While social networks should finally let everyone hear, in fact people have never been more afraid to express themselves, notes journalist, author and columnist Judith Lussier in Cancelled, published in November by Editions Cardinal. The different platforms sometimes turn into real people’s courts that can destroy reputations, lose jobs and lead to social exclusion. How do you put an end to these excesses?
How to set the cancel culture – or culture of exile, in French?
It is the fact that people, works, ideas or historical monuments are removed from public space because they do not correspond to certain values. We tend to associate this phenomenon with: woke up, who has been accused of campaigning to cancel shows or ban words that offend their neo-progressive sensibilities. But the right also forbids it. For example, in the fall of 2020, a text about white privilege published on the Kids Help Phone website was removed after Mathieu Bock-Côté ridiculed the initiative on his social networks. Last year, Quebec entrepreneur and columnist Carla Beauvais banned herself from public life after a violent online harassment campaign, including receiving death threats. It was highly influential right-wing commentators who got the ball rolling by poking fun at an application she co-founded with the aim of furthering the discovery of black people’s businesses.
This year, the American dictionary Merriam-Webster improved the definition of the word ” Cancel (“cancel”) to take into account this social phenomenon. But people are always banned.
It’s true. For example, you could say that because of the summary trials and executions it caused, the French Revolution was a form of… cancel culture† Like witch hunts. The mood of the crowd has always gotten out of hand. But over the past decade, social media has accentuated the phenomenon, as people’s courts can grow rapidly in size and the responses are instant. We also have more and more reason to think that the architecture of the platforms would consciously contribute to the polarization of the debates. Algorithms seem to favor dramatic but blunt claims because they generate more traffic – and therefore more revenue for the business. In any case, these are not tools with which we can express all the complexity of our thinking.
the writing ofCancelled shocked you deeply. Why ?
I started my research with the hypothesis that the cancel culture did not exist. That it was another strategy of right-wing activists to discredit those of the new left, by falsely accusing them and wanting to censor people. I say ‘wrongly’, because when we carefully analyze the incidents that made headlines, such as the removal of certain titles from Prime Minister François Legault’s reading list last year, we often realize that this is not the woke up demanding a “cancellation” of this or that — the decision was instead made by an organization or company involved in the controversy (in this case, the Association des libraires du Québec). But things are so twisted that in the end it is left-wing activists who are singled out. And that does a lot of damage to those, most of whom come from already marginalized communities. That said, I’ve come to realize that the culture of exile does exist, and it’s a complex issue that we all participate in, regardless of our ideological allegiances.
The media also have their conscience to do, you write.
Yes, because they help build stories. I am thinking of the case of the Mr. Potato Head toy. Last winter, Hasbro announced that it was renaming the brand Mr. Potato Head would turn into Potato Head. In her press release she explains from the outset that there is no question of abolishing Mr. and Mrs. Potato Head. She just thought it more coherent to use a more inclusive term, as Mrs. Potato Head was sold under the name Mr. Potato Head. But the Associated Press titled “A mister no more: Mr. Potato Head goes gender neutral”, while Agence France-Presse went there with an “Adieu ‘Monsieur Patate’, the cult toy brand will no longer be gender-based”. This naturally provoked anger from the right. The media is in a very vulnerable position financially and I understand that some give in to the temptation of the sensational title because it pays more. Only these decisions negatively impact the perception we have of minority groups, in this case the LGBTQ+, who are criticized by the right for trying to impose their concerns. It was suggested that we would soon lose the right to say the words “sir” and “ma’am” because of them…
How does the left participate in the cancel culture †
I was moved by my conversation with Josiane Stratis, who along with her twin brother Carolane, co-founded Ton petit look and TPL Moms lifestyle blogs advocating for social justice. Among other things, they showed solidarity during the waves of cancellation #me too. Only in the summer of 2020, the sisters were caught in the act when ex-collaborators accused them of abuse of power and racism in particular. Despite their public apologies, members of their entourage received threats, sometimes very serious. Even if the grievances of those who spoke online were legitimate, the consequences were disproportionate to the mistakes committed. There is nothing more unyielding to the left than the left itself. Militants sometimes end up “cancelling” each other, victims of a tyranny of coherence – if a person presents himself as sensitive to social inequalities, we will rush him to confront his contradictions when he commits a false refusal. The movement would also benefit from understanding We don’t all evolve at the same pace. Social networks force us to become more quickly aware of forms of oppression that we could not even have imagined. There are many new orders and it is normal to feel destabilized.
I know people who have been devastated by attacks for mere clumsy statements…
It doesn’t seem constructive to me to ban a person for making rude or sexist comments, for example. We need to focus on recovery and dialogue rather than punishment. We would all benefit from taking the time to talk to people who take a position opposite to ours. I intend to lead by example, both in my personal and public life. I too have already taken part in emotional exchanges online, I have fallen into the trap of one-sidedness and aggressiveness. But it’s only been 10 years since social networks took such a place in our lives. It is normal that we are still learning to communicate with these tools, which are also unsupervised. You have to show empathy.