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Cancel Culture and the First Amendment

Updated: Sep 14, 2020

By Jennifer Xia


Image via Scott Olson/Getty Images.


“Watch what you post.” In middle school, I would get lectures from school counselors about career building and how idiotic posts during that time could hurt me in the future. Don’t post about your political views, don’t post vulgar activities, they told me. To some extent, they weren’t wrong. But given the climate of the world right now, it’s been taken too far.


In the midst of raging civil rights protests and a global pandemic, it’s sad that “cancel culture” has become a topic of interest in the online community. Most popular on Twitter, cancel culture is known for its brutal honesty. These lessons from our elementary days are clearly not carrying over here, where they matter the most.


Cancel culture isn’t just a lesson we learn in school; it has real implications and they should not be taken lightly. Earlier this summer, former Disney star Skai Jackson led a rampage on Twitter, calling out users for their blatant racist acts, asking her platform to find these individuals and “cancel” them. With a following of more than 500,000, people began losing jobs, having their college admissions rescinded, etc.. Along with Jackson, a large part of the social media network egged people on, causing more users to lose career aspirations. As expected, friends and family of these perpetrators defended their actions, trying to protect their future, and adding the first amendment to their list of defenses. “She has the freedom to say whatever she wants,” one user said. “He lives in the United States, and he’s protected under the first amendment,” another wrote. Backlash rang loud against these comments, noting how they deserved to be fired or deserved to lose the scholarship because their actions were ill-intentioned. More recently, multimedia entrepreneur Nick Cannon, was fired by ViacomCBS for making anti-Semitic comments on his podcast “Cannon’s Class.” As soon as it reached the depths of Twitter, users began to fire comments toward the company regarding the lack of free speech. It was irritating to see the same people previously wanting jobs to be lost over similar actions, so quickly come to Cannon’s defense. 


The interesting part of all of this is the widespread misunderstanding of the First Amendment. While the United States does have one of the least restrictive enforcements on speech, not enough people look at the true protections behind the amendment. The First Amendment only protects speech from government censorship. If a private school, business, or media company were to fire you because of a speech offense, they would have every right to do so. So, as harmful  as “cancel culture” seems, you’re not defending yourself any better by screaming “FREE SPEECH.” Maybe the middle school career building lessons should have addressed this more. 


Now with that in mind, the rise of “cancel culture,” does not mean free speech has become nonexistent, contrary to the actions of our current President. At the base of Mount Rushmore, President Trump spoke of “cancel culture” becoming “one of their political weapons,” which is “driving people from their jobs, shaming dissenters, and demanding total submission from anyone who disagrees.” However, it’s quite the opposite. “Cancel culture,” to be frank, isn’t all that useful. Yes, it will get someone fired, but the majority of the time it doesn’t have lasting effects. Free speech is what allows Trump to make blasting remarks on his favorite platform, Twitter, without cancel culture getting in the way.


But what’s even sadder is the publishing of an open letter in Harper’s Magazine, commenting on the rise of a toxic “cancel culture,” signed by a now-shamed author J.K. Rowling along with dozens of other names. Rowling has consistently lamented her transphobic opinions through tweets, earning hate and disapproval. Free speech is most definitely not going away for America, and influencers looking to continue growing their base should keep this in mind when making outlandish statements.


It shouldn’t be news that you can lose a position or an opportunity through insipid ideas pouring through your mind and out of your month. Keep in mind that while you’re living in a country as free as the United States, freedom cannot protect you everywhere. Use that advantage with caution, don’t let it be used against you.


Written by writer Jennifer Xia

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