Posted on: May 13, 2021 Posted by: Glacier Staff Comments: 0

Featured image: Social media influencer James Charles Photo: Theo Wargo/WireImage/Getty Images

By Ryan Windle, JRN 111 Student

If you have a problematic tweet from your past, you may want to delete it before Gen Z cancels you.

That’s what has happened to a lot of social media influencers lately. Influencers are people who “generate large followings of enthusiastic, engaged people who pay close attention to their views,” according to the website Influencer Marketing Hub.

With YouTube, TikTok, and Twitter, anyone can get famous without any rules. Young people support social media influencers and give them a platform without knowing how problematic they may be. Then, the tweets, videos and allegations come out; the influencers that people loved are not who they said they were. The same people many of us grew up idolizing are accused of being racists, sexual predators or even pedophiles.

Nearly every influencer Moraine students recently identified as their favorites has been “cancelled” over the past couple of years. 

YouTubers Jenna Marbles, Shane Dawson and Trisha Paytas all had videos resurface of them in blackface. Laura Lee, James Charles, and Jeffree Star all were canceled due to racist tweets. Star and Pewdiepie also uttered racial slurs on camera.  And most recently, James Charles, David Dobrik and Jake Paul all were accused of sexual assault.

When followers cancel an influencer, they are “revoking an influencer’s platform after controversy,” business student Christian said. He preferred not to give his last name to protect his own online presence.

“It’s disappointing that someone’s content I enjoyed was a very different person in real life,” said student Claire Ivers.

What makes us want to be ‘influenced’?

Why are people drawn to strangers in the first place, and why do they look to them for guidance? 

Moraine Valley psychology professor Amy Williamson explains, “We are social creatures and look to others to help us know what to do. We also look to others when we know little about the topic being discussed.”

The blog Pop Neuro, written by neuroscientist Matt Johnson and marketer Prince Ghuman, explains the psychology behind cancel culture: “When we follow someone who shares our values, we are expressing our identity by aligning ourselves with them.”

But what happens when the people we follow no longer seem to share our values? We experience cognitive dissonance, according to Johnson and Ghuman, and this dissonance must be resolved by either abandoning our values or “canceling” the influencer.

“Values are notoriously difficult to change,” they say. “Unless you’re obsessively attached to the individual, chances are you’ll ditch them for your values.”

Apologies don’t always bring forgiveness

In an attempt to win back their fans and the public, most influencers try to apologize for their past behavior, saying they are not the same person they were when they made those comments.  Most go for a video apology, but some just do a notes app apology and post it on all platforms.  Some fans forgive, but most do not.

“There just is so much, it’s hard to deny everything,” says ISU student Connor Kubil. “As more and more happens, I am not able to forgive most influencers.  Their actions have happened multiple times. It seems like most do not get held accountable as they still can have a following. I just don’t really support many influencers anymore. It’s hard to trust anyone now.”

Moraine student Melissa Wojick agrees: “I totally understand that people can change and grow as a person,  but I believe that certain remarks and jokes are too horrid.  I unfollow and do not support them anymore.”

Students often partake in cancel culture, but many fear the repercussions if people know their thoughts on it.  You don’t want to be cancelled by your peers for cancelling—or not cancelling–someone. In fact, in discussing this topic, some Moraine students wanted to remain anonymous.

“It’s very hypocritical for people to collectively cancel someone for something they did or said in their life that is wrong,” said one student who preferred anonymity. “Everybody makes mistakes. The only difference is that not everyone has their mistakes recorded on social media like influencers do.”

Moraine student Ayat Nakhleh thinks cancel culture can go too far: “It’s getting out of hand, especially when the same people who cancel someone, end up being the ones who stand with them once the person does the bare minimum in apologizing.”

Influencer Jenna Marbles apologizes to followers for past mistakes.

As Jenna Marbles left YouTube, she created a last video that was one big apology for everything she had done. She left all social media platforms in June 2020, taking accountability and leaving many fans upset. 

“There’s a couple of things that people want me to address and apologize for and I’m happy to do that,” she said. She apologized for her use of blackface in a video impersonating Nicki Minaj: “It’s awful. I wish it wasn’t part of my past.”

Marbles was a favorite among many Moraine students, who were nostalgic thinking about how excited they would be waiting for her to post a new video. Some students sympathized with her for being canceled.

“It hurt seeing Jenna Marbles be canceled since I feel that she didn’t mean to do black face and her incident happened a long time ago,” said Moraine student Haneen. “I feel she is a different person and creates content that makes many people feel safe.”

The most recent influencer to be cancelled was James Charles. Despite past racist tweets, Charles was able to create a huge following on numerous social media platforms and influence many subscribers to purchase Morphe cosmetics.

James Charles issues an apology video for what he calls “flirty conversations” with underage followers.

According to an article in Vulture, in February, a 16-year-old boy claimed that Charles “had groomed him and pressured him into exchanging sexual photos via the Snapchat app.” Charles’ response was that he was unaware of the boy’s age at the time.  Since the first allegations, other boys have come forward saying that they were groomed by James Charles. 

In an apology video, Charles said, “It sucks, and it is ridiculously embarrassing to admit this, but, I think I have to, and that is that I am desperate.”

“I think James Charles’ apology video really put the nail in the coffin for him,” said Ivers. “How do you compare grooming underage boys to being desperate?  As a former supporter, I am embarrassed that I ever was a fan of his.  What kind of message is this sending the younger kids who may not know that Charles’ actions are very serious?”

Recently, Charles’ YouTube channel was demonitizied, meaning he can no longer make any money on that platform.  Charles also lost his collaboration with Morphe.

Student Cecilia, who prefers to withhold her last name, sums up many people’s reasons for canceling influencers they once loved: “At the end of the day they need to take responsibility for what they did wrong.”