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#Cancelled: The rise and fall of social media stars

Abi Ramsay explores how cancel culture can mean the destruction of a career or simply the pause button

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Image Credit: Youtube - Lone Fox

In 1981, Chic released an album containing the song ‘Your Love is Cancelled’ comparing the lost love of an ex to the cancellation of a TV show. Little did they know that their quirky metaphor would hold such a strong resonance with the youth culture to follow 33 years later, with ‘cancelling’ reemerging in 2014 in partner-ship with the‘#MeToo’ movement. This movement saw a rise in using social media to ‘callout’ inappropriate or misogynistic messaging in society, with many male celebrity figures being targeted on Twitter for their involvement. ‘Cancelling’ soon became a relevant part of society invoicing the opinions of youth in particular, who found it difficult to get involved in political conversations otherwise.

However, over time, these isolated incidences of ‘cancelling’ became more frequent and gained a mob-like infatuation. In 2019, this phenomenon got deemed ‘cancel culture’, and since then, it has both brought about popularity for public figures, as well as ruined the reputations of others in just a matter of minutes. As society becomes more dependent on social media, celebrities and politicians have had to change the way they interact with us to remain more relevant. Joe Biden madeTikTok’s with Olivia Rodrigo to encourage young Americans to get vaccinated, and celebrities have often tried to find ways to stay trending on Twitter to promote new films or songs.

Because of this shift, anyone in the public eye is at risk of having their past dragged up and scrutinised. Any interaction had on the internet, whether it be before or after fame, is looked over and shared, with some people going out of their way to find slip-ups or remarks that a person can be ‘cancelled’ for. In 2017, British YouTuber Jack Maynard felt this first hand. He was one of the first social media influencers to find their way onto mainstream TV, with him taking part in the 17th series of I’m A Celebrity Get Me Out Of Here. However, he fell victim to cancel culture, and was asked to leave by his publicist and to share an apology with the public for racist and homophobic tweets he shared in 2012, that had been deleted before he emerged into the public eye. Of course, Maynard never should have posted tweets that shared such ideations, but he was certainly not the last social media influencer to fall victim to ‘cancel culture’. 22 year old beauty influencer James Charles has had to share many apology videos about his discussion and treatment of minors, 35 year old MUA Jef-free Star for racist comments and language, 33year old conspiracy theorist Shane Dawson for paedophilic and racist language, and 23 year old American internet personality Tana Mongeauis constantly sitting on her floor and crying for camera. So why is it that social media stars are most likely to be cancelled? And why does it not tend to be long lasting?

In terms of demographic, YouTube often caters to younger audiences, with 14-25 being the largest age category to use the site. In America 95percent of 18-29 year olds are using the site, with there being a high probability that younger users are lying about their age to watch otherwise age restricted content. Because of this, it is safe to assume that many social media influencers are attracting a young, impressionable audience – something which is proven through the demographic of TikTok, with 50 percent of the users being under 30, and 32 . 5 percent being between the ages of10-19. Social media stars also rise to fame incredibly quickly; all it takes is one viral video, and their subscriber rate can increase by millions in less than 24 hours. This means that a lot of younger people who wouldn’t necessarily be in the public eye otherwise are now idolised and scrutinised, making it easier for ‘cancelling' to occur.

Of course, in each of these cases, it is clear the personalities in question should be called out for their behaviour. However, ‘cancelling’, is never permanent, and in most cases, all it takes is a scripted apology video, a few fake tears, and a leave of absence before the incidents are for-gotten and the demographic want their regularly scheduled videos back.

This is most evident in the recent scandal surrounding Slovakian YouTuber David Dobrik. 24 year old Dobrik shot to fame for his fun four minute, 20 second videos, which documented his friendship group doing weird and hilarious things. This soon turned into scripted ‘bits’ as his audience grew and his need for originality peaked. Dobrik started filming things which were controversial, including (but not limited to), ableist, sexist, racist, sizest and misogynistic quips. In 2018, he published a video entitled “SHE SHOULD NOT HAVE PLAYED WITH FIRE” which included a segment of his then friend, Dom Zeglaitis going to engage in group sex. On 16 March of this year, one of the girls involved in that segment said she had been raped, and that she felt Dobrik had facilitated it. Around that same time, another one of Dobrik’s ‘Vlog Squad’, Jeff Wittek, released a docu-series surrounding a near-fatal accident he was involved in. Through footage, he showed Dobrik to be the cause of his severe injuries, which resulted in Wittek suffering from a fractured skull, torn ligaments in his legs, a broken hip and only being a few inches from death.

