Last week, a writer living in DC posted a photo of a transit worker eating on the Metro. Food and drinks are not allowed on the DC Metro, which is how they are able to keep the system cleaner than other major cities (NYC, I’m looking at you). She sent a quick tweet with a photo and within a matter of days her entire life has been destroyed. She lost a book deal, I believe she lost her job, and has been dragged all throughout social media. While she did breach someone’s privacy by posting the photo the question has to be asked did her actions warrant this response
In 2013, Justine Sacco boarded an international flight bound for South Africa and tweeted that she hopes she doesn’t get HIV, but she won’t because she’s white. In the span of her 11-hour flight this one tweet literally ruined her life. She lost her job and was crucified in the court of public opinion. People anxiously waited for her flight to land to see how she would react to her life being destroyed. While her tweet was racist and ignorant, we have seen a trend pop up where we relish in watching someone’s life be destroyed.
Cancel Culture, as it is called, is the phenomenon of discrediting someone because of something they’ve done or said. We’ve seen this with countless celebrities and for the most part many people are able to bounce back, but for the everyday person it can have severe consequences. Yes, there is an equal and opposite reaction for every action, but my fear is that the internet has turned into the modern-day version of the Colosseum. We gather round and watch people’s lives be destroyed. We’re entertained by someone losing their livelihood and their safety while secretly being relieved that it’s not us in the arena.
Interestingly enough both of these scenarios involve women and the offending tweets have racial undertones. In DC, the metro worker was an African-American woman and Justine Sacco’s tweet was racist. I wonder if sometimes cancel culture is so fast to persecute those in the wrong, because we still don’t know how to handle the discussions of race and racism in the public discourse? We’re so uncomfortable talking about racism and the problems that it creates that we run to try and fix any problem so that we don’t appear to be racist by association. Maybe sometimes these are opportunities for education and discussion as opposed to drastic actions.
As the internet continues to become more than we ever thought it could be, we see the negative ways in which it can be used. It’s easy to sit behind a screen and type something without thinking of the ramifications; there are several instances where the vile comments made deserve action taken against the commenter, but the sheer volume of cancel culture is what is so terrifying. To know that so many people, strangers could want to see your whole life be torn apart. I would caution on being so eager to see the lives of people destroyed, lest one day it turns out to be yours.