The cancel culture phenomenon in the West is not only the result of aggressive online activism, as it has a powerful ally in tech companies.
That’s the gist of a report that looks at how activists and groups are able to surface their grievances and accusations to a large enough audience, which then brings about “canceling” of anything from humans to companies to statues.
According to the report, the answer is – algorithms, and media outlets who pick up on it when algorithms help surface and present to millions complaints sometimes coming from a small number of people.
But how does somebody with an insignificant following on social media even manage to make their message compelling enough for algorithms to pick it up and spread?
The use of hashtags is popular among those ganging up on a chosen target, while University of New Haven lecturer Susan Campbell says that these users’ path goes through influencers, who “spread the word” on their behalf, hoping that it catches on.
And when it does, individuals and companies find it difficult to fight back, and are often overwhelmed, with people’s careers and even lives ruined, and brands damaged.
What’s in it for Big Tech, meanwhile, is increased engagement and more advertising money; firestorms of outrage that are helped along by algorithms making them discoverable suit the platforms that host them.
“A snowball effect occurs, creating a feedback loop that amplifies the outrage,” a recent report in the Conversation said, describing the way in which messages that would otherwise remain ignored find their way to an online audience and grow. Big Tech is seen here helping what are sometimes no more than differences of opinion become full-blown crises with real life consequences.
But it isn’t just social justice and political activists who engage in cancel culture tactics on the web, as business competitors have been known to back or even promote false accusations.
And cancel culture basically spawning an industry – “specialty ‘reputation management’ companies squash adverse search results out of the first or second pages on Google, or create their own social media pages and accounts to generate more positive search results,” the report writes.
There has been some pushback from public figures, like Noam Chomsky, Salman Rushdie, and J.K. Rowling – but it doesn’t seem like cancel culture will be running out of steam any time soon.