Former president Barack Obama might well have been thinking of some of Hamilton’s social media regulars last month when he inserted himself into the ongoing debate that surrounds cancel culture, a term that refers to a mass effort, usually carried out on social media, to call out prominent people for any alleged wrongdoing. His remarks have shaken up opinion on both extremes of the political spectrum. The former President was taking part in a discussion with young leaders when he digressed and began discussing what he termed a “worrisome trend among young people, particularly on college campuses.
“I do get a sense sometimes now among certain young people,” said Obama, “and this is accelerated by social media, there is this sense sometimes of: ‘The way of me making change is to be as judgmental as possible about other people,’” he said, “and that’s enough.” This idea of purity and you’re never compromised –you’re always politically woke—all that stuff—you should get over that quickly. The world is messy. There are ambiguities. People who do really good stuff have flaws. Like if I tweet or hashtag about how you didn’t do something right, or used the wrong verb, then I can sit back and feel pretty good about myself, because man you see how woke I am—I called you out …that’s not activism…that’s not bringing about change. If all you’re doing is casting stones, you’re probably not going to get that far. That’s easy to do.”
“Woke” is described as being alert to racial or social discrimination and injustice, along with being aware of what’s going on in the community. “Cancel culture strategy has proved vital to holding powerful figures accountable, sparking international movements such as #MeToo. But “cancelling” has also been criticized for encouraging mob behavior that often results in major consequences to people’s lives and careers over missteps such as old inappropriate tweets,” The Washington Post’s Abby Ohlheiser and Elahe Izadi reported.
Boycotts have long been considered an efficient method of motivating change, but the intense censoring of people or groups on social media is a newer tactic that has gained popularity on the left over the past several years, according to CNN’s Chris Cillizza, who described it as “one of the defining hallmarks of our culture in the post-Obama presidency.”
Asam Ahmad, a community organizer in Toronto, wrote in 2015 that modern call-out culture is largely about signaling to the accuser’s in-group in an attempt to gain social acceptance: “It’s a public performance where people can demonstrate their wit or how pure their politics are. Indeed, sometimes it can feel like the performance itself is more significant than the content of the call-out.”