Fear of cancellation keeps young people away from debates on social media

Emerging mainly from political discussions (here, the term became popular when artists and public figures came to be criticized for not taking an ideological stance), the “culture of cancellation” greatly extrapolated the electoral debate, especially when the postmodernism in vogue insists on reiterating that everything – from the most basic human relations to health, beauty and education – is “political”. And the consequences of the ostensive patrolling that characterizes social networks today fall on its most assiduous public, including in Brazil. A survey released in November last year by the Ipec Institute, the former IBOPE, with the participation of 1. young people among 19 and 21 years, demonstrated that 21% of this population avoids engaging in political debates on social networks, for fear of being “cancelled”.

Although the research has addressed specific themes such as combating hunger, poverty and prejudice, the generation of jobs and the preservation of the environment – themes dear to the participants -, just a “zape” by the networks is enough to verify that each of these subjects can branch out to infinity, to the point that a bad teenage joke sounds like an attack to a vulnerable population. That’s what happened to journalist Alexei McCammond, named emerging reporter for 2019 by the National Association of Black Journalists of the United States, who missed her chance to be the next editor-in-chief of Teen Vogue after magazine employees searched her Twitter and found posts made a decade ago in which the young woman, still in high school, complained about an Asian-born teacher who gave her a low grade, making jokes with slanted eyes. The various apologies were useless: the case was enough for McCammond to be summarily “cancelled”.

This and other cases – here and abroad – impact the generation that comes to life adult. A graphic designer student in Salvador, Fabiana Albuquerque, 21 years old, has already dropped out of journalism and international relations colleges due to the difficulty of dealing with constant controversies. “I left because I realized that my psychology couldn’t handle it”, describes the young woman who, ever since she had teenage tweets twisted and manipulated against her reputation, started to remain silent on social networks.

“A thing goes far beyond the real political spectrum, from declaring a vote for a candidate, defending liberalism or interventionism. I don’t consider myself a person of the right and I’m labeled that way by opinions that have nothing to do with the matter. That’s because, until a few years ago, I shared content from the left out of pure fear of doubting my character. When you get tired of it, they turn you into a monster,” said the student, who has already suffered from the “cancellation” even when she positioned herself in a progressive way .

“Once, in the month of Black Consciousness, I shared a very didactic post, explaining what racism is. I thought I was doing a good thing, until classmates showed up making fun , asking if I had already asked for sorry for being white. That is, if you post, they think it’s bad. If not posted, think so too. No matter what you do, it will never be enough”.

Fabiana’s former classmate in the Bahian capital, student David Pirajá, from 16 years old, says he was used to political debate, until he began to suffer tangible consequences. “It’s very common, when you go to a date, for the girl to ask you who you voted for. I was very engaged, I debated, I asked, but today I’m afraid to talk about these things because that becomes part of your personality. At college, no one in my class has wanted to form a group with me since I questioned a discussion about racism,” says the young man, who gave up on a YouTube channel for fear of losing jobs. “I’ve met many people who prefer to hire people who don’t is so in tune with politics because they want to have peace in the work environment”, she says.

The silence of the moderates

The stoppage due to the fear of cancellation affects also scientific environments, in which students, in theory, are impelled to dialogue and confront ideas. For fear of losing scholarships, research links or, at least, the respect of their academic peers, young people who do not even militate for one aspect specific ideological prefers silence, even in apparently harmless discussions. This is the case of Lucas(name omitted at the request of the respondent), of 34 years, doctoral student in Artificial Intelligence. “I have colleagues who avoid studying quantitative methods, for example plo, or publicize the results of their research, because ‘it’s a Nazi thing’. Any failure in programming the data – which are numerous and almost always beyond the programmer’s control – can turn into an accusation of racism against the scientist, the guy is bullied on Twitter. The worst problem I see is that, because of this, more moderate people avoid talking. And when only radicals show up, they get support for being even a little bit right. I have several gay, transgender friends who are moderate and also avoid speaking out.”

Some people justify the culture of cancellation by claiming, for example, that it is plausible for people who deliberately express opinions prejudiced or behave aggressively in the virtual environment are punished for bad behavior. That employers are free to choose the profile of their employees and reject individuals who may cause discomfort in the company or damage its image is not, in any way, a problem, such as how the public can choose to consume or not consume the products or content of brands and influencers with whom they align most.

