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Cancel Culture and its Impact Upon the Dignity and Fairness of our Public Expression of Opinions

So much that occurs on social media is old hat. There has always been a primal, voyeuristic obssession with the cult of "celebrity", a human need or desire to belong to an exclusive social group that judges others inferior whilst engaging in rumor-mongering and character assasination. Social media cannot claim to be revolutionary when it engages in any of these age-old practices. Human beings have always found a way to self-sort and weaponize their baser inclinations toward primitive tribalism. Tribalism, like any other mass movement taken to extremes, is never a sustainable force for good.

Posting remotely via online platforms has emboldened many who would otherwise not have the temerity to participate in an in-person event. Making statements in-person, in the physical presence of one's audience, guarantees a more immediate level of accountability for the veracity and impact of one's statements. In the digital realm, however, statements made by individuals carry far less personal accountability for the speaker, not only because they are made from a digital distance, but because the digital context itself inhabits an unabashed space where more or less anything goes.

Deriding others should comprise a weighty undertaking, not to be embarked upon lightly. Alas, social media has normalized unmediated discourse where virtually any statement is allowed. Should our fastest growing conduit for communication persist as an unbridled free-for-all where whatever conduct feels right to groups or individuals is irrepressibly showcased? Are our knee-jerk reactions spilling across digital channels the best paradigm for civil discourse, or does civil society have an ethical obligation to be respectful of others when expressing various discontents? And if disgruntlement is expressed resolutely, but still respectfully, should it permit public shaming of an individual or group, to the point at which their safety is jeopardized?

Society used to place shunned individuals in pillories carefully placed in the public square, but modern ethics consider such practices to be barbaric and intrinsically unfair. How is cancel culture on social media any different from such methods of public shaming? Is social media discourse representative of the progress of humanity's social conscience or, conversely, of the dissolution of any vestige of its civic self-control? Inclusion of varying viewpoints does not have to equate to the alleged smothering state of political correctness that so many on both sides of the political spectrum decry; but, constructive public debate would first require a greater manifestation of humility at both the individual and group level.

Digital policymakers must decide whether social media's public forum should remain a merciless gladiators' arena or aspire to an adherence to rules of conduct which prioritize mutual respect over public dehumanization.


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