As more people spend time indoors and celebrities become painfully out of touch, the Court of Twitter has been sharpening the knives for anyone seen stepping out of line. Vanessa Hudgens says some nonsense about old people dying on Instagram Live? Cancelled. Madonna bathes in a tub of milk and calls the pandemic “the great equaliser”? Cancelled.
On the whole, public cancellations are seen as a quick and fair way to hold powerful people accountable. But what happens when instead of punching up at celebrities or those with power, you’re punching down at normal people who fuck up?
There are three important stages to every cancellation – the offence, the apology and the outcome. After speaking to three people who have been brutally cancelled, we’ve compiled a handy guide to walk you through your own eventual cancellation.
STAGE ONE: THE OFFENCE
The first step to getting cancelled is committing some kind of offence.
For 22-year-old journalist Maddy, this came in the form of an article she wrote a few years ago. Her mistake was not realising that a well-known sex and relationships guru tweeted a similar argument the night before it was published, so Maddy got accused of stealing content from a Black woman.
“I was commissioned the piece by an editor on my team, and I swear to God I had never seen this woman’s tweets, but she just wouldn’t believe me. And then loads of people started calling me a ‘racist’ and a ‘white stealing bitch’”, she recalls painfully.
Meanwhile, Matt Simpson’s offence was creating the “12 Years A Slave gym workout” for Black History Month just a few weeks ago. “The only thing I was thinking was, ‘this is a monumental mistake, a massive mistake’,” the 36-year-old personal trainer says now. “One hundred percent, people [had the right to be upset]. It didn’t sink in for a few days the scale of what had occurred until it hit the national press.”
In some cases, you might not even think of your actions as cancel-worthy until you start getting harassed or receiving death threats. That’s what happened when 26-year-old Ariana Grande fan Roslyn called the singer out for tweeting that bloggers are “unfulfilled” and lack purpose. As a result, Ariana slid into her DMs and other Ariana Grande fans began to turn on her.
“I felt like I got in trouble over something very juvenile and people criticised me for not being very eloquent with my words and not filtering my anger,” she says. “It was super fucking overwhelming getting a barrage of hate. I didn’t expect to get doxxed.”
STAGE TWO: THE APOLOGY
When the whole world hates you, it’s normal to want to explain yourself. But don’t. Unless you’re apologising, it’s best to keep your mouth shut. Maddy learned this the hard way when she frantically tried to explain herself to the influencer calling her out. “As soon as I responded to her privately, I knew my message would be screenshotted and posted on her feed. It was the absolute definition of adding fuel to the fire, because I literally gave her kindling for her cancel campaign.”
Once you do decide to apologise, there are multiple platforms at your disposal. There’s the classic Notes apology, a five-thread Twitter statement or even a video (never forget Alfie Deyes filming a whole movie just to say he’s not a Tory). Some people like Roslyn skip this step because they feel they were never guilty in the first place, but for those who really fuck up, this is a chance to set things right. It’s also important to time your apology well, otherwise people will start trying to get you fired from your job as a form of retribution.
Matt opted for an IGTV video in which he addressed the situation and said he “apologised wholeheartedly to everybody who felt in any way shape or form, angered, upset or racially abused”. He told me that despite posting the apology, people were still scrutinising every single word. And after gaining over a thousand followers post-cancellation, he says he feels watched. He’s not wrong – when you get cancelled, people will eagerly wait for you to trip up, just to dunk on you even more, AKA the Jameela Jamil effect – when people wait for you to mess up publicly, because you do it all the time.
STAGE THREE: THE OUTCOME
This stage will strongly depend on how well you handled the first two stages and also, how “forgivable” you are in society’s eyes. It seems that people with more privilege are afforded plenty of room to mess up, while those with less are held to higher standards.
It’s been over a year and a half since Roslyn had the altercation with Ariana and her fans, but she’s still getting hate. Just days ago, Arianators were trying to get her account locked after she tweeted about the singer’s new album, proving that no matter how much a cancellation storm dies down, there’ll always be people who will keep receipts for next time.
Oh, and there will be a next time. Maddy is sure of it. “I’m completely accepting of the fact that it's almost definitely gonna happen again,” she says.
The experience has left the young journalist feeling overly cautious in good and bad ways. On the one hand, she’s a lot better at fact-checking when doing her job. On the other hand, she now lives with an irrational fear that people will think she’s racist.
“Cancel culture rids people of all nuance and people don’t have the ability to learn, because they're so scared of making a mistake. Twitter is an open battlefield and it’s flattening – you forget that other people are humans and that they have other problems they're going through.” Maddy wishes that more people would message someone privately instead of trying to immediately publicly shame them.
Although you may receive a lot of support from friends and family post-cancellation, there will also be those who will turn their backs on you, forever. Matt ended up leaving his job at PureGym and moving on to a better role elsewhere. He said it was a “very bitter pill to swallow” when former colleagues turned his back on him and stopped speaking to him altogether. “I realised we weren’t really friends and were only bound together by the job”, he reflects.
But no matter how awful things seem, the worst days of your cancellation will pass and it’s best to stay optimistic. “In my eyes, it’s all been God’s plan,” Matt says. With a new job and the number of hate messages rapidly decreasing, the PT is trying to look on the bright side, citing the fact PureGym changed their social media policy and introduced new diversity training within a week of the social media storm. “It all could have really gone the other way,” he says solemnly.
So, don’t get too disheartened if you’re getting cancelled today, as one thing is for certain – someone else will take your place tomorrow!