As the internet has slowly seeped more and more into our everyday lives over the last couple of decades, it’s disadvantages have come to light much more slowly than it’s advantages did. One of the former being that once something is on the internet, it stays on the internet. Forever. Yes, while they might be inaccessible to us now, those embarrassing digital camera pictures we all uploaded to Bebo in 2006 are probably still floating around out there somewhere in the depths of the internet. Putting something out online is a little bit like squeezing out a full tube of toothpaste – easy to do, and probably fun while you’re doing it, but impossible to put back in or undo.

The same is true for probably every email, tweet, text or quick snap any of us have ever blasted off into the internet in our lives. Whether they’re still sitting in a defunct social media or email account that you forgot the login details for, or being stowed away in a server somewhere, each and every one of our words or snapshots or searches, documenting our lives, have a digital footprint.

This has become very apparent in recent years for a number of celebrities, both local and further afield, when the words they’ve chosen to tap into their tiny mobile screens have gotten them into a lot of trouble. From accusations of defamation to costing you your job, comments made online can have very serious consequences – and not the least of these consequences, is the risk of being cancelled.

Now, you might be familiar with the word “cancelled” meaning that an event or scheduled happening has been called off or will not take place. But if you’re one of the trendy cool kids, you’ll realise that’s not what I’m talking about. “Cancel Culture” is an online trend that has become rampant in recent years, and refers to a sort of ‘witch hunt’ mindset that is now common in modern society, and mostly on social media. Basically, if a celebrity or influential person, or in fact, just any old Joe Bloggs off the street, makes a wrong move online, you risk being singled out, hunted down and reprimanded for your bad behaviour by the vigilante online community. Once they’re done with you, you’ll be “cancelled” – over, finished with, null and void.

On some occasions, it may seem that “Cancelling” someone could be justified. For example, it’s now a frequent occurrence to see videos online of ordinary people doing horrible things in everyday life, like making hateful or racist remarks or bullying another person, uploaded by nearby witnesses calling for them to be “cancelled”. On many occasions, this can and has led to the subject being fired from their job. One example is famous American actress Roseanne Barr, who was cancelled both in the online world and literally had her TV show cancelled, after making a string of racist remarks on Twitter.

However, like most online trends, it’s also extremely questionable. It doesn’t take a genius to point out how dangerous it is to give an angry mob the power to be judge, jury and executioner of a person based on oftentimes extremely flimsy online “evidence”. One such case was that of the American comedian Kevin Hart, who was supposed to host the Oscars in 2019, but quit before the awards took place following the emergence of a number of homophobic tweets he had posted in 2010. Once the old messages came to light, the mob came out in their forces and Hart was well and truly cancelled, and his resignation from his hosting duties soon followed. While I would never condone what Hart said in these tweets, it does raise the question of where we draw the line on political correctness. I’m not by any means saying that being homophobic was somehow okay or acceptable ten years ago. But if we can’t as a society entertain the idea that somebody may have grown or improved as a person in the space of almost a decade and learned the error of their ways, and instead still needs to be punished for the ghosts of their past years later...there might be something wrong. Equally, if we can’t allow for space to open a conversation about whether someone has learned from their mistakes, and if not, try to reasonably help them to learn, then once again, there’s probably something wrong.

And of course, there’s another layer to all of this. As Albert Einstein himself once said, you can’t believe everything you read on the internet. I know that he said that because I saw it on Facebook! But basically, fake news plus cancel culture pretty much equals the Salem Witch Trials – or in other words, you’re going to end up burning an innocent cat lady at the stake because someone swears she put a curse on them. A perfect example of this presented itself recently online when one of the most popular personalities on the video website Youtube found himself and his career cancelled overnight. James Charles, a 19 year old makeup artist who had around seventeen million subscribers on Youtube, was the subject of a video uploaded by one of his close friends, a fellow Youtube famous makeup artist named Tati. She accused him in this video of being dishonest, and of using his fame to take advantage of others. Pretty much overnight, James lost millions of followers, while Tati gained subscribers at an amazing pace, and the drama was the centre of gossip across social media for days, with the trend #JamesCharlesisOver trending worldwide. However, it was only a week later when James uploaded a video responding to the situation in full, with text messages and emails as evidence to refute the claims made against him, that the tables began to turn. Tati’s subscriber count began to dwindle while James’ once again climbed. Tati has since tweeted saying the issue would be addressed further in private, and deleted her original accusatory video. But of course, it’s not really deleted, as nothing on the internet ever truly is.

It’s perhaps a cautionary tale to us all, both from the point of view of the “canceller” and of the “cancelled”. We should take more care when we have the internet at our fingertips, because the words we write cannot be erased once we’ve hit send. And perhaps we shouldn’t believe everything we see, or judge others on so little evidence. I’m certainly no angel – I had James Charles, somebody I’ve never met, down as a terrible person based on the opinion of somebody else I’ve never met. The lesson of this cautionary tale? Every story has two sides. But if we burn the