Canceled for our mistakes

Editorial Board

Who was the last person you saw “canceled” online? Lana Del
Rey, Lea Michelle, maybe Jimmy Fallon? All these celebrities have
recently fallen victim to this internet phenomenon, receiving hate
for posts that others deemed inappropriate and harmful. To be
sure, some offenses have legitimately warranted cancellation. Well,
we think it’s legitimate… right? But who are we to decide?
If you scroll back two, five, 10 years on someone’s Instagram
or Twitter, you’re likely to encounter something you find morally
or politically problematic. Chances are, the person who posted
it regrets it, just as we all would if confronted with some of our
past public activity, online or not. We all make mistakes. Most of
us eventually become more informed and stop. For us high school
students, it’s easy to try to hold others accountable for their entire
past when we have a short online record and thus a more private
background. We haven’t yet lived long enough to have our pasts
return. For older folks, it’s not so simple.

On the surface, facing cancellation has a fairly straightforward
solution—an apology. But the particularly famous, or those with
a large online following, often have thousands of posts and can’t
be expected to apologize for things from eight years ago that
they potentially don’t even remember. What matters is whether
the person still acts the same way. Of course, it would be nice if
people 10 or 20 years ago were as aware of issues of class, race,
sexuality, and religion as we are now, but the fact is, our culture,
not to mention our roles in it and understanding of it, is constantly
evolving. And we are all evolving at different rates as well.
Among the people we “follow,” we will most likely come across
opinions or behavior we disagree with, and it is up to us to decide
whether we’ll continue to engage. If we decide we no longer can,
that decision doesn’t make it right for us to bring a rain of hate on
them. We seem to have forgotten that the world’s opinions do not
need to be uniform. A diversity in thought that is not hateful or
calling for violence is OK, and even good.

However, we don’t want to ignore the feelings of hurt and pain
that can come from an uneducated comment—even an old one. We
should work toward a world in which our current online activities
do not become the ghost posts that haunt us 10 years from now. We
need to be vigilant and take complete ownership of everything we put
on the internet. With all the social and political turmoil happening
recently, across a wide range of issues, our first instinct might be to
casually post stories we find impactful or pages from causes we want
to support. But this type of behavior should be avoided until we
have really examined whatever we plan on promoting. Otherwise,
it is too easy to spread, unwittingly, a message of ignorance or even
hate that could bring others and ourselves future pain.

For example, you may feel compelled to repost a message you
believe in, but have you checked the page where it came from? Does
that page express your values? If it advocates for other issues and
organizations as well, do you also support those?

What we’ve learned from this summer is that anyone’s publicly
available mistakes, past or present, can be brought up and used
against them. And with the pandemic reducing our in-person reach,
social media feels like one of the only ways we can connect with a
large group to make an impact, so we’re on it more than ever. The
Vanguard does not believe in derailing anyone else’s life for one
mistake. As for ourselves, however, we want to make sure we are
100% behind whatever we put up online under our own names so
that we minimize harm to anyone we care about, both today and
tomorrow.