These days, it’s tough to get a large group of people to agree on anything, especially on the internet.
Blame it on any number of things. Blame it on society or our culture.
Was the dress blue? Was it gold? Does pineapple belong on pizza? There will never be a consensus.
Or will there?
Cancel culture, or call-out culture, is starting to buck that trend and gain widespread dread in the internet masses. And that’s not to say it’s a process that isn’t useful or that it doesn’t bring to light inappropriate behavior or language.
What’s cancel culture, you ask?
It’s part revisionist history, part mob-like internet attacks. Say a celebrity (or worse, a person who wasn’t in the public spotlight at the time) attracts some attention or “goes viral.” The initial reaction is applause. Then social media sleuths start combing through past comments, interviews and social media posts looking for anything controversial to bring to light. Some of this, it should be noted, is for the best.
Comedian Louis C.K., R. Kelly and Roseanne Barr have all been canceled for things they have said and done.
Just last week, the Des Moines Register — a major newspaper which is in political overdrive just months before the Iowa caucus — found itself in the headlines instead of making them. It all started when an Iowa man, Carson King, was caught on camera at ESPN’s “College Gameday” pregame show with a sign asking for donations to his beer supply.
King went viral. Scores of people donated, so much so he announced he was giving the money to an Iowa children’s hospital. Busch Light, his preferred beverage, announced a large matching donation. A Register reporter, Aaron Colvin, was assigned to write a feature story on King. Colvin did some background reporting and found a two racist tweets from when King was 16, brought them to his attention and — before the story was published — King spoke to TV stations saying he was sorry for the language. Anheuser-Busch, Busch’s parent company, announced it was disassociating itself with King.
Colvin and the newspaper took heat for the situation, which only intensified when Twitter users went back into the writer’s old tweets and found some inappropriate ones of his own. He no longer works for the newspaper.
A pitcher for the Atlanta Braves, Sean Newcomb, was in the middle of throwing a near no-hitter last summer when old tweets began to surface – while he was on the mound having the best game of his career. He immediately apologized for the old tweets after the game.
In these situations, the person sending the inappropriate, racist or hateful tweets shouldn’t be immediately absolved for their past behavior, no matter if they were sent last week or when they were a high school sophomore. Or should they?
It brings to question many things, but mainly the notion everything written, recorded or sent on the internet is going to be out there forever for better or worse. It also starts a conversation about how we, as a society, allow people to grow and mature in an age when every thought is shared, tweeted or snapped en masse.
Getting consensus on cancel culture will be hard, but having people understand the factors — both positive and negative — that go into the movement shouldn’t be.
(Pete Sirianni is the digital editor at the New Castle News. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.)