The two incidents saw Dobrik lose sponsorship, most notably from SeatGeek, a company that had been supporting him for years. It also saw the end of his new appDispo, which he has since sold to other people, and the loss of some of his team. Initially posting a short apology video, Dobrik was criticised both for its length and insensitivity. He later deleted it, posting a longer video apologising again (sitting on his floor and of course, crying) before taking a leave of absence from social media until June 2021. At this time, he posted online saying he “fully believes” the women who spoke out about Zeglaitis. Since then, he has gone back to posting regular videos, and many of his previous sponsors have returned, as well as new opportunities for him.

So why was Dobrik able to return after such serious accusations? This could be to do with the validity of cancel culture. Social media is a fast-paced environment itself, making current relevancy the most important point in maintaining a role in the public eye, particularly when there are new influencers discovered everyday. This often means that people who are ‘cancelled’ for a serious allegation are able to return if their demographic requires it. More often than not, a need for new content outweighs the severity of the person’s faults. It is only when the accusations are constantly associated with the name – such as the instances of James Charles and Shane Dawson – that a person’s popularity can seriously suffer as a result, but even this recess is fleeting. Both Charles and Dawson still have a group of loyal fans of over 20 million people each, allowing the gravitas of their situation to still have little to no effect on their everyday lives.

Some people are so closely associated with this cancel culture, that they start making it part of their brand. This is the case of Tana Mongeau, who was so used to being ‘cancelled’, that she has since made a podcast by the same name, deliberately telling outrageous stories with guests, to remain relevant in a scandalous way. This allows Mongeau to make money off something that should instead be teaching her valuable life lessons.

Instead of asking ourselves who is behind cancel culture, we should instead be investigating the validity of it as a force of justice. In 2019, Barack Obama had a conversation with actress Yara Shahidi about cancel culture at the Obama Foundation Summit. He stated that it was “not activism”, nor was it “bringing about change”. In fact, he called it“easy”, believing that people often do it to feel good about themselves. He also spoke on how it was usual for things to “accelerate” via social media, perhaps highlighting the dangers associated with cancel culture.

In the cases of social media influencers, it can be easy to find the source of ‘cancelling’, as much of their lives is shared online to maintain a 'normal-person’ aesthetic. However, with other celebrities and political figures, cancel culture can be very easily orchestrated, and still have the ability to ruin someone’s reputation. This was the case with actor Ed Westwick in 2017, who was accused of sexual assault. The allegation quickly went trending on Twitter, with Westwick losing his role in the BBC production of Agatha Christie’s Ordeal by Innocence as a result. He tweeted:“I do not know this woman. I have never forced myself in any manner, on any woman. I certainly have never committed rape”, and in 2018 it was announced the allegation would not go to trial. However, for a moment, the unverified nature of cancel culture had debilitated his career and has formed long lasting associations with his name.

Of course, when we see anyone’s name trending on Twitter, an interest is piqued, whether you are a follower or fan of them. This interest then expands into something more when you discover their name is trending for a negative reason, as we all love celebrity gossip to tell our friends. However, more often than not, the reason behind cancel culture can be uneducated, and it is important to research a story closely, before joining in the “#____isoverparty”. Cancel culture can put someone’s whole career on the line, and this could be for an unproven allegation. In the case of social media influencers, can-celling can appear even more exciting, as you watch their last ditch attempts to clear their name. It may be more beneficial to unsubscribe from someone’s account than join in on a chain of tweets that will soon get out of hand – and it will save you the stress of trying to stay up to date with the fleeting rise and fall of media stars, something I for one, feel too old to deal with no.

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