Canceling Cancel Culture (for the sake of Gen Z Mental Health)

Nearly every Gen Zer wants to grow up to be a creator and in the public eye, but there's a price... we’re going to dive into cancel culture, the consequences of being publicly “on” all the time, and how it impacts Gen Z mental health.

no one is safe from cancel culture today… and it’s taking a serious toll for Gen Zers

Welcome back to Meagan’s Newsletter: The Gen Z POV, where I break down trends, industries, and tech with a Gen Z lens every other week. I’m Meagan and I’m so happy you’re here.

Today we’re talking about cancel culture, the consequences of being publicly “on” all the time, and how it impacts Gen Z mental health. In a world where every Gen Zer wants to grow up to be a creator and in the public eye… this is an increasingly important topic to discuss.

Now… let’s get into it! ⬇️

cancel culture (noun): the practice or tendency of engaging in mass canceling as a way of expressing disapproval and exerting social pressure

In Gen Z world, it feels like this happens every week on social media… with one or several creators being canceled over a video, a bad take on a trend, or commentary.

  1. Last week I wrote about beauty TikTok creator Mikayla Nogueira making a controversial ad for L'Oréal that threatened her trust with followers and bringing the entire beauty industry up in arms. Many in the comments believed she might be “canceled” or in fact should be canceled for misleading her millions of followers.

  1. Shortly thereafter, one of my favorite artists, Lizzy McAlpine (who’s song Ceilings is currently going viral on TikTok) announced on Jan 26th that she was opening for John Mayer’s upcoming tour. On Jan 27th, she made a statement backing out due to scheduling conflicts after such negative reception from fans such as this:

the juxtapositions of these “unpopular opinion” response takes is wild

John Mayer has been accused of sexism and racism throughout his career, and is a notorious enemy in the Taylor Swift community (with songs like Dear John & Would’ve Could’ve Should’ve written about his behavior). Many negative comments started coming in like wildfire after she pulled out of the tour 1 day after announcing it:

  • “I get she was excited but idk i will never trust john mayer around young girls”

  • “I feel bad but tbh john mayer doesn’t deserve the money lizzys fans will bring in. she could’ve went with ANYONE else and i’d be so happy to go 😭

  • “Definitely not scheduling i think it was recognised it was a bad career move bc of all the backlash, tay fans are lizzy fans = lost respect from fans :( “

  • “Naw cause she should be called out for working with that man, accountability is important”

But on the flip side… other fans were more supportive and defending Lizzy:

  • “As a small artist, this would have been such a big and rare opportunity. Swifties who were hating on her need to get a grip”

  • “I seriously don’t understand why people bullied her out of this. Breaks my heart she deserves the exposure and success”

  • “I’m a John Mayer hater but i understand she’s gotta take the opportunity. Use him as a step on a ladder and climb over him lizzy!!”

  • “No bc it def wasn’t last minute schedule issues, as much as i love taylor i would never hate on lizzy for going on tour w him.”

Lizzy McAlpine has 7.6 million monthly listeners on Spotify. John Mayer has 16.1 million monthly listeners. They’ve worked together before, collaborating on a song only 6 months ago called Never Gonna Be Alone. And opening for mainstream artists is super common for up-and-coming artists looking to grow their fanbase… think Conan Gray opening for Olivia Rodrigo or Ed Sheeran opening for Taylor Swift back in the day on the Red Tour. But when she decided to make a career move to go on tour with him, she pulled out within a day for fear of being canceled by her fans and the near immediate backlash.

Every creator or person in the public eye has fear of being canceled… and these are just two examples from the past 2 weeks. But there are real ripple effects on mental health not only for the creators coming under controversy, but even their fans or followers. So when you see the crazy statistics around the state of Gen Z mental health and future generations (ie: 42% of Gen Zers in the U.S. are dealing with a mental health condition), I can understand why they exist.

Canceling leads to bullying online for the creators. Their millions of followers witness this in the comments section and the press, and fear the same thing can happen to them now or because of content they’ve posted in the past – deleting old Twitter/FB/videos on their accounts as a result. If you’re caught up in being canceled online by your peers, the press, and strangers alike… depression, anxiety, fear of self expression often take over. There’s plenty of research on this and how cancel culture affects “the canceled” and bystanders alike.

18-yr-old Annie Bonelli’s experience with cancel culture & online bullying over her scar

Take Scar Girl for example. She’s an 18-yr-old TikTok creator with 813k followers who got a scar on her face and documented her journey online, but is accused of drawing over the scar overtime to make it appear worse. She’s been bullied online for the past few weeks with people (and medical professionals alike) commenting on whether her scar is real or not. One of her response videos with 37 million views is captioned “bro it really hurts when a large creator uses their platform to bully a girl for her trauma scar” after another creator was mocking her online.

