The term “cancel culture” has become incredibly popular—and increasingly politicized—in recent years. The phrase—loosely defined as the practice of publicly shaming people on social media for posting opinions or content that might be considered offensive—is now common fodder for politicians and an easy topic for coverage among both traditional and digital media outlets. Unfortunately, many of us fail to agree on what the concept actually means.
According to a recent study released by the Pew Research Center, while more Americans are now aware of what cancel culture is, a partisan divide exists on what role it plays: namely, whether calling people out for the things they say on social media is a means of holding them accountable or if it’s a form of unjust punishment.
According to Pew’s survey, nearly two-thirds of Americans (61 percent) said they’re aware of the phrase “cancel culture,” a 17-percentage point increase compared to the less than half (44 percent) who said the same when asked about the term during a previous Pew survey a year ago.
Overall, slightly more than half (51 percent) of Americans said they believe calling people out publicly is more likely to hold them accountable for the things they say online, while 45 percent think the practice is more likely to punish people who don’t deserve it.
|Americans remain divided on whether calling out others on social media for posting offensive content is a form of accountability or punishment, but a growing number of Democrats are beginning to agree with Republicans that it’s the latter.
When broken out by party affiliation, Democrats are nearly twice as likely to see “cancel culture” as a means of holding people accountable for posting content that might be considered offensive (65 percent), compared to only about a third (34 percent) of Republicans who agree. Republicans, conversely, are generally more likely to view the practice as a form of punishing people who don’t deserve it (62 percent), compared to less than a third (32 percent) of Democrats who hold this view.
Overall, the share of adults who now believe this type of behavior is effective at holding people accountable has decreased by seven percentage points since 2020, while the share who say calling people out is more likely to unjustly punish those who didn’t deserve it has gone up by seven percentage points.
Interestingly, the number of Democrats who now see this practice as unjust punishment has risen by 10 points. Meanwhile, the number of Republicans who view calling out others on social media as a form of unnecessary punishment has increased by six percent.
The Pew study found that women are more likely than men to view the practice of calling out people on social media as a means of holding them accountable (56 percent vs. 45 percent), while men are more likely to say this behavior unfairly punishes people (52 percent vs. 38 percent). A majority of white Americans polled said they believe this behavior generally punishes people who don’t deserve it (51 percent), while Black Americans (71 percent), Hispanics (61 percent) and Asians (61 percent) largely see it as a form of accountability.
Research for Pew’s study was based on a survey of an undisclosed number of U.S. adults and was conducted between April 25 and May 1.