Social media has churned out a variety of trends, each as dynamic and game-changing as the previous ones. From the Arab Spring, where social media played a pivotal role in the organisations of protests and demonstrations in Egypt, Libya, Yemen, Syria, and Bahrain, which led to the deposition of rulers like Hosni Mubarak and Muammar Gaddafi, to the #MeToo and #BlackLivesMatter movements. These prove that social media is beyond selfies and ‘TikTok’ dances, but has played a crucial role in changing social norms, and broadening peoples’ thought processes. It forces people to be open-minded and be accepting of the unconventional. The most recent trend-turned-social movement is the phenomenon of #CancelCulture. This term was prompted by conversations pertaining to the #MeToo movement, which encouraged women to speak out about sexual harassment or abuse at the workplace. From female celebrities and female athletes, to common housewives, women from all backgrounds were speaking out about their experiences as a victim of sexual harassment. While the prior movement encouraged women to speak up, the latter encouraged people to sever their relationship with the person or celebrity accused, to put it in simple words- cancel them. From American rapper R Kelly (on accounts of sexual misconduct) and the King of Pop, Michael Jackson (child molestation), to Bollywood celebrities like Karan Johar and Salman Khan, no one has been able to escape the effects of #CancelCulture. But what is this phenomenon supposed to be in the first place? #CancelCulture is the newest and most effective technique of a concept known as ‘online shaming’.
If you’re a teenager, I’m sure you’ve either come across instances of online shaming. These range from leaking of private conversations, calling out a person who has acted or spoken in a questionable manner, or the leaking of explicit visuals like nudes or revenge porn. Online shaming has its advantages and disadvantages. The disadvantages are what you usually expect, i.e., blackmail, extortion or revenge. To analyse the positive outcomes, let's take at one such instance, which emanated from South Delhi. In May 2020, social media timelines were flooded with screenshots of a certain group on Instagram called ‘Bois Locker Room’. This was a group chat created by a bunch of teenage boys in Delhi, who would post pictures of underage girls on the group chat, and objectify them. These images included private images as well of underage girls that the members of the group blatantly shared with the rest of the group. Along with the objectification, there were plans to gangrape the girls whose images were shared. The vile and lewd comments of the teenage boys was posted on social media by a girl who was also subjected to objectification and was planned to be gangraped by the boys involved. This led to the girl receiving further rape threats, which was also posted on her social media account. After nearly a week of online shaming, which created a social media storm worldwide, encouraging not just women but even men to speak up against patriarchy and misogyny, a FIR was lodged against the members of the group chat, and furthermore, group chats of the similar kind were also busted by those who were able to. The incident opened up the conversation of how patriarchy and misogyny is so deeply rooted into the minds of Indian men, that it drives them to the blatant objectification and even the sexual abuse of women.
Online shaming, in spite of its detriments also has its fair share of benefits and has plenty of examples, which are testament to its ability to bring about a change in society. #CancelCulture may be one ethical method of cyberbullying, but there is a fine line between the two, which is accountability. The primary objective, the vision and mission of the movement is to hold wrong-doers accountable for their wrong-doing. Too often have the powerful walked free after committing horrific crimes, in some cases with nothing more than a slap on the wrist. From sex offenders to racist and homophobic comments, maybe online shaming is the closest form of justice that people may achieve from #CancelCulture. By hitting the influential where it hurts the most, their credibility, it just goes to show that this online social movement may be the most influential one yet and may finally hold the wrong-doers accountable for their actions.