When Kenyan media personality Shaffie Weru found himself in hot soup in 2021, it all came down to an opinion about a very sensitive subject.
The radio presenter and his colleagues were debating on news that a woman had been the victim of gender-based violence (GBV) after showing up to a date with a man she met on Facebook.
The date turned violent when the man threw her off the 12th floor of a building, leaving her paralysed, as The Standard reported at the time.
“The victim Eunice Wakimbi told Principle Magistrate Esther Kimilu that the suspect, Moses Njoroge had pushed her to the tragic fall after she rejected his sexual advances during their date. The fall caused her serious pelvic injuries.”
One comment that made the public fuming and outraged was Shaffie’s suggestion that the victim should have “played hard to get” and not shown up at all.
All hell broke loose at that point, as people on social media called them out for their insensitivity and what was widely referred to as ‘victim blaming’.
It was a situation that was made worse by the wave of GBV that had hit the country at the time, a problem that remains real and persistent locally.
At that time, there had been the recent unfortunate passing of one Velvine Wangui, who was raped and left for dead after going on a date. Ivy Wangechi, a medical student at Moi University was hacked to death in 2019 by a man who claimed to be in love with her, sending shockwaves across the country.
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The then “cancellation” of the trio was the result of the conversation, as the word ‘cancel culture’ began to feature increasingly in local headlines.
While Shaffie’s scandal may have served as a wake-up call for us to be more cautious, sensitive and empathetic as society, there have been questions raised about how far cancel culture goes and its negative side too.
One publication questioned whether we are too quick to judge everything on social media and whether our desire for ‘likes’ pushes us to mob behavior.
The report cited an example of multiple aggressive social media posts about The Alchemist Bar in Nairobi aimed at ‘canceling’ the establishment for alleged racial discrimination.
The Kilimanjaro chain of restaurants was another example after one complainant threatened to get them ‘cancelled’ for poor service.
“But CCTV footage raised questions as to the complainant's version of events. It helped that the restaurant already had a sizeable following on social media, which provided positive reviews, a key ingredient in online reputation management,” the report noted, adding, “In both cases, social media users joined the bandwagon of condemnation based on information posted by someone they did not personally know.”
Media personality Shaffie reflected on what happened and what he should have done differently on his YouTube show Shafted in a January 2023 episode.
At that particular time that I was saying it, I didn’t believe I was on the wrong. But looking back, I ‘shafted’ myself. It was an ongoing case, and it was on the papers. It was worth talking about and I was wrong. I apologize especially on behalf of DJ Joe Mfalme and Neville, as they had barely recently joined that station at the time,” Shaffie said.
On how quickly the cancellation escalated and led to the loss of their jobs, Shaffie added: “On Saturday I was still chilling with the boys…we were still trending. By the time the sun had set, CAK had already done their reprimand letter, EABL, Safaricom and most of these big companies that had taken a direct hit released their statements.”
Today, cancel culture is still entrenched in our society, with social media being used as fuel for the raging fire that it is.
The American RnB singer Ne-Yo recently made some blunt comments against allowing children to transition genders, and as expected, hawk-eyed social media users with progressive views have descended upon him angrily.
“I just personally come from an era where a man was a man and a woman was a woman,” said Ne-Yo in an interview last week. “And there was two genders, and that’s just how I rocked. You could identify as a goldfish if you feel like, I don’t care. That ain’t my business. It becomes my business when you try to make me play the game with you. I’m not gonna call you a goldfish. But if you wanna be a goldfish, you go be a goldfish. We live in a weird time, man. We do.”
After his publicist issued an official apology, Ne-Yo doubled down on his comments, saying that he would not mind if he gets ‘cancelled’ over them.
“I need y’all to hear this from the horse’s mouth, not the publicist’s computer,” Ne-Yo said in a since-deleted clip uploaded to X(Twitter).
“I do not apologize for having an opinion on this matter. I am a 43-year-old heterosexual man raising five boys and two girls, OK? That’s my reality. Now, if my opinion offended somebody, yeah, sure, I apologize for you being offended because that wasn’t my intention. ... However, I’m entitled to feel how I feel. ... You are entitled to feel how you feel. I ain’t ask nobody to follow me. I ain’t ask nobody to agree with me.”
He added: “If I get canceled for this, then you know what, maybe this is a world where they don’t need a Ne-Yo no more,” he said. “Live how you wanna live, love how you wanna love, but your opinion is yours.”
Another star that has found himself nearly being cancelled is the actor Jamie Foxx, who was strongly called out for what many termed as anti-semitic comments earlier this month.
An Instagram post was at the center of the outrage.
“They killed this dude named Jesus … what do you think they’ll do to you???! #fakefriends #fakelove” the post read.
The Guardian reports: “But the 55-year-old entertainer deleted the post after fellow users asserted that it echoed the hateful belief that Jewish people all together as one crucified and killed Jesus Christ.”
Soon after, the actor issued a public apology for his comments.
The University of Central Florida interrogates the purpose and effectiveness of cancel culture in a 2020 report.
“The one common theme everyone seems to agree on is that cancel culture involves taking a public stance against an individual or institution for actions considered objectionable or offensive. But is it an effective way to hold those in positions accountable, or is it punishment without a chance for redemption?”
The report tackles the negatives and positives of this modern-day mob justice, giving examples like the Black Lives Matter movement, which push for social justice and equality.
“Canceling is a way to acknowledge that you don’t have to have the power to change structural inequality. You don’t even have to have the power to change all of public sentiment. But as an individual, you can still have power beyond measure. The internet heightens that power by collectively amplifying the voices of marginalized people who may be a minority — and otherwise silenced — in their physical communities. It’s also allowed others to become aware and support them as allies."
If, as a fan, you have all the power at the click of a button, how can you practice responsibility?
Sauti Sol band member and celebrated singer Savara Mudigi recently spoke out against cancel culture, saying that fans ‘just don’t get it.’
"The other day Azimio used our song, it was time for us to stand up for ourselves. Politics aside, Kenyans should be reasonable enough to recognise the fact that an artiste has worked hard enough and they are entitled to seek justice. But for someone to say that I can't ask for my right just because it is a political party, I find it really unfair," