As many amazing and horrifying things 2018 was memorable for, Hollywood also dealt with a new social trend alongside old, one which decidedly generated a horror amongst the A-listers about the age-old adage, ‘the internet never forgets’. From small-time barely famous YouTubers to Oscar hosts, a number of people in the spotlight have found their career derailed or at least severely damaged after the internet dug up some of their problematic comments on the internet from the past.
Should people be held accountable for what they have said?
Beloved internet lifestyle fashion sensation (and book author, if you can call what she writes books), Zoella found the internet she made a living on turning towards her. James Gunn was fired from the the third instalment of the surprise success franchise Guardians of the Galaxy. Most recently, Kevin Harts was dropped by the Academy as a host for the upcoming Oscars. All of these people have one thing in common – the root of their troubles has been old, controversial tweets.
Should famous people be held accountable for what they said in the past? That seems to be the question a lot of the internet is debating at the rise of every new scandal that emerges.
For many, the most reasonable gauge of the punishment or criticism the individual receives or should receive is the apology that inevitably follows. Most of these apologies have been further commented upon as being inadequate and done simply as a fire-fighting effort, rather than as a genuine understanding of why people may be angry at the comments. Indeed, many of these apologies, if you look at them closely, seem to express the sentiment ‘I am sorry that I was caught and called out in public.’
These apologies have also become a central piece of evidence in the debates about why people’s past is dug up today, especially in ways that usually highlights only their negatives or mistakes while conveniently dismissing the positives. However, others point out to these face-shaming apologies and highlight that the celebrities would have probably had no problem in continuing their thoughts and actions in ways that humiliated, stereotyped, or discriminated against others, had they not been caught. And even when they are, they focus all the attention to their struggle with the internet and media, instead of the underlying issues in their tweets.
In some cases, all this becomes frankly ridiculous. The entire business searching and shaming celebrities has almost become the latest trend, and it is significant to note that many people who have a much more prominent history of problematic behaviour and speech, which continues even today, are not put under the lens by the media and the internet. While people with problematic speech should not be allowed to get away with what they said, it may perhaps be better for us to focus on the here and now – there are enough problems that need attention and addressal today. Two things have to be admitted. One, that people are capable of change, and two, if celebrities were guilty of making problematic comments in the past, then society was also at fault for allowing them and allowing the context for them, in the past. Why are these tweets incendiary now? Isn’t it because we were apathetic to the comments and the issues in them in the past?
Also, if tigers do not indeed change their stripes, perhaps it would be better to give old comments the benefit of doubt and context and bring their present actions under increased scrutiny. After all, now everybody knows words have consequences. Just ask Roseanne.