Due to the rapid expansion of social media in recent years, activism has been finding its way into these platforms. Thanks to the ability to rapidly spread information, apps such as Instagram and TikTok have become an effective way to raise awareness for global issues. There have been many success stories in which social media has created global outrage and raised mass amounts of money for causes that found their voice on these platforms, such as the Time’s Up movement in 2018. This has put pressure on popular social media creators to use their platforms for good as well. In the early 2000s, actors and singers were the pop culture role models for the teenage population. Now, it is social media creators that have taken the wheel. These popular creators, such as Charli D’Amelio, a 16-year-old creator that was featured in the Forbes ‘30 Under 30’ list in 2020, is one of the most popular online personalities of this generation. Young people are attracted to the relatability of these young creators leading to an ever growing following of supporters and critics on social media.
In recent years, there has been a growing desire to hold people accountable for offensive and insensitive behavior. Oftentimes, content resurfaces or is released that is deemed as abhorrent by millions of viewers. These social media users demand apologies and accountability for every form of imperfect behavior from popular creators of online content. In extreme cases this can take the form of cancel culture, meaning that people are boycotted and ostracized from social media due to their behavior. This call-out culture thrives off of shaming, criticizing, and threatening social media users in an effort to shun them from the internet.
Online Cancellation vs Real Life Cancellation
It is important to recognize that there is an important difference between ‘cancelling’ a public figure such as Harvey Weinstein, a film producer who was accused of exploiting his powerful position to sexually harass and rape women in the film industry, and ‘cancelling’ teenagers on the internet. It is crucial to deny rapists such as Harvey Weinstein a powerful platform, however, this is very different to sending death threats and hate to children on social media. For instance, popular creators such as James Charles, a 21-year-old make-up and beauty Youtuber, was bashed in December 2020 for not having used his social media platform to post petitions about Brandon Bernard, a man who was on death row for a crime committed when he was 18. Millions of social media users shared petitions asking for a halt of his execution. Unfortunately, the petitions did not stop the execution from occurring, and later social media creators, such as James Charles, were criticized for not having used their large platforms to spread information.
Spreading awareness on a sizable online platform can benefit the awareness of social and political movements, however it can not be a 21-year-old beauty and makeup Youtuber who is reprimanded and blamed for not having shared a campaign online when they are not politicians, activists or social justice warriors. Similarly, 16-year-old Charli D’Amelio was also ‘cancelled’ and criticized for not having posted about this issue.
Teenage Creators Are Set to Particularly High Standards
It is unrealistic to expect young social media users to have the knowledge and experience to be perfect role models. Nowadays, it is common for social media users to put these creators on a pedestal and have impossibly perfect expectations for these teenagers. Another common occurrence on social media is the resurfacing of videos of popular creators making insensitive and offensive comments that are undoubtedly unacceptable. There is no justification for any types of sexist, homophobic, or racist remarks and this is something that is essential to hold people responsible for.
It can’t be expected that 16-year olds are perfect role models, and social media users shouldn’t resort to cyberbullying them for their mistakes in the name of ‘holding them accountable’.
Is It Accountability or Excessive Judgment?
Nevertheless, in many cases, these creators were around the age of 12 in the videos and are now several years older. Often the line between holding people accountable and ‘cancelling’, or chastising them disappears. It is crucial to stress the importance of educating young people on what language is wrong to use, and when to apologize. Nonetheless, this does not excuse sending death threats and telling creators to ‘kill themselves’ because of a mistake made when they were children and might not have been informed enough. This does not justify the use of these remarks in any way, but it is also not realistic to expect that this mistake should lead to a lifetime of being outcast and excoriated by millions of users online.
Social media effectively and consistently shines a light on wrongdoings, which can inform users about what terminology and behavior is inappropriate or offensive. However, it can also lead users to feel as though they have a moral upper hand when choosing to scold any imperfect behavior and castigating teenage creators from the comfort of their homes and hidden behind their screens. There is often no space allowed for improvement online; if one thing is done incorrectly, that was the only chance social media users had. Especially at such a young age with millions of people watching, it is to be expected that teenagers will mess up. It can’t be expected that 16-year olds are perfect role models, and social media users shouldn’t resort to cyberbullying them for their mistakes in the name of ‘holding them accountable’.
Where Can It Go Right?
This isn’t to say that social media has not ever been successful at holding people responsible. Quite the contrary, online platforms are a force to be reckoned with when it comes to penalizing people’s racist, homophobic, and sexist behavior. In December 2020, for example, a video was posted on social media by musician Keyon Harrold of a woman named Miya Ponsetto attacking his 14-year-old son as she believed he had stolen his phone. Due greatly to social media, she was identified and arrested for her behavior and will hopefully be held liable in court.
Nevertheless, although social media can be powerful in generating awareness of social issues and informing young people, it should not become a place where teenage creators are held to an impossible standard and then bullied and bashed when they do not reach it.