Amid the ongoing debates about the meaning and impact of “cancel culture,” CivicScience asked 2,682 U.S. adults what they believe to be true about the concept. Forty-four percent of survey respondents said they believe it’s a harmful practice. The second largest percentage (21%) were on the fence saying they believe it can be both helpful and harmful.

In this survey, respondents were to answer the question based on their understanding of the meaning of cancel culture, something that has been identified as extremely fractured. One of the most common definitions of cancel culture outlined in a Pew Research study was “holding people accountable for their actions,” which presents a positive social construct. The less common definitions described in the study were predominantly negative (e.g., censorship, mean-spirited actions to cause harm, etc.). 

First-hand experiences can lead to a completely different understanding of a situation compared to perceptions of what those experiences are like. For this reason, CivicScience compared beliefs about cancel culture with a series of emotional and behavioral data points.

Sense of Belonging

The pandemic has created a culture of its own: isolation. Most people have experienced it to some degree, but recent data from CivicScience reveal just much people have struggled with feeling disconnected. Forty-six percent of U.S. adults said they haven’t experienced a sense of belonging to a group of people very much – if at all – over the last year.

In comparison to beliefs about cancel culture, those who believe the practice to be helpful over-index in feeling connected to a group of people. The respondents who shared their belief that cancel culture is harmful were significantly less likely to have experienced a sense of belonging to a group of people in the last year.

Discouragement & Sadness

Feelings of helplessness, discouragement, and sadness all correlated with beliefs that cancel culture is a helpful social practice. Nineteen percent of survey respondents who reported discouragement at any point over the last year believe in the benefits of cancel culture. On the contrary, only 7% of people who haven’t felt discouraged in the last year share this belief. The same is true for people who have felt sad: 16% believe cancel culture to be helpful while only 9% of people who haven’t felt much sadness say the same.

Social Media Usage

Social media usage is a decent barometer for how people view cancel culture and its effects. Non-social media users are the most likely to say cancel culture is harmful (70%). Average users – those who spend one to two hours on social media per day – are more divided but a greater percentage believe its benefits. Heavy social media users – those using sites and apps for two or more hours per day – have the greatest percentages of people who see both the good and the bad.

Cancel culture is a reality but how people perceive its practice and effects varies greatly. CivicScience is continuing to study this concept and will report out again with deeper insights on belief systems and how a better understanding of consumer motivations will help businesses better connect with current and future customers.