[OPINION] The problem with cancel culture, virtue signaling, and everything in between

Allyson Tutay
[OPINION] The problem with cancel culture, virtue signaling, and everything in between
'If we only limit ourselves to half the conversation, the revolution will only be half-finished'

Now, before you condemn me to the pits of hell, I ask you to put down your Twitter accounts for a moment and listen. A strange concept, isn’t it? Listening. It’s especially strange today, as our trigger response is to take to our social media accounts to vent angrily to our followers – half of us in blind fury, the other half in fear of being called out for not being “woke.”

This is the issue of the revolution on social media. Today, individuals from all over the world declare that it’s time to have conversations. While this is certainly true, the problem lies in that most people are only willing to speak. People don’t take a moment to pause and listen. We only engage in half of the conversation, proudly defending our side. We fail to realize that as we scream into the void with a million other people, no one’s listening. Naturally, we gravitate toward our own, willing to listen to those who share the same views as us. It’s understandable, because we want our opinions reaffirmed; we want others to nod and agree – even I am complicit in this.

However, it’s time that we recognize why this is bad and why we can no longer partake in this. Today, the Black Lives Matter movement is the revolution of a century: it has a real face and people who are suffering. But many of us have turned it into the latest buzzword, another fad on social media, another trend.

Remember when we all changed our profile pictures to blue for South Sudan? These pictures were removed in maybe a week. But the South Sudan crisis rages on, and the rest of the world moved onto the next big thing.

But these aren’t just trends; these are movements that are meant to better lives. They are not passing fads for us to post about or worse, to criticize each other for not posting about. These are movements that demand reform, a change in mindset and conversations. If we only limit ourselves to half the conversation, the revolution will only be half-finished. We will have threads and threads of the pros and cons to the issue, without the necessary intersection of the two, without the much-needed compromise and understanding that will help us come to a consensus. 

This is made even worse with the rise of “cancel culture,” where keyboard warriors unilaterally become a barometer for what is and what is not socially correct. Given the propensity for keyboard warriors to be extreme in their viewpoints, they are likely to shun and silence anyone on the other extreme or even in the moderate middle. This superficially devalues the viewpoints of others at a time when we allegedly “want” conversation. (READ: The decline of critical thinking)

While many of these keyboard warriors often have their hearts in the right place, they must recognize their complicity in restricting the conversation and silencing others. If they preach tolerance for their views, they must be equally prepared to be held accountable to these same standards. Individuals need to recognize the value in respectful conversations, in order to ease the increasing hyperpartisanship and bipolarity that dominates both our online and offline world. Many of the issues that we are faced with today – climate change, terrorism, immigration, the Black Lives movement, police brutality – these flashpoints that are bipartisan have become hyperpartisan. You are either a liberal or a conservative. Moderates in the middle are irrelevant to the conversation. 

Do you see the danger in these arbitrary divisions? In our impassioned attempts to fight for our beliefs, we inexplicably reinforce societal divisions that only make consensus more difficult. It strengthens the echo chamber of the internet, and these sound waves fail to actualize into tangible change. 

And with the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement, we are met with a new problem of the social media revolution: the issue of virtue signaling. What is so wrong exactly, about virtue signaling?

First of all, it is self-defeating. It allows individuals to feel good about themselves even if they’ve done little to help. I argue that not posting and living with the discomfort allows us to recognize the disconcerting reality we live in. This feeling is far more powerful and far more likely to be remembered the next time we are in a position of power – like at the ballot box.

Secondly, it stops people from contributing more actively. Certainly, there are many of us who are informed when we post, but there are just as many who post a hashtag without knowing what it means. Understanding, learning, and reflecting are so much more important. Donating and communicating (and notice the difference between communication and just speaking) are equally important. (READ: [OPINION] To ‘woke’ people on Twitter: Turn online noise into action)

Thirdly, it reduces the severity of the movement. When the movement that has existed for years is reduced to a social media stunt, its online presence becomes reduced. It even isolates the original protestors, as found in a study.

However, this does not mean that we are powerless in this fight if we recognize our role in what we are pushing for. We need to be more willing to have conversations with people who will challenge our view and logically force us to re-examine our own opinions and the rationale behind them. We need to be willing to acknowledge the merit in others’ opinions and recognize the common ground for our fight.

Let’s take the Black Lives Movement as an example. We can’t view the issue as one of the police versus black people, not when we should be co-opting the police to change the system to one of better enforcement and stronger security. We cannot isolate the “other side” when cooperation with this side is so integral to moving toward a better tomorrow. This tomorrow is characterized by mutual respect instead of vivid bipolarity.

We need to understand movements before we pledge our support of it, and we need to make sure we do not drown out the voices most pertinent to the cause. We need to check and recognize our privilege, and make sure it does not threaten the movement which we support. We must remember and internalize these experiences and allow it to shape the way we address political decisions. When we ask ourselves who to vote for, whether we should even go down to the polls, we need to remember this disconcerting reality that depends on us to change. 

We can also donate to causes that have a better ability at connecting those who are willing to help and those who need help.

If we want to be part of the change, we need to recognize how we can best support it. For those in power and with influence, it is imperative that they use that voice in order to facilitate conversations. And for the rest of us, we need to be willing to sit down and be a part of that conversation. – Rappler.com

Allyson Tutay is a full-time student completing her final year of high school in Singapore. When she’s not stressing about the future of the Philippines, you can probably find her stressing about a paper she’s writing or de-stressing by playing squash.