that we need to stop calling people out on honest mistakes. For example, on topics such as trans rights the appropriate terminology is updated regularly, because trans rights issues are fast-paced and topical – not everyone has been able to stay on top of those issues. Just because you know better doesn’t mean that everyone else does!

Another student, 20, said: “Cancel culture creates a notion that all must conform to the self proclaimed morality of the unforgiving (yet so often uninformed) judge, jury and executioner for the sake of self righteousness. Harassment and bullying are monopolised by those who posture themselves as moral and right in order to attack those who disagree or make mistakes – without understanding the full picture. This is mob justice in its new form, and it can have very real impact on the lives of those it targets, as we have seen with individuals in our own SU, and the damage caused by parasitic “cancel culture” is often a far harsher vengeance than the offence committed. Yet those who attack and cancel individuals see themselves as virtuous.”

Call people out and hold them to account for genuine injustices, but that is by no means what cancel culture does.

Cancel culture is harmful. It’s childish, it’s dangerous, and it’s a massive waste of time. Instead of screaming at someone to be more tolerant, why don’t you act more tolerant and try to educate them? Work to solve the issue, not make it bigger.