Teen Vogue’s Editor is Forced to Resign over Teen Tweets: Accountability or Cancel Culture?

Alexi McCammond was due to start as Teen Vogue’s editor-in-chief on March 24, but after offensive anti-gay and anti-Asian tweets from her teenage years resurfaced, McCammond was forced to resign before her first day on the job. McCammond’s resignation sparked much controversy, as some thought it was justified as a prime example of holding someone accountable, while others viewed it as cancel culture at its worst. At the root of this controversy is the question of whether it’s fair for someone to lose their job over inappropriate posts made a decade ago when they were a teenager.
McCammond, 27, gained recognition as a journalist when working as a reporter at the Axios news outlet and as an MSNBC and NBC contributor, covering the 2018 midterm elections and Joe Biden’s 2020 Presidential campaign. She was named the National Association of Black Journalists emerging journalist of the year and then became the third Black woman to be named Teen Vogue’s editor-in-chief, a dream job for any journalist. Soon after the announcement of her hire, McCammond’s tweets from 2011, when she was 17 and a freshman at University of Chicago, came into the public eye.
The tweets were labeled by some as both homophobic and racist. One of her anti-Asian tweets stated, “Googling how to not wake up with swollen, asian eyes,” and she also tweeted, “Outdone by an Asian #whatsnew” and “Give me a 2/10 on my chem problem, cross out all of my work and don’t explain what I did wrong..thanks a lot stupid Asian T.A. (teaching assistant) you’re great.” Additionally, McCammond tweeted, “You’re so gay,” used the term “homo,” and also commented on a news story about MLB umpire Dale Scott coming out as gay, saying, “Why is this newsworthy? It’s not.”
When asked if they believed McCammond’s forced resignation was justified, senior Madison Seda, co-head of Latin’s LGBTQ+ affinity group, said, “I would need to know more about her as a person and what she put out there as an adult, and what values she seems to believe in now. I don’t believe ‘cancel culture’ is productive, rather attempting to educate and give people space to grow. There comes a time, though, where you can’t keep excusing someone’s actions as needing to be ‘educated.’”
McCammond previously apologized for the tweets in 2019 when she was working at Axios, saying, “I am deeply sorry to anyone I offended. I have since deleted those tweets as they do not reflect my views or who I am today.”
Teen Vogue had knowledge of the tweets and her previous apology before they hired her, but after they announced her hiring, screenshots of her previously deleted tweets resurfaced on social media, and 20 members of the Teen Vogue staff posted a public statement condemning the tweets.
Again, McCammond issued formal apologies in a letter to the staff as well as in a public statement on Twitter, where she said, “I’ve apologised for my past racist and homophobic tweets and will reiterate that there’s no excuse for perpetuating those awful stereotypes in any way. I am so sorry to have used such hurtful and inexcusable language. At any point in my life, it’s totally unacceptable.”
But her apologies were not enough to save her job. Coming at a time of increased concern over anti-Asian racism and hate crimes, the Asian American Journalist Association called on Conde Nast, Teen Vogue’s parent publishing company, to rescind McCammond’s job offer. Ulta Beauty and Burt’s Bees also put advertising deals with Teen Vogue on hold in protest over McCammond’s hiring. Finally, on March 8, two days after the spa shootings in Atlanta—where eight people were killed, including six Asian women—McCammond announced her resignation.
Sophomore Sanaiya Luthar, co-head of Latin’s Asian Student Alliance Affinity, said, “ I don’t know if social media posts from an applicant’s teenage years alone are enough evidence needed to fire them or remove them from consideration for the job, but I make an exception for violent extremist rhetoric. Of course, it’s reasonable for employers to assume that their employees have, by the time they become teenagers, displayed respect for all people in their face-to-face or online interactions. As the behavior of a single employee can reflect poorly on the company and bring down consumer engagement, taking social media posts into account makes sense to me.”
Junior Naomi Altman, co-head of Discourses, Latin’s political magazine, also commented on the fairness of McCammond’s forced resignation, saying, “I don’t say this often, but this is a case where I can certainly see both sides. However, as a 17-year-old, I know that everything that I post online is a representation of myself and can be used against me. Anytime I post anything online, I think to myself, would I want my grandma or future employers to see this?”
Sanaiya noted how, as the editor-in-chief, McCammond’s tweets could have been viewed as representing Teen Vogue’s beliefs as well. Sanaiya said, “When a journalist does something unconscionable, it reflects badly on them, their company, and quite possibly the political viewpoints of the company they represent. McCammond is right in saying her ‘past tweets have overshadowed the work I’ve done,’ and the discourse around them is 100% justified.”
Naomi also pointed out how McCammond’s past tweets stand in stark contrast to Teen Vogue’s mission statement, which says, “We aim to educate, enlighten and empower our audience to create a more inclusive environment (both on-and offline) by amplifying the voices of the unheard, telling stories that normally go untold, and providing resources for teens looking to make a tangible impact in their communities.” Naomi said, “There is no room for racism or homophobia at a company that aims to ‘create a more inclusive environment,’ especially in an editor-in chief-position.”
In this digital age and period of heightened focus on accountability, when controversial past posts and tweets are resurfacing on a regular basis, Latin students are realizing that everything posted online has the potential to impact one’s future career. Naomi said, “What you post on social media is a reflection of yourself, whether you like it or not. It’s important to put your best foot forward on social media accounts. Having posts on your social media accounts that are blatantly homophobic or racist should certainly bar you from getting a job at an institution like Teen Vogue.”
Madison also stressed the potential negative consequences of posting online, saying, “If you do or did post something offensive towards someone’s race or sexuality that you no longer believe is an accurate representation of yourself, I’d encourage you to delete it.”
A local news station in Rockford, Illinois, where Alexi McCammond attended high school, interviewed Northern Illinois University Professor of Communications David Gunkel, who described the dangers of posting online and how social media doesn’t leave room for forgiveness. Dr. Gunkel said in the interview, “Social media doesn’t have much room for nuance. When you’re working with the character limit of Twitter, everything has to be pushed to one extreme or the other, very readily and very easily, and nuance gets lost in the process, so I don’t think there’s a great deal of appreciation of nuance on these platforms, because one, there’s not the room for it in terms of technical exigencies of the platform, but it also doesn’t get attention. What gets attention is polarity.”
Whether one agrees that McCammond’s resignation was warranted, given the need for accountability, or whether one disapproves of “canceling” people for mistakes made in their youth, one thing is certain: As teenagers continue to be omnipresent online, all their actions have the potential to be subject to public scrutiny decades later. McCammond’s story is an important reminder that everyone, including teenagers, need to be thoughtful, respectful, and responsible digital citizens, because anything posted, tweeted or sent online can be dug up years later to potentially damage reputations and even end careers. All by the click of a button.