A recent example of the situation is the episode of “cancellation” from the Flow Podcast, which lost its sponsorship of Ifood after a speech by the presenter Monark was taken out of context and misinterpreted by internet users. , in an interview, who believed that the company had the right not to want to get involved in controversies, but not to unfairly accuse him of racism. “I understood that, on the internet, there is no room for doubt. You need to be very clear, make several ‘disclaimers’ (notices), not leave anything ambiguous”, explained Monark.

The problem is that, as exemplified by the young people interviewed, the virtual hordes go far beyond what is reasonable, and those who suffer most from them are not the big names in the network, but the small profiles who cannot afford the persecution and are part of the spiral of silence portrayed by the IPEC survey. “At the beginning of last year, I opened my profiles and started interacting with people I liked, with economic and political commentators. Over time, I noticed the presence of a group that didn’t know me personally. Since then, I’ve had a lot. be careful what you say. Nothing is 100% spontaneous because I know that, especially on Twitter, it can get out of my control and I can get screwed if it’s not extremely clear “, says nutrition student Laís Koch, 008 years old.

“Fearing being canceled does not mean that you have a sexist, homophobic or racist opinion. But sometimes, something can be taken out of context and arrive in a group that reacts not with the intention of saying what is wrong, but with the intention of punishing you. And this cancellation is not just for you. identity left: you only need to clash with the crowd you are inserted in. Collectivism exists on all sides and you can only protect yourself when you have a network. At my age, I don’t have all that support.”

Cancellations in education and in the labor market

With the profusion of cancellations, studies emerge on their impacts on mental health and the educational experience of a generation. For writer and speaker Jonathan Zimmerman, professor of educational history at the University of Pennsylvania, students’ own learning is limited by fear of impending humiliation. “The big consequence of this is that young people learn less. Our entire liberal education system is premised on the idea that we can and should speak our minds. That’s why we have universities in the first place! If we’re holding back the tongue, we limit what we can discover and understand,” says the teacher.

“In the end, these students won’t have the training – and, in the end, the skill – to talk about their differences. As a full professor, I have protection, but they don’t. For me, the big question is what our institutions should do to solve this problem – and it starts by admitting that we have a problem, rather than sticking our heads in the sand.”

The market for work – the target of young people’s main concerns with regard to reputational killings – also responds to new behaviors. The school of digital marketing O Novo Mercado, for example, offers a class on the subject – the result of an episode in which the CEO, Ícaro de Carvalho, was canceled by YouTuber Felipe Neto. “At school, I teach my students that cancellation is much less real than it sounds. There’s a huge load on the screen, people you’ve never seen in your life, memes coming up with your face, people cursing you. So, you turn it off. computer, goes down to buy a Coke and realizes that no one has the slightest idea. No one will be as well known as Whindersson Nunes or Xuxa because he spent three days in the trending topics“.

Aware of the impacts of networks on a generation that tends to produce a good part of their income on the internet, Carvalho believes that the “cancellations” – the criticisms, the speeches taken out of context, the memes and the like – will continue, albeit some “Common sense is and will continue to be a very expensive article. Eventually, the young person needs to learn that you can’t talk nonsense on the internet. I’m also pessimistic about the generations that they were deprived of social life and I think that both the fear of being canceled and the desire to cancel are symptoms of that”, exp lica.

“But I believe that all excess is revealed by time, and the thing became so hyperbolic that the ridiculous was evident. I think firing a person for what they said ten years ago, or because of a lie, will be the first excesses to be trimmed. For now, the best thing I can say about the cancellation is that it passes. With this experience, young people learn something invaluable: there is no mistake that can ruin your life. Losing a job, taking a long time to get into college, being canceled: none of this alone is definitive”.

The effects of incarceration, potentiated by the coronavirus pandemic, are also noted by historian Diego Klautau , professor at Centro Universitário FEI and Colégio Catamarã, who lists healthy aspects of the debate about cancellations. “Fear is an affection like any other, and it can be used as prudence. On the one hand, I think it’s good for young people to ask themselves whether it’s really necessary for them to have an opinion on all issues, even though this demand for demonstration is part of democracy. On the other hand, it’s important to remember that networks are the result of a sociopolitical process: you are navigating with someone else’s navigation plan. I think it’s very positive that this romanticism that social networks will be a great center of healthy debate where the world’s big issues will be debated and resolved will be ended.”

It’s good, after all, that young people of this generation – like those of previous generations – learn from an early age that their actions have consequences. On the other hand, it urges parents and educators to foster in this audience the perception shrewdly summarized by comedian Dave Chappelle, when targeted by duty cancellers: “I don’t give a damn. Twitter isn’t even a real place.”


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