Don't rush to 'cancel' others, says Indranee

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 platforms such as Twitter and Instagram, where it is most prevalent, it has taken a new form, said 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 yesterday at a virtual dialogue series themed "Cancelling Cancel Culture?", organised by youth-led inter-faith 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, Ms Indranee said, 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," she said.

"In responding to things being called out, (perhaps it's better if) people think first 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 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. Associate Professor Abidin 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 bathwater", she said.

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.

A participant asked if, other than calling out a person's mistake, another way to deal with the situation could be 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 that 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 said.

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

"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."

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on August 08, 2021, with the headline Don't rush to 'cancel' others, says Indranee. Subscribe