The Depletion On Freedom Of Speech In The Growing Phenomena of Cancel Culture in The Digital Era
Fri, 07 Aug 2020 || By Samuel Giovanno Johanes Pasaribu

 Cancel culture refers to the phenomena of calling out figures in particular such as celebrities, politicians or could be anyone to boycott, revoke cachet or support, and often tend to embarrass them through media from prompting a problematic situation by a comment or action created either in the past or contemporary time[i]. Arguably, this type of mob mobilization in the media by 'ruthless vigilante justice' to intimidate a figure has been framed as an instrument to provoke social justice by ruining the alleged offender career or social life. The irresponsible online shaming who disguised as activism in social media have falsely interpreted as a way to condemn a person and vaguely used to bring effect about inconsequential change[ii]. An individual unapproved opinions or inconvenient statements are subject for today's deplatforming act in order to control the narratives and steer the zeitgeist to control the trajectory of the repression built by the ‘whole pack of single tyrant’ through social media[iii]. Freedom of speech, in which postulated on the US first amendment or Indonesia Laws of UU No. 39 Tahun 1999 is something doubted for its presence in the contemporary era, as individual who does not go within the mainstream of the general are the target of media suppression. Not only the mainstream, cancel culture that usually happened in many platform such as Twitter has also propelled by desire to increase one social status through media perception which obtained by condemning the 'alleged' wrongdoers or broadcasting the bad behavior of others and demonstrating a commitment to the community by expressing anger demanded to participate in group solidarity[iv].

 

 Taking a glimpse of cancel culture history which taken from its root from black culture who utilized as a pure activism strategy in US civil rights boycotts 1950 and 1960 in order to gain black empowerment for the oppressed community at that time, the purpose of this culture has deviated no more than an online shaming in this digital era. Indeed, the influence of cancel culture has its benefit by divulging some of the most notorious sex offender cases in the past, such as sexual abuse done by R&B superstar, R. Kelly. Obviously, Twitter users have secured the cancellation of this figure through hashtag campaign, #RKellystummschalten, which established to cancel the singer and his concert taking place in Germany[v]. Arguably, this type of campaign created from the social media cancellation is effectively assembling public awareness towards sexual misconduct cases occurred in the middle of the society. Cancel culture had been undisputedly effective to purge problematic politician and celebrity or anyone possible just simply by dismantling and uncover the dark side behind his or her popularity, including the 67 years old politican, Harvey Weinstein who has sentenced 23 years in prison for sexual assault. Thus triggering the awareness spread and developed by #Metoo Movement in preventing future sexual abuse and harassment. However, the other side prevailed a more destructive reality as one of Indonesia uprising Instagram celebrity and Youtube sensation, Rahmawati Putri Cantika, known as Kekeyi, has been continuously facing cancellation and hate speech towards her daily content and work on those platforms. Without any obvious reason, deplatforming towards this figure by reporting her Instagram account has resulted in the down or loss of her account, which surprisingly creating panic and depression, since this platform has utilized to post majority of her opus[vi]. People allegation that has been roaming around about plagiarism in one of her debut song is completely rumors, which obviously unproven since no legal act has been conducted to the newcomer in the entertainment industry. However, people hatred has been oppressing the work and interfering her daily life just because the uniqueness possess by this figure. Popular figure or anyone could be the subject of cancel culture as this phenomena also targeted teenager who usually being judged for its unusual existence, thought or acts from the mainstream of the society.

 Ironically, cancel culture has also shown its brutality by completely shutting down ABC star career, Roseanne Barr, who has prompted public anger by her political views posted on Twitter. In this digital era, cancel culture is no more an activism to foster change but utilized only to express outrage against individuals for the transgression or even different point of views made through the media. 'There can be no freedom without responsibility' is probably a perfect notion of controlling freedom of speech in social media. However, it is not justified either way to response based on 'concept creep' which made people nowadays becoming more sensitive and judgemental to fuel moral outrage without acknowledging the freedom of speech of others. Cancel culture must be left and replaced since the effect of this mob condemnation phenomenon is destructive mentally and psychologically, and even depleting the freedom of speech in digital era that should have been respected by all of its users.

 

Author: Samuel Giovanni Johanes Pasaribu (Research Assistant at CfDS)
Editor: Amelinda Pandu Kusumaningtyas (Project Officer at CfDS)

 

 

 

 


[i] Rueb, E., 2019. Obama On Call-Out Culture: ‘That’S Not Activism’. [online] Nytimes.com. Available at: [Accessed 10 July 2020].

 

[ii] Romano, A., 2019. Why We Can’T Stop Fighting About Cancel Culture. [online] Vox. Available at: [Accessed 9 July 2020].

 

[iii] Jeftovic, M., 2020. Unassailable: Protect Yourself From Deplatform Attacks, Cancel Culture & Other Online Disasters. 1st ed. AxisOfEasy Media, pp.24-30.

 

[iv] Henderson, R., 2020. What Propels Cancel Culture?. Psychology Today, (2), pp.36-38.

 

[v] Tenz, C., 2019. R. Kelly Cancelled: What To Do With Art Made By Predatory Men? | DW | 26.02.2019. [online] DW.COM. Available at: [Accessed 9 July 2020].

 

[vi] Saputra, A., 2020. Akun Instagram Menghilang, Kekeyi Menangis Tak Bisa Kerja. [online] liputan6.com. Available at: [Accessed 8 July 2020].

 

Image credit : Cult MTL