Cancel culture: Refers to “the popular practice of withdrawing support for (cancelling) public figures and companies after they have done or said something considered objectionable or offensive. Cancel culture is generally discussed as being performed on social media in the form of group shaming.”1

Cancel culture has become a trend on social media. The concept has been around for a long time, with people being ostracised for doing or saying, or perceived to be doing or saying, controversial things. However with the invention of social media, public shaming has now escalated. It began with people ‘cancelling’ celebrities, brands or companies with the intention of public civility and decency among public figures; but is now also used when people feel that the justice system has failed them (they take matters into their own hands).  Cancel culture can be devastating for public figures, but this trend has now extended to the everyday person on social media with potential as a deeply damaging force.

How it works:2

  • A celebrity or other public figure does or says something considered offensive. 
  • A public backlash ensues, often fuelled by politically progressive social media. 
  • Calls are made to cancel the person—that is, to effectively end their career or revoke their cultural cachet, whether through boycotts of their work or disciplinary action from an employer.

There is much debate over this phenomenon. Some believe it is a way to hold people accountable for their actions, while others believe it is a harsh form of unnecessary punishment as there is no room for apology and/or reconciliation. People also argue as to whether cancel culture even exists because how do you ‘cancel’ a person?3

Real-world examples

In 2009, Accenture PLC, a high-profile technology outsourcing and consulting firm, ended their sponsorship of Tiger Woods when his personal life no longer aligned with their values and brand. In this case, the motivation for ‘cancelling’ was twofold—support for those standing up against offensive behaviour, and a way to protect their brand. Companies cancel, not wanting to be associated anymore with a particular behaviour or person.

In most instances, bad publicity is difficult to shake off in our social media age. Ironically however, sales of Dr Seuss classics soared when Seuss Enterprises, the company that oversees and curates the late author Theodor Geisel’s books, announced that it will no longer publish six of their titles because of their racist and offensive imagery. The old adage ‘any publicity is good publicity’ holds true in this case.

Conversations that engage multiple perspectives

There are many things people do not agree on. Every individual forms their own opinions but these opinions may not be permanent. We are constantly exposed to new ideas that mould us and shape our personalities.

Different opinions between people can cause huge conflict between them, but it is important to learn to deal with these different opinions and to have hard conversations in a healthy, mature way. 

Having a successful controversial conversation means: 

  • Being open to and willing to consider other people’s opinions on a topic, even if they differ from your own.
  • Having your own well-informed opinion on a topic.
  • Having a calm, engaging discussion without losing your temper, shutting down or cancelling the people with whom you are engaging.


Cancelling Cancel Culture with Compassion (11.25)

An Explanation of Cancel Culture (4.19)

The Problem with Cancel Culture (5.09)|
(Please note that this video clip contains reference to sex and violence.)

Bear in mind that cancel culture generally relates to high profile people with an extensive social media reach. These individuals often outsource the management of their social media to agencies and managers. If anything goes wrong, there is a team around them to help.


A person who experiences cyberbullying may be profoundly impacted and find themselves without the same support as that available to a public figure. Cyberbullying is a topic we cover extensively in our GR 8 LO Manual. It falls within the electronic harassment component of the Protection from Harassment Act 17 of 2011; in other words, legal action can be taken against those doing the cyberbullying. Please remind scholars that each social media platform has a moderating capacity where you can file a complaint and report spam or abuse. Help them to familiarise themselves with these, and to be confident enough to report any issues in order to avoid personal attacks, which can become public and potentially devastating for an individual.

“In our earthly world we debate the idea of prison reform and rehabilitation, yet the cyber world’s [cancel culture] leaves no room for such hopes.”
– Aysha Taryam, author


Read the information and watch the video clips on cancel culture. Being mindful of the tips and tools for having an empathetic and open-minded conversation, engage in a class discussion as to whether you believe cancel culture is a harsh form of unnecessary punishment with no room for apology and reconciliation, or a useful tool to help keep people accountable for their actions.

If you are using the Achieve Careers LO Programme, the following information is recommended to support the facilitation of these topics.

  • GR 11 LO Manual, Section 3
  • GR 10 LO Manual, Section 3, pp. 46–49
  • Teacher Flash Drive – LO Resources – Controversial Topics – PowerPoint 

Support with Virtual Job Shadowing

The Job Shadow portal has come up with a way of supporting the virtual/digital job shadowing process. High school students can book a WhatsApp interview with a mentor of their choice (for a fee of R105) via the website. (The interview with the host aligns well with the Informational Interview pages from the Achieve Careers Virtual Job Shadow Journal.)

Job Shadow

1Pop Culture Dictionary. Cancel Culture, [Online], Available: [18 Aug 2021].

2Romano, A. (2020) ‘Why We Can’t Stop Fighting About Cancel Culture’, [Electronic], Available:
[18 Aug 2021].

3Vogels, E.A. et al. (2021) ‘Americans and ‘Cancel Culture’: Where Some See Calls For Accountability, Others See Censorship, Punishment’, [Electronic], Available: [18 Aug 2021].

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