To call out or cancel?

Photo by Prateek Katyal on Unsplash

If you’ve been on the internet for the past few years you probably noticed the emergence of call-out culture. It is a form of public shaming that is directed at holding groups or individuals accountable for their actions through drawing attention to behaviour that is considered to be problematic. It is prominent on social media. Then there is cancel culture which is different to being called out. This involves boycotting an individual or group who has been called out for being problematic, they have exhibited questionable behaviour or opinions, or they have done something in their past and should be cancelled for it. For example, if a celebrity is cancelled, then the boycott usually leads to a decline in their fanbase or careers. There is now a call-out and cancel revolution appearing on Instagram through emerging activist accounts. They critique influencers and brands, but are their unapologetic and uncensored criticisms helpful, or are they also problematic themselves?

It’s hard to navigate the world of social media. It’s easy to say something that you shouldn’t have said at all. Then someone notices what you have said. After that you are called out. Then what happens? Are you cancelled? Where do you go from there?

I want to focus on the fashion and beauty industry, after all, I actively follow these so-called call-out accounts on my Instagram. If you’re up-to-date on any news (or scandal) in the fashion industry or beauty industry, then you’ve probably heard of Estée Laundry, Diet Prada, Retail Slambook or Yeezy Busta. Their fundamental aim is to call-out influencers, fashion and beauty publications, and the brands who have done something problematic. If you look at any of these accounts, it is clear that they are trying to inform other users about the going-ons of the industry. Although, it is also clear based on the comments, that they are there to allow consumers to vocalise their concerns with these publications, brands and influencers. These accounts have a huge impact. Remember the Gucci balaclava? No? Okay, they were these knit ski masks with racist connotations, but no one realised until they released a black turtleneck balaclava with red cut-out lips that resembled blackface. Well, thanks to accounts, such as Diet Prada, Gucci quickly recalled the sweaters from their sale and issued an apology. These accounts are pointing out how brands need to change diversity on both a corporate and creative level. 


Instagram: @diet_prada

Another example of airing out dirty laundry is within the beauty through Estée Laundry’s post on Jeffree Star who boasts that his brand is cruelty-free and vegan-friendly, but he continues to wear mink. Yes, these accounts bring about change by empowering users to push brands to consider their actions, but have they thought about the effects of call-out culture on people? There is a fine line to calling-out and cancelling. If you remember the Tati Westbrook and James Charles fallout in ‘Dramageddon 2.0’, Westbrook was simply calling Charles out for his behaviour, however, the internet had already decided he was cancelled. Can calling-out and caring about the fashion and beauty industries be congruent? Or have these calls for change become another way of online bullying?

Instagram: @esteelaundry

These accounts would be nothing with its followers, for they are the ones providing and responding to the information, and are making sure that themselves and others are being diligent consumers. Instead of raising our pitchforks and lighting fires, we have become a community that picks up their phones and destroys lives through hacks and screenshots. I agree, it is important to hold people accountable for their actions, but to cancel them is extreme. These accounts do not simply call-out designers, influencers and brands. There is an important component of public shaming there. The accounts encourage Dieters and Laundrites to criticise these industries. However, these accounts do not claim responsibility for their followers who troll brands, influencers and designers. It’s evident through cases like Arielle Charnas (an influencer who forgot to name-check one of the influences in her collection of headbands) and Dani Austin (a blogger whose bags had a resemblance to the Valentino Rockstud range). It’s safe to say that these accounts need to claim responsibility when their followers start to cancel others. 

Are these accounts really leaders when it comes to online activism? Or are these accounts trolls that are simply pushing for the takedown of companies and individuals? This idea of ‘woke’ call-out culture is not activism. It may seem that these accounts are making effective changes, but that isn’t necessarily accurate, because in reality they’re just trying to demonstrate how woke they are. Then there is the system online that rewards negativity. This system, in turn, is silencing others as we must all police our own voices, our thoughts and our opinions. These platforms which were built to connect and help us all communicate with each other on a virtual level has left many feeling worried about checking into social media. Instead of participating in online culture, people have begun to avoid it entirely, so a change needs to be made. We certainly need to stop cancel culture, it benefits no one, and it’s not activism but a form of harassment. This has been obvious from the start. However, perhaps we need to stop calling people out, too. Instead of calling them out, we should try to help others better themselves, otherwise you’re just targeting someone online.

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