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Some thoughts on social media, cancel culture and social activism online in 2020 (thus far).

Dea Mandija
6 min readJun 23, 2020


Disclaimer: I am by no means positioning myself as an expert on these topics, but rather an observer who is learning a lot, and offering “something to chew on” for you as a reader.

We are truly living in an attention-driven economy. From the moment we open our eyes and decide to scroll through socials, to the saturated messages from advertisements, and the latest series on Netflix when we hit the couch after a long day.

Everything is designed and fueled by technology to be served to us on a silver plate, making things as exciting yet addictive as ever.

It’s why we have clickbait titles in news articles or why social networks have an endless scroll.

According to digital culture expert Kevin Kelly, in a world of information abundance, 8 intangibles make content valuable:

  • Immediacy — priority access, immediate delivery.
  • Personalisation — tailored just for you.
  • Interpretation — support and guidance.
  • Authenticity — how can you be sure it is the real thing?
  • Accessibility — wherever, whenever.
  • Embodiment — books, live music.
  • Patronage — “paying simply because it feels good”
  • Findability — “When there are millions of books, millions of songs, millions of films, millions of applications, millions of everything requesting our attention — and most of it free — being found is valuable.”

One way or another, every social media platform is trying to embody these intangibles, yet not always succeeding.

Let’s go to the ancient old question: What is Instagram selling to advertisers?

Well, You (not just the series). You’re the product. Your attention, your screen time, and sometimes, even your mental wellbeing. A phenomenon, not even 50s Don Draper himself would have foreseen in his wildest dreams.

Precisely, our social media platforms exploit human weaknesses such as feelings of jealousy or addiction to attention through their business models. That’s what the user experience provides you with: likes, followers, shares, and a neverending desire to get them.

Well, we’ve known that Instagram is a highlight reel, performative and trend-led for a while now. We’ve also known that it doesn’t always monetise meaningful, creative experiences. So what is happening differently in 2020?

From Australian fires to the pandemic, World War III worries, protests for the black lives matter movement, murder hornets and more, the way people behaved on the cyberspace sometimes took a weird, and not so healthy turn.

But first, what are we doing right on social media?

  • We now provide first-hand expertise and experiences, not depending on traditional media anymore, to stay informed or entertained.
  • Aiming for more inclusivity and awareness (still, a long way to go especially for POC).
  • Building and expanding communities.
  • Exposure (for artists, small businesses etc).

Problems aside, this has been an important, and ultimately productive time on the internet.

And most of that has been facilitated by collaboration. So what dynamics are disturbing this synergy?

The incentives when posting something.

I’ve always looked at social media as a tool for creativity, communication, and support. Plus, an occasional meme or selfie now and then to induce my brain with serotonin.

However, the filtered highlights of people’s lives and their desire to one-up each other have morphed into something else this year: being “woke” as a trend.

In hindsight, let social justice and humanitarian issues become trendy. Ultimately, the more people support a movement, the closer we can get to actual change.

However, there have been some drawbacks in this approach, mainly due to:

Potential fulfilment and performative activism — #BlackoutTuesday had more than double the posts than the George Floyd petition signatures. How many people are walking the talk? How many are doing vanity actions whilst others get crucified even if they’re supporting offline?

It feels good to be perceived as good by others, but it feels even better when you contribute to the cause, not just for social approval.

Reactive Behaviour — The pressure on people to react instantly on something doesn’t always lead to the most thought-out result. Sometimes, the Fomo when responding can drive juvenile opinions that don’t add anything to the conversation, or worse, add something unethical.

Influencers and pedestals.

Here’s a spoiler alert that goes beyond the cyberspace:

“Everyone inevitably disappoints you, in some way or another” — Anna Akana.

Yes, everyone. We’re all complex beings with flaws, imperfections and personal baggage. Which is why it’s never good to put people, loved ones or even influencers on pedestals.

Is there a moral obligation to use a platform for good?

Yes, there should be.

Does that immediately make you an expert on a subject?

Not in the slightest.

Do we put public figures under a microscope and wait for a potential downfall whenever they don’t say something precisely the right way?

Also to an extent, true.

Of course, people need to be responsible and own up to their mistakes if they make any. By any means do hold them accountable for their actions, but give them a space to learn and grow (if they’re not harmful to society).

We can’t demand and expect influencers, singers, actors, comedians to perfectly embody projections of a rightful individual, when not even we, can meet those expectations.

Imagine if someone had records on any controversial thing you’ve ever said, done, or believed, and made them public. How gentle would anyone, especially Twitter, go on you?

Additionally, if you want a more inclusive space, you should contribute to creating it. Promote and support educated voices and authentic platforms, instead of only caricatures consumed as fast food for their looks or lifestyles.

Cancel Culture and its duality.

The real world is analogue and constantly changing, yet we use labels to help us to categorise things. When we categorise, we understand easier and make decisions quicker, especially about each other.

Which might be why cancel culture has taken a toll.

The term originated from black users of Twitter, #cancel — a hashtag that put to light troubling information regarding celebrities, i.e. R.Kelly.

It started out as a vigilante strategy for bringing justice and accountability to powerful people, who previously had been immune to any consequences for their actions. It was the 21st-century guillotine. However, like the guillotine, it can become a sadistic entertainment spectacle. — Natalie Wynn

Here’s the thing…

On the one side, we have a bunch of people who always complain about cancel culture and political correctness because they’re precious little edge lords. On the other, we have radical SJWs who go beyond “accountability” and take away any level of nuance from the internet by vilifying people who don’t share an identical same opinion.

A mix-match of those viewpoints has been flooding social media, whilst not necessarily fixing nor helping.

Are we leaving any space for thoughtful commentary (where it’s due) at this point?

For better or worse, shame and fear are keeping a lot of people out of exploring further ideas during this echo-chamber.

If I could make one more suggestion respectfully, I would say it’s more effective to treat people like children, understanding the time and love and patience that’s needed to grow. — J. Cole

The next best action: media literacy and ongoing personal education.

Whatever piece of content you consume online or read about on the internet, take it with a grain of salt. We have a habit to want to neat things up into catchy and dramatic stories when in reality, real-life has more depth to it.

Because yes, lightning does strike in the same place twice and we do use more than 10% of our brains.

The beauty of the internet is that anyone can have a voice and share an opinion. The terrifying part of it is that anyone can have a voice and share an opinion.

/Some links and resources that you should check out/

An amazing free video series on crash course media literacy:

A creative platform that doesn’t strive for attention, but collaboration founded by Joseph Gordon-Levitt:

Updates on the Albanian petition for the public sex offenders registry: You can follow Delfina Hoxha (@theinnerdolphin) for current updates on social media as well.

Petitions that still haven’t met their goals for the BLM movement:

You can donate here:

You can donate to Black Trans Groups here: