Cancel Culture: Accountability or Harassment?


By Iman Ahsan

“Cancel culture” has been the internet’s latest “movement” for social justice in which mobs on social media platforms such as Instagram and Twitter rush to cancel a public figure or a brand after hearing a controversial statement about them. However, is cancel culture really doing society justice? While the participants of cancel culture claim that the movement’s purpose is to hold people accountable for their actions so that they will learn and grow as a person, cancel culture’s actual intent is to ruin the lives and careers of accused individuals while remaining highly ineffective at holding people accountable for their actions. 

Over the past few years, cancel culture has become an increasingly popular method of holding public figures “accountable” for their actions. However, with increased popularity, more lives are being destroyed. One significant case from this was the cancel culture movement for Johnny Depp. In 2016, Johnny Depp’s now ex-wife, Amber Heard, filed for divorce and made several allegations against him in which she claimed he had been abusive towards her. This led to great backlash against Depp as the internet turned against him and rushed to “cancel” him for the allegations. He was cancelled and labelled as a “wife beater” by the internet. As a result of Heard’s allegations and being cancelled by the internet, Depp was soon dropped from the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise and was fired from J.K. Rowling’s Fantastic Beasts 3. Depp had been officially cancelled by Hollywood. However, in 2020, Amber Heard admitted to hitting Johnny Depp in a recorded conversation between them. It turns out that Amber Heard was the one who was abusing Johnny Depp, and Depp wasn’t abusing her at all. However, despite Depp’s innocence being declared, his reputation and career was tarnished by cancel culture. 

The issue with cancel culture lies in people being quick to jump to conclusions and board the hate train without deeply considering both sides of an argument. Cancel culture is the internet movement where people will create exaggerated claims about someone just to feel morally superior. It was the false allegations of Heard that contributed greatly to cancel culture. Heard made false claims against Johnny Depp, and as a result, a mob of people came after Depp with pitchforks and torches in their hands despite them not knowing the full story. Cancel culture claims to hold people accountable for their actions, but is attacking, boycotting, and harassing a human being really holding them accountable? Was cancel culture jeopardizing Depp’s career really holding him accountable for things he hasn’t done? Now that the tables have turned and revealed Heard to be the actual abuser, Depp doesn’t receive as much backlash and hate as he did before. However, his career has already been jeopardized where he’s lost roles in Hollywood, one major role being the famous Jack Sparrow from the Pirates of the Caribbean movies that we grew up watching. The damage has been done, and unfortunately, these allegations of abuse will always be linked back to Johnny Depp, despite his innocence. Cancel culture didn’t hold Depp accountable for his actions but helped cost him his career in Hollywood. Cancel culture didn’t seek to hold Depp accountable, but rather seeked to completely destroy his career with the limited evidence provided to them by Heard. Cancel culture here has proven to be ineffective and incredibly harmful to an individual’s well-being and career rather than beneficial for society. 

Although cancel culture has succeeded in making despicable and toxic individuals such as Brooke Houtes (caught abusing her dog on camera) lose their fame and become irrelevant, cancel culture is still a highly toxic movement. The only reason why cancel culture succeeded with cancelling Brooke Houtes, a YouTuber, was because houtes had accidentally uploaded unedited footage where she physically abused her dog on camera. This was direct, factual evidence that proved she was abusive towards her dog, it wasn’t just some allegation or conspiracy theory tweeted out on Twitter. However, while cancel culture cancelled Brooke Houtes and made her disappear from the spotlight, cancel culture still went on to attack countless other YouTubers and celebrities, with one being Jenna Marbles, a highly famous YouTuber with a subcount of 20 million. In 2020, people have dug up Jenna Marble’s older videos from the 2000s where she would do celebrity impressions. There was one video of her doing an impression of Nicki Minaj, and she was then accused of doing blackface. Marbles was then attacked by the mindless hate mob. However, in the video where she was accused of doing blackface, it turns out that she actually just had a fake spray tan on. Furthermore, many of her other videos showed her with that same fake tan on. This shows that she wasn’t doing blackface at all but just regularly used spray tan. However, the constant hate and backlash she received forced her to quit YouTube and stop making videos altogether. 

As with Johnny Depp, cancel culture went on to destroy another person’s career with limited evidence. In Jenna Marble’s case, cancel culture literally dug into her past with the intent of finding something to accuse her of. Why else would someone be looking into another person’s past? Cancel culture’s literal intent here was to demolish her career and make her hated by the internet. By purposefully digging through someone’s past, it shows that the intention isn’t really “clean”. Cancel culture claims to have pure intentions where it seeks social justice for those victimized, and cancel culture claims that cancelling people is what instigates positive social change and helps the “cancelled” person reflect on their actions. However, in Jenna Marble’s case, cancel culture has shown to be a spiteful movement where participants create exaggerated claims against someone and then send hundreds of hateful mobs that person’s way. The hateful mobs send hateful messages and practically bully the accused person. This isn’t holding them accountable for anything. Instead, this is damaging their mental health and ruining their future. The hate that Marbles had received had taken a great toll on her mental health and had hurted her to the point where she had to leave YouTube for her own good. How is cancel culture instigating positive reform when it is bullying people off the internet and tarnishing their reputations and careers? 

Cancel culture has shown to be a highly toxic, ill-minded movement where its main intentions are to dig up a person’s past and create allegations against said person so that their lives would be ruined. Cancel culture is incredibly weak in holding people “accountable” as cancel culture’s definition of “holding one accountable” means to persistently harass and bully them. Cancel culture is one of the most toxic and dangerous forms of activism to ever cross the internet and further encouragement and participation in this “movement” leads to further division in our society, along with severely negatively impacting one’s mental state of mind.