Noah Smith in his article It’s not Cancel Culture, it’s Cancel Technology argues that cancel culture is just the latest name for a behaviour that is as old as religion. On Noahpinion he looks at the role of techncology. Cancel culture is ostracism by another name, for example how society once shunned couples out of wedlock etc. But technology is used to reinforce it.
This behaviour is a part of how woke ideology is reinforced, that is partly under cover in how it is threatening towards its perceived enemies, and partly visible in how it uses legal channels to coerce authorities to stop events etc. With technology, activists have simply another means to achieve the end result.
Smith asks the question whether ostracism has changed in an age of social media and the internet. He breaks down the internet into distribution – how what you say can be read e.g. Twitter is to everyone – and memory – nothing disappears, and gets screenshotted to be reused. Famous people can now interact directly with fans – and others – again without rules.
Social media is still a relatively young technology such as how users are still getting to grips with discussing topics with strangers not always with rules. What we said on Facebook ten years ago when we were younger and still a rookie on social media, may not be what we think now or be a naive comment. But it is still there and cannot be undone once shared.
A verbal conversation in the pubcomes with non-verbal behaviour to explain the nuances, but words on a screen may be expressed without context and be misinterpreted, sometimes deliberately. Whilst we have emojis to provide context social media generally has no time for explanation, and famous people are often left with the pithy sounding excuse of being taken out of context.
If someone wants to cancel you then Google is the means to find out about your history, and social media is the memory bank. When tweets are dug up, such as for cricket players, there is little scope for rehabilitation.
Your new partner can search your internet history. So can a prospective employer. The problem here is what that search presents – such as if it is an opinion that distorts the original event. Famous people may suffer bad publicity but actually be innocent of the allegation.
So as children aged 13 years upwards make awkward steps into social media those first utterances are there for ever. No wonder they are turning away from mature social media like Facebook and Twitter, for Snapchat, where their posts are only temporary.
Good and bad use of technology
Just like unions in the seventies Cancel Culture manifests with demonstrations acting like picket lines to stop people entering events with cancelled speakers. Now social media adds another dimension – masses of people targeting the ostracised person.
Smith thinks the use of technology is both good and bad. I think it is, without rules, unable to show its good side – the bad behaviour shouts down the good behaviour. The reaction to this – like clubs and societies in the past – is the emergence of communities on encrypted apps like Telegram.
The issue here is about how we can use social media to step outside our filter bubble and engage in debate, or step inside closed networks that enable us to meet like minded people to formulate our ideas. For some, the latter is like a nest of vipers – a breeding ground for bad purposes. Fot others it is a safe space.
Smith proposes that we have to “figure out how we change our culture in order to minimise the harms and maximise the benefits of these new technological facts.” But to argue that we need to create a “cancel culture” to manage “cancel technology” is a dangerous step.
Since society will always practice ostracism – more often bad than good – to some degree it needs a means to manage cancel culture in its modern form using technology. Public behaviour is limited by law and regulation. But social media is as much global as it is local, and people act anonymously in their cowardly behaviour. Current legislation feel out date and police out of depth – the application of hate crime by police to “check your thinking” has been inept to say the least.
The application of legal restrictions are going to challenge governments – maintaining the right to free speech and individual freedoms whilst responding to genuine abuse and the concept of anonymity will be a minefield. The right to be forgotten may be a thing but its application is hard with a world full of hard disk drives. But then to what extent is a right to be forgotten wiping out history?
Smith wonders how long it will take to figure out how to improve the bad parts and does this mean ‘cancelling’ the bad parts. Who chooses what is good and bad? Who makes the rules and are governments best placed to do this? If we leave social media to sort it itself out are we actually handing it over to those who shout loudest and the gamekeepers – the media owners. The behaviour of Facebook and Twitter so far (with their algorithms and pandering to liberalism) has worryingly reinforced the bad part of cancel culture.
Only open debate and moderation can forge a clear path with limited but firm legislation, and decision makers with responsibility to keep tech companies in check. Technology is only going to become more invasive in our daily lives and a way has to be found by decision makers to have it reflect more moderately how we live our daily lives in the real world.