EDITORIAL: ‘Cancel culture’ poses threat to democracy

The general appeal of cancel culture is to hold people and organizations accountable for their actions, whether it be for inappropriate language or behavior. But holding someone accountable by mob mentality is a slippery slope. 

While the goal of cancel culture may be accountability, how often does that actually happen? More often than not, cancel culture quickly becomes less about holding one accountable, and more about forcing the accused to step down from their role. Questions are rarely asked, and if they are, the answers are rarely considered. 

That can hardly be considered democratic.

Cancel culture has created a dangerous climate where one infraction, or even a perceived infraction, can be used to justify destroying one’s entire career or business. 

Recently, the argument of whether or not cancel culture takes canceling people and companies too far was sparked by an uproar about racist stereotypes that were depicted in several Dr. Seuss books, resulting in their recall by Dr. Seuss Enterprises. But that is child’s play in comparison to what cancel culture has done to people’s careers. 

For example, former New York Times reporter Don McNeil, stepped down from his position in February due to controversy sparked by his use of the N-word while on a company-sponsored trip in Peru. The controversy came to light when The Daily Beast published an article about the event. McNeil was using the word to discuss an incident that had taken place where a 17-year-old girl was suspended from school for saying the N-word and he used it while explaining the scenario. That is not the same thing as using the N-word against a person or persons. Context matters. 

Prior to him stepping down, McNeil had been doing outstanding work reporting on COVID-19 and the process of the vaccines, and before that, he had done work reporting on other health hazards such as Ebola and the swine flu. However, now that he’s been forced to step down and been effectively ‘canceled’, his work is silenced.

Prior to the publication of the article, the New York Times was made aware of the comment, and had already disciplined McNeil accordingly. So when is enough enough?  Ultimately, the onslaught of backlash forced him to step down from his position. Tragically, this isn’t uncommon. Cancel culture, increasingly, is taking things too far. 

Cancel culture should hold people accountable, but the mob mentality that it attracts completely derails the original intent and becomes a threat to democracy and to us all.

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