Accountability, Exile and Social Media: An Analysis of Contemporary Online Public Shaming Practices and "Cancel Culture"

  • Author / Creator
    Pearson, Diana Heather
  • What is unique about contemporary online public shaming practices is the potential scope and reach facilitated by social media, where call-outs can go viral and a collective response can be provoked by reaching a massive audience in a short amount of time. Call-outs can at once be ephemeral (they can come and go quickly) and ever-lasting (the material posted online can be disseminated and reproduced indefinitely). What is also new is the ways our subjectivities, identities, and group dynamics are formed on social media; governed by neoliberal capitalist logic, we confess, curate, and broadcast our desires. Considering new media technologies to be a pharmakon, it makes sense that cancelling (“cancel culture”) has emerged from these new technologies. Discursive acts shared through communications technology can draw attention to social ills as well as individual and collective acts of harm. I see cancelling as both a cure for social ills and a poison, a solution that nevertheless produces symptoms and dis-ease. Cancel culture raises questions about inequality, accountability, justice and democracy. It seems to be a collective expression of changing social norms. It illustrates the innovative use of social media to enact change and demand the disruption of the status quo. It highlights questions about the relationship between personal beliefs and values and job security and the responsibility that institutions face to enact change in a neoliberal economy. Cancel culture also brings up the relationship between systemic oppressive norms – racism, transphobia, and other bigoted ways of thinking – and the individuals who express and embody these ways of thinking. Drawing from case studies of online call-outs and cancellations, scholarship on cancel culture, and debates in mainstream and alternative journalism and activist groups, this thesis is an analysis of the multiple ways in which cancel culture is understood, defined, and experienced on social media platforms, and an exploration of both the effectiveness and the limitations of cancelling as an accountability practices that seeks to repair or intervene upon harm.

  • Subjects / Keywords
  • Graduation date
    Fall 2021
  • Type of Item
  • Degree
    Master of Arts
  • DOI
  • License
    This thesis is made available by the University of Alberta Libraries with permission of the copyright owner solely for non-commercial purposes. This thesis, or any portion thereof, may not otherwise be copied or reproduced without the written consent of the copyright owner, except to the extent permitted by Canadian copyright law.