August 14, 2020
In November of 2012, a video of a student who had a dispute with a security guard in Manila went viral on the internet. She was later known as Amalayer, and her video spread like wildfire on all social media platforms, even reaching other countries. It had parodies that were used for TV shows and movies. On the surface it looked like another funny meme, but the internet is not all fun and games. Paula Salvosa, tagged as the “Amalayer girl,” received all kinds of explicit hate comments, rape jokes, and even death threats at her young age. This term didn’t exist before, but in that year, Paula was #Cancelledt.
The Macmillan Dictionary defines “cancel culture” as the practice of no longer supporting people—especially celebrities—or products that are regarded as unacceptable or problematic. It’s an act of calling out people whose views aren’t aligned with the accepted norm. It also brings a sense of justice when the system seems too slow.
But this culture has evolved into a different shape. Nobody is safe from being “cancelled.” With just one joke tweet, a video from the past, or an argument for an ideology, we can already get cancelled.
The Philippines is predominantly an “honor-shame” society.
In an honor-shame culture, the norms and standards of the community are regarded so highly. A dissenter of the norms and practices of the community could either be shamed or banished from the group.
How people perceive us matters in our “honor-shame” mentality. That’s why in school, we’re either afraid to ask too many questions because our classmates might think that we’re intellectually challenged, or we hesitate to recite because they might call us bida-bida. But we are also quick to call them out whenever we see something different about their appearance or attitude.
Cancel culture feeds on this way of thinking.
More often than not, when we’re one with the mob in calling someone out, we feel better about ourselves. It gives us an impression that we’re part of something big that uplifts justice or a new way of life, while using someone’s demise as a public example. Our “honor-shame” mentality wants cancel culture—until we’re the ones getting cancelled.
Getting cancelled can entirely destroy someone’s career, dreams, and dignity. Most of the time, the amount of outrage is not proportionate to the crime; social media doesn’t forget and shuts the door to second chances. Your mistake becomes your identity, and people leave little room for recovery.
The ancient Jewish community abhorred infidelity. According to the law to which they subscribed, adulterers must be stoned to death. One day, some teachers of the law brought an adulterous woman to Jesus, asking Him what to do with her. Jesus then told them and the crowd, “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her” (John 8:7). One by one, people left, until Jesus was left alone with her.
The only one who was actually qualified to cast the stone didn’t.
Did Jesus tolerate what the woman did? No, for He said, “Go, and from now on sin no more.”
Did He humiliate her to make her learn from her mistakes? No. Instead, He extended grace.
Jesus showed that we can cancel wrongdoing or an ideology without cancelling the person.
In the midst of a culture that brought shame and condemnation to those who didn’t meet the standards, He offered grace and forgiveness that restored honor.
He is not for cancellation, but He is for the cancelled.
So how do we respond amidst such a culture?
Just because many people are doing it doesn’t mean it’s right. Sometimes, it just means that many people are wrong.
When someone is on the judgment seat of social media again, let’s pause and ask ourselves,
“Do I really want to cancel this person, or is it just the crowd wanting me to respond this way?”
“Is the person the problem, or is it just the deed?”
“Am I subscribing to this ideology because I fear that I might get cancelled if I respond otherwise?”
“Does proving someone wrong make me right?”
It’s not wrong to question what the mob thinks or even challenge its ideals.
When we see views contrary to what we believe, let us not assume that we’re always right. There was a time when people with different opinions discussed their views with facts and sound arguments instead of cancelling each other out.
It doesn’t always mean that we come to an agreement, but we would gain better understanding about each other and eventually discover the truth together.
Virtual conversations give us the liberty to say anything and feel nothing, because what’s in front of us is just a screen. We tend to forget that there is an actual person behind the profile and that our words are powerful enough to impact someone’s life.
Being compassionate doesn’t mean being tolerant of wrongdoing. However, there is a proper way of correcting people without condemning them publicly.
“Paula, God loves you.”
In the overwhelming swarm of hate comments, Paula found a message that changed her life forever. Somebody told her that God’s love is still available even for cancelled people and there’s always a second chance in Him. Today, she serves as a youth pastor and a mental health advocate.
But not all cancelled people experience what Paula did.
Not everyone received a message of hope and restoration after being a public outcast. Some lost their jobs, quit their dreams, changed addresses, experienced illness, or even took their own lives.
Technology has given us both a privilege and a responsibility, a unique power to tear down or build up, and a choice to cancel or to restore.
Social media has become a huge trial court where anyone can judge and be judged. If the mallet is placed in our hands once again, what would our verdict be?