In June 2020, cancel culture claimed its latest victim: the popular children's television show Paw Patrol. It was claimed that its protagonists - animated dogs who operate as police in a fictional universe - were being derided. These pieces said critics saw its positive portrayal of law enforcement strengthened a culture of deference to the police. Headlines around the world stated cancel culture had gone mad. But none of this was true. What began as a joke about cancel culture had grown into a conspiracy tearing across the internet. This crisis underpinned the bigger picture: anyone can be cancelled, and it has gone so far it can reach the international news without questioning. In recent years, the practice of withdrawing support for public figures who hold controversial views has exploded. And not just amongst the cartoons. Michael Jackson, JK Rowling, Louis CK, Woody Allen: the list of its celebrity victims is growing. The boom has divided opinion. Some believe it is a form of online activism that helps the marginalised hold the powerful to account. Their opponents see it as a devastating attack on civil liberties. So, who are these groups, what do they stand for, and why?
Cancel culture is a mythShow moreShow less
This approach argues that society is always changing, and culture adapts with it. Cancel culture has not emerged from historical power relationships. It has grown out of internet culture, produced by changing public attitudes.
This perspective looks at cancel culture as artificially engineered by AI and smart technology. Posts go viral because algorithms recognise their potential to cause outrage. The more contentious they are, the larger the boost they will receive from online platforms. As they are surfaced to those who will likely pile on into the debate and interact with the posts, cancel culture is formed. Rather than seeing this as being value-led therefore, we must see this as having emerged inorganically. This perspective has a body of research behind it, with studies showing that filter bubbles and echo chambers have also been artificially produced in this way. Proponents come from the science and data lobby, including Michigan State mathematics professor Anjana Susarla and University of Toronto Monk Fellow Swathi Meenakshi Sadagopan.