#Cancelled: A Look at the Effect of Internet Boycotting

Boycotting, in the simplest form of the word, is no new idea – it dates back to 1880’s Ireland – but now that Twitter and Instagram have gifted every single phone-owning person with a tool for social change, it’s taken on an entirely new form. And not only do more people now have a voice, but at the same time the political spectrum of America is more polarized than ever before. This situation might cause us to wonder: does encouraging the boycotting of brands on social media (sometimes referred to as ‘cancelling’) change society for the better, or can it push our already-divided country into social chaos? 

First, it’s crucial to look at the effects of polarization. In any society, there’s bound to be people on the far, far right and the far, far left, and most of the time the two groups peacefully coexist. But polarizing takes the people in the middle – almost always the vast majority – and pushes them to one side, theoretically causing for a lack of open-minded, moderate people. Those people are, actually, pretty important. For one, they create change. This potential change is evident everywhere, from swing states in presidential elections, to the culinary decisions of Handcut Foods (if, perhaps, everyone at Latin became polarized against that rubbery Gnocchi), to the results of daily Buzzfeed polls. Without change, and without people in the middle, America, and Latin, would be stuck in the same place forever. 

With that said, is being stuck necessarily a bad thing? Charlotte O’Toole, a sophomore, offered an answer: “If you’re boycotting a company for a good reason, isn’t it important to polarize people against it? As long as they’re being set against the company, anyway.” She makes a great point, and introduces an even more important discussion: what exactly is a “good” reason? Two years ago, Trump supporters ‘cancelled’ Starbucks upon hearing their plan to hire 10,000 refugees as new employees. To many, this is a highly admirable step by the company, as it would provide refugees with both a source of income and a sense of direction. Yet many of those people on the far right saw the move by Starbucks as exactly what Charlotte described – an inherently “good,” justified reason to start a boycott. 

Also, when people speak out on social media against a company, they might not follow through with their provocative words. “I remember that people spoke out against the hotels owned by people in Brunei,” began junior Grace Lovette, referring to social action against Brunei’s recent homophobic laws, “but I have to imagine that most people posting about it either wouldn’t stay in those hotels regardless, or would break their promise to boycott them.” Pamela Cameron, a sophomore, followed with a similar point of view: “I think internet-inspired boycotting is a good first step, but big brands generally will always have a market, so I think that taking more direct action would be much more effective. On its own, boycotting can only do so much.” 

With these pros and cons in mind, however, one aspect of internet boycotting stands out: it takes almost zero effort, at least in the beginning stage. So, if you feel strongly about an issue, there’s really no reason not to speak out on social media against it – regardless of whether or not it’s for an inherently “good” reason, and regardless of whether or not people follow through with your goal – because there’s always a chance, when everything’s said and done, that society will be better for it.