Cancel Culture as a Counter-Speech Against Hate Speech

Cancel Culture as a Counter-Speech Against Hate Speech

Cancel Culture as a Counter-Speech Against Hate Speech


Black Twitter and Queer Twitter were responsible for the popularization of cancel culture. The phrase ‘that’s over, it’s canceled’ was mainly used as a humorous response to frustrations and annoyances that people encountered daily. Over time, it has become part of the mainstream conversation, beginning with the ‘canceling’ of the Bill Cosby show over sexual assault and rape allegations. So, with the popularization of cancel culture, can it act as a counter-speech against hate speech?

Cancel Culture-Canceling on social media

Lisa Nakamura is often referred to as the first scholar to write about the culture she referred to as ‘call-out culture.’ Nakamura (2015) describes canceling culture as actions by “[w]omen of color and sexual minorities who post, tweet, re-post, and comment in public and semi-public social media spaces to respond to and remediate racism and misogyny online” As such, this establishes the fact that is canceling takes place within the social media realm. With the prevalence of social media platforms and their mainstream foray, activities in such areas are bound to have significant effects.

On social media, the term is used as a metaphor referring to efforts to stop following the individual or organization. It also implies non-participation in activities that generate wealth for the particular entity. The profound nature of the act comes from the fact that it almost always involves the affected person’s peers pushing for the agenda.

With canceling taking place online, this also means that it cuts across different divides. Cancel culture affects people regardless of their age, race, political ideology, class, and other aspects. It matters little about who is speaking so long as the speech offends individuals and groups that can respond.

To understand the applicability of cancel culture as a counter-speech, there is a need to explore the extent of hate speech online, and it is regulation.

Cancel Culture: Hate speech and its regulation

Hate speech refers to abusive language directed towards a person based on their sexual orientation, race, class, religion, or gender. The abuse seeks to affirm the power imbalance where the perpetrator intends to maintain some form of dominance. Considering that such speech may not be enough to prove criminality in court, it may sometimes escape legal redress (English, 2021). As such, the need for alternative means to deal with hate speech emerges, such as through the cancel culture online.

Another factor impeding the regulation of hate speech is that it occurs in private settings. While social media sites may regulate content, the government has no control through direct regulation. On the other hand, social media sites may respond to hate speech, but the response may not be quick action or its removal (Klonick, 2018). The emergent question is, does cancel culture offer a counter-speech against hate speech online?

Cancel culture as a counter-speech

Over time, counter-speech has emerged as a preferred approach to dealing with hate speech. In the Whitney v California case, Justice Brandeis wrote a concurrence noting that the remedy to avert the evil of falsehood and fallacies is by applying more speech rather than enforced silence (English, 2021). Cancel culture seeks to apply more speech by calling attention to the hate and advocating for a boycott.

As a counter-speech, cancel culture shames the perpetrator, a norm regulation. Some of the most common canceling techniques include;

  • Unfollowing the canceled person or organization
  • Non-participation in the entity’s activities linked to wealth generation, such as not buying their products or streaming their music
  • Shaming the individual’s ideas directly or indirectly

Essentially, shaming the canceled persons is due to the need to exert penalties. The cancel culture becomes a counter-speech against hate speech by foraying into areas that legal remedies do not touch. The fear of being canceled implies that individuals and organizations can refrain from hate speech. With affected persons losing millions of dollars due to counter-speech, the costs indicate what individuals may suffer from promoting hate speech.

Criticism against cancel culture has been on the likelihood of impeding free speech, while some associate the culture with harassment. Fundamentalists of free speech extend the perspective that, however harmful, it is necessary to promote the greater good (Franks, 2020). Such opinions are beloved by large groups, especially those with a large social media following.

The criticism against cancel culture fails to consider the impact of hate speech on victims. Often, there is a loss of the sense of comfort in society, leading to psychological harm. Effectively, the victims may fail to participate in future discourses for fear of victimization.

Cancel culture has become a go-to redress mechanism against what online users consider to go against expected norms. With the First Amendment protecting hate speech to an extent, it falls upon social media users to take action against perpetrators. Not only does cancel culture punish those engaging in hate speech, but it also acts as a deterrence and a practical counter-speech approach.




English, M. (2021). Cancel Culture: An Examination of Cancel Culture Acts as a Form Of Counterspeech To Regulate Hate Speech Online. Chapel Hill.

Franks, M. (2020). The Cult of Free Speech. The Cult of the Constitution, 110.

Klonick, K. (2018). The New Governors: The People, Rules, and Processes Governing Online Speech. Harv. L. Rev.

Nakamura, L. (2015). The Unwanted Labour Of Social Media: Women Of Colour Call Out Culture As Venture Community Management. New Formations, (86)107.

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