Don't be quick to 'cancel' someone, better to have a sense of proportion: Indranee

On social networking apps, the concept of "cancel culture" has taken a new form.
On social networking apps, the concept of "cancel culture" has taken a new form.PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - Instead of being quick to "cancel" someone who has made a mistake, there needs to be a sense of proportion of the issue at hand, said Minister in the Prime Minister's Office Indranee Rajah.

The concept of "cancel culture" is not new, but on social networking apps such as Twitter and Instagram, where it is most prevalent, it has taken a new form, added Ms Indranee, who is also Second Minister for Finance and National Development.

"Unlike in the past, cancel culture has gained prominence in the current generation in a new form… and is able to be amplified and (go) viral exponentially. This also means the impact is exponential and can be huge."

She was speaking on Saturday (Aug 7) at a virtual dialogue series themed "Cancelling Cancel Culture?", organised by youth-led interfaith initiative Roses of Peace, along with four other panellists.

"At the end of the day, if you strip away the jargon, it all boils down to basic human nature. Somebody did something not good, the rest of us disapprove of it. How do we get that person to do the right thing? We need to have a sense of proportion… and to have a way to let the person find their way back and make it better."

Dealing with such situations where emotions are "highly charged" also depends on the context and the individual, she added, noting that a set of personal moral guidelines will "keep one in good stead".

"Our only real defence is to be critical in our thinking and discerning, which can be quite hard when it's an emotional trigger," said Ms Indranee.

"In responding to things being called out, (perhaps it's better if) people think first and ask if it can really be so and do their own checks; if not, it can have quite a disastrous outcome."

The rise of cancel culture - in which brands and people are boycotted in an online mob-style vigilante behaviour - around the world and in Singapore has some wondering if this is the right way for those seeking justice.

Panellist Crystal Abidin, a digital anthropologist at Curtin University, said there is a difference between "call-out culture" and "cancel culture", although both involve "some sort of public declaration".

Call-out culture involves publicly criticising an individual or a brand for violating behavioural standards. Dr Crystal noted that there is room for calling out to be used at the grassroots level to keep those who are in power in check.

On the other hand, "cancel culture" goes straight to the last step of boycotting, and is used as a way to end all conversations, akin to "throwing the baby out with the bath water", she added.

Panellist Terence Chia, co-founder of comedy content house Ministry of Funny, said the "weaponisation" of social media can be dangerous, although the silver lining is that it can hold people accountable if it is done right.

Other than calling out a person's mistake, a participant asked if another way to deal with the situation is to think about "calling in" - that is, to speak privately - to the person, although the panellists acknowledged that it might be easier said than done.

Panellist Haresh Tilani, co-founder of Ministry of Funny, said having private face-to-face conversations would be the "most ideal scenario", although he is sceptical of people's online behaviour.

"Ideally, what we want is to facilitate longer form conversations, whether it's on the Internet or other platforms, so that it becomes the norm, as opposed to the long Facebook posts," he added.

Panellist Joel Lim, managing director of ZYRUP Media, said the intention behind the calling out or calling in is just as important.

"If there's an intention to let the person grow and to learn from the experience, we need to respect that… and there may be a chance for a better result, at least from what I see today."