Cancel culture and the relationship red flag movement both began with a good fundamental basis: spot something that may be harmful and share it, allowing people to act early on warning signs of a toxic relationship and contribute to stopping violence. For example, a red flag would be that your partner tends to get angry with you but always maintains composure when you are in public; or that they criticize or put you down by insulting you, blame you for their problems or insist that no one else would love you as much as them.
However, great initiatives can go south very quickly. Whilst some influencers were taking the campaign seriously by creating red flag awareness, others just joined the ‘fun trend’ sharing TikTok red flag quiz games, dancing challenges, red flag ‘party ideas’ or even giving relationship advice to their followers based on out-of-context chat captures and fandom comments. This can be an irresponsible attitude if you take into consideration that, most probably, influencers are giving an opinion about a personal situation they don’t fully understand. A chat capture can’t paint a real picture of a person’s life.
Another side of the red flag movement is that it contributes to the ‘throwaway culture’, transforming friendships, romantic relationships, family and social interactions into disposable connections.
In short, the illusion of an ever-growing catalogue of options, facilitated by social media, apps and else, combined with a loose interpretation of red flag criteria leads to treating people as disposable objects in the search for the perfect relationship. That is the perfect insta portrait one pines for. So, at the first sign of disagreement, people choose to separate without ever really comprehending that building a strong connection/relationship with someone takes time and empathy.
I bet everyone can think of at least one red flag or non-negotiable condition they’d apply in a relationship. Having personal boundaries is important. But those boundaries should be set consciously. Everyone should not be disposable and replaceable in a trice just for not fitting our relationship checklist. For example, an influencer may say ‘dry texting’, is a red flag. But what if someone appears to be cold and indifferent when the problem is they have undergone some level of trauma and that is the reason they behave like that?
Consciously or unconsciously, people are shaping their ideas of the world through what they see online. Oftentimes, we will find ourselves following advice from random people and adjusting our behaviour accordingly to fit in, feel better, and be happy (whatever that means to you). But red flags as seen on social media need to be applied to a context and toxic relationships need to be taken seriously, because violence is real, and it can do real harm. Since the internet doesn’t have filters, we need to set them up and be responsible for the way we use social media.
As social media trends show, it doesn’t matter how much technology has facilitated a global structure of disconnected connections, we are still human beings, social beings. We nurture ourselves from empathy, recognition, feeling close to others, and feeling connected... People urge for those emotions. Trends can provide that kick, create a sense of unity, make us feel part of a community, and be contagious. But if you don’t question why you are doing things, most likely you will fall into the trap of harming yourself, or others, through your actions.
Transforming important subjects such as relationship violence, gender bias, racism, fatphobia or any other type of discriminatory discourse into a ‘fun trend’ is problematic. Since it diverts attention from critical movements that seek to generate real change in society and instead end up making light of critical issues.
The same goes for cancel culture. Yes, there are people out there with harmful ideas but in today's world, things go viral so quickly that it is very difficult to distinguish fake news from an honest mistake or temporary lack of judgment. Things shared out of context lead to people being fired from their jobs, losing their family or friends, and even seeing their mental health compromised.
My point is that it is important to consciously determine if the information we are getting from social media is truly helping us to build significant connections with others. Don’t forget that there are real people behind the screens we surround ourselves with, and that words can be damaging.