Cancel Me: Navigating Imperfect Leftism in the Era of Digital Cancel Culture

Anna R.
March 25, 2024

I've been on social media for pretty much all of my teenage years and adulthood. In case you haven’t gathered from any of my previous writings, I’m fucking obsessed. So much so that I now have a career in social media, specifically working on the marketing side, working for major global brands, startups, and, of course, hookers. I've been on social media as a creator, an observer, a creeper, and even as the Pillsbury Doughboy. I’ve seen platforms come and go; I’ve seen Elon Musk completely tank an entire company and destroy the livelihoods of thousands of workers after a Ketamine trip gone wrong.

I’ve seen it all, and yet I think there’s always more I still have to see. One of the biggest things I’ve noticed on social media recently, specifically on Instagram, is that people are mean. And not just regular mean, but downright NASTY. I mostly notice this when it comes to discussing politics or identity politics. And I see it on both sides of the spectrum. Everyone has gotten mean, and I think it’s eroding our mental health.

I know it affected mine. I became someone who was so caught up in the drama, so fixated on calling people out. I put so much of my worth on the validation I received from talking about identity politics and being seen as progressive and cool by people who actually had no idea who I really was. I forgot how to engage in productive dialogue. I became quick to label people as something they aren’t (fatphobic, homophobic, ableist, etc.) without having full context or based on hearsay.

I let so much of this deplete my energy entirely, to the point where I was becoming kind of a bitch. I was an even bigger bitch than I was during my scene queen days, and trust me, I was an absolute terror as a 14-year-old scene queen listening to The Used and doing my own Elon-style acid trips.

But at a certain point, it felt like the goalposts of what was considered progressive started to move. Suddenly, I found myself thinking that I wasn’t as progressive or radical as my peers because I didn’t agree with every single thing they said. I noticed this first in the body positive/fat positive communities, and then in other progressive spaces on social media. I started to fear that if I didn’t post about every little bad thing happening in the world, people would think I was the very things I had unfoundedly claimed other people to be. Suddenly, my perceived silence was weaponized against me. If I was silent, I was complicit. I was scared of getting called out and canceled, just like I had done to others. So I left social media (almost) entirely for three years.

I say "almost" because I was still required to be on social media, measuring metrics and posting for the brands I worked for as my 9-5. I was on social media, but not as Anna (or honeywhippedfeta, or babyfat, or whatever else I went by), but as the Pillsbury Doughboy (an all-time career high, to be honest). As complicated as my relationship was with social media, I absolutely loved being online as a brand. It was stressful, as most corporate gigs can be, but it was really good for my mental health. I needed a break from being myself on the internet.


When I came back to Instagram in Fall 2023, I was a bit nauseated to see that shit hadn’t changed. People were still fighting, projecting their own issues onto others, counting what’s in others' wallets, making accusations and assumptions based on their own personal feelings or insecurities, and perhaps worst of all, assuming that someone's actions on social media were a holistic and comprehensive image of who they are. For a lot of people who are actively trying to abolish a police state, I sure saw a lot of policing.

In the realm of body positivity, I think a lot has changed. And while a lot of people will solely blame Ozempic or other GLP-1s, I think there’s more to the story. Many figureheads within the movement are aging, and health changes are causing them to feel differently than what they previously posted online. And i’m sure some people will label me fatphobic for that statement. I think part of it is also just growing tired of the constant echo chamber that is the internet. But specifically in this movement, I see a lot of back and forth, a lot of reactions, a lot of meanness. That’s a lot of energy put into internet drama, and while everyone can do what they want, getting into internet drama is no longer a productive use of my time and energy.

Things only continued to heighten during the ongoing genocide in Palestine. Since October 7th, 2023, I’ve seen a lot of antisemitism, a lot of misinformation, and a major political divide. We’ve once again resorted to eating our own. There's an obsession with being perfect radicals, leftists, and liberals. Suddenly, it feels like people must check every single box and have a monolith of political beliefs to be considered “good.”

I’ll admit, I’ve faced some discomfort, wondering if I am actively doing enough, but after sitting and thinking, I realized most of that discomfort was coming from how others might perceive my actions based on how many Instagram stories I post, or lack thereof. My fears weren’t because I didn’t think I was doing enough to condemn genocide or support Palestinians; it was rooted in ego. My need to be seen as “good”. And it’s embarrassing to admit, but there it is.

As the months have progressed, I feel myself becoming more and more isolated by a lot of the progressive or radical internet spaces. It isn’t that I don’t agree with certain things, although sometimes I don’t; it’s that I fear being policed and called out. And those fears prevent me from doing actual substantial work. They occupy too much of my energy or brain space. I think we need to start normalizing that activism truly looks different for everyone. Not everyone needs to be doing activism on every front, all of the time. It’s not realistic; it’s unsustainable.

I believe deeply in the power of community, and sometimes as communities, we have to rely on allies. I’ve seen a lot of disdain for the Democratic Party, and AOC in particular, from leftist radicals. Everyone is within their right to be disappointed with their elected officials. But I see quite a bit of propaganda against AOC, mostly from faceless accounts, and sometimes I think people need to be a little more critical of the content they are consuming. There are a lot of people in the alt-right who hate her, and who also love to post faceless shit too, and if we know anything about the internet, it’s that it’s incredibly easy for ANYONE to get sucked into alt-right content. I also think that sometimes the rejection of all mainstream news media feels a bit…… familiar of things that happened and are happening in other radical political groups in 2016 and 2020. 

And listen, I am not thrilled with the Democratic Party either. I think they continually drop the ball and isolate a majority of their voting base. I think they could, and should, be doing a lot more. But I still believe that change is always possible. Even if they have failed me and other communities in the past, there’s still time to do more and be better. But sometimes that takes time and dialogue, two things that always feel like they are in short supply. I understand that most people don’t have time to wait, and I support their right to do whatever they feel is necessary to invoke change. But it’s not my personal path, and it doesn’t make me any less radical, liberal, compassionate, or aware. We are tearing each other apart on every front; we’re divided. And when we’re divided, we can't win.

At the end of the day, social media has become exhausting, at least for me. And I suspect maybe for other people too, people who are also maybe too afraid of how they could be perceived by their actions. While I am a very different person than I was years ago, I am still embarrassed for some of my actions online. I am not pleased with my own participation in callout and cancel culture. I am deeply apologetic for anyone I may have impacted or hurt. I realize this wasn’t the actual way to make change. You attract more bees with honey than vinegar, or whatever the saying is.

How people perform online is only a fraction of their reality. This extends to every part of their life: their health, their political beliefs, their personal relationships, and beyond. What people post, or don’t post for that matter, is not necessarily indicative of who they are. Policing people's online presence is doing more harm than good. It’s alienating and isolating potential allies, no matter how imperfect you may personally perceive them to be. Also, just as a good rule of thumb, it’s important to remember that everyone's reality is different. And sometimes, maybe, just maybe, the one participating in online drama has some ulterior motives. But what the fuck do I know, I’m just a bitch who laughs when you poke my belly (or at least I was from 2020 to 2022).

Here are some tips I wrote about not being an asshole on social media because no one wins when there’s snark.