In a previous newsletter, I wrote about Gen Alpha. Kids are being featured in social media from the moment they’re born, can grow up in the spotlight because of their parents, and are requesting to create TikToks before the time they’re even in school.

Now I’ll ask you to take a moment and think about all the stupid things you might have said when you were a kid or growing up, often influenced by the people around you (with good or bad intentions). For kids today, the risk of those mistakes being blasted for everyone to see on the internet forever is much more real, whether it’s them hitting the “post” button or not. Social media is playing a massive part in why cancel culture plays such an important role in our society today.

It’s a common fact that the brain is not fully developed until you’re around age 25, and the eldest Gen Zers are just starting to turn 26. We are bound to make mistakes, and I fear that cancel culture will prevent our generation from being able to fully learn from them – with added fear coming into play when it comes to forming our own identities and beliefs, expressing ourselves in-person and online, and ultimately living by learning.

I’m not saying cancel culture should be canceled altogether – by all means there are people (and brands) that fully deserve it, and the type of movements that happen on social media (and because of social media) can create real change and impact. For example, the hate and cancellation directed towards Balenciaga and their recent holiday campaign feels completely warranted.

Taylor Swift coming under fire online for using the word “fat” in her music video

But I do worry that the effects of cancel culture put our generation, particularly creators and aspiring creators, in the crosshairs because no one is safe from controversy. Taylor Swift portrayed her struggle with her eating disorder in the release of her Anti-Hero music video, but because she used the word “fat,” people found it offensive… and she proceeded to remove the scene a few days later. The Rolling Stone put out this article to comment on the situation and share that the problem is likely directed more towards our society than in the way Taylor portrayed her own lived experience. What if that experience happened to a new creator who was putting her first song or music video out into the world, and not Taylor? Would she be canceled altogether? Feel discouraged from releasing new music?

Gen Zers consider ourselves to be more accepting and open-minded than previous generations, and I’d like to think that as we see cancel culture persist and affect creators & bystanders alike, that we’ll think twice before we direct hate towards someone else at first-glance and instead create an opportunity to listen and educate.

To bring this full-circle with the Mikayla controversy & L'Oréal, you might be wondering what happened or how she reacted to all the hate online. And the funny thing is she literally just didn’t react – hasn’t commented on the hate or controversy, responded to any videos, or anything. She’s pretended the whole thing didn’t happen and has continued to live her life – going on a brand trip with Glow Recipe to Wyoming (Alix Earle was there too), getting invited to the SuperBowl by Fenty Beauty to see Rihanna perform, and continuing to get millions of views on each and every video she posts. Fans still comment and troll about the Telescopic mascara & falsies in nearly every post, but she either just ignores them or comments to troll them back in an unironic way.

In a way, the good thing about internet hate is that it builds thick skin. And because there’s a new scandal every week, people can (sometimes) learn to forgive, forget, and move on.

I want to see the Gen Z mental health stats improve overtime, and that will come from being open to treatment, but also being open to fixing the root of the problem… and cancel culture (and frankly our society and the way we treat each other online behind a username) is one of the factors.

So here’s to canceling cancel culture for the sake of mental health – there has to be a balance between holding people accountable and giving them an opportunity to learn and grow from their experiences, especially when it comes to teens and the next-generation.

Thanks again for reading!

And as promised, here are a few things (tech, culture & life) I’m intrigued by at the moment.

  • Tech: Gen Z’s favorite new social app is seeing a slow-down, with downloads of BeReal down 95% from its peak. But on the bright side, DAUs are holding steady so it doesn’t look like it's going anywhere! And frankly, my younger sisters still sprint to capture it within the 2 minute window everyday which gives me hope for the platform. I’m also continually impressed at the creativity (and entrepreneurial spirit) of Gen Z… a 15 yr-old is currently making $$$ through a RedBubble store she created to troll her mom. The store sells funny pictures of her mom’s face on miniskirts for $34, and the mom only found out when she saw an ad for the skirt on her own FB timeline. Video here which had me CACKLING this weekend.

  • Culture: On the flip side, I loved this graph on the rise in interest around Boba in the United States. I’ve also been loving every trend playing into the Kim Kardashian prairie pictures.

  • Life: I’m in LA this week and I’ve heard more about the dangers of seed oil and power of psychedelics in one day than in my entire life! If you’re building in either of these spaces… definitely start with reaching out to investors in LA because this is def trending here.

P.S. if you’re based here in LA and want to say hi, reply to this email! Hosting a mixer this upcoming week and would love to see you.

highlights: bev hills hotel & seeing all my friends here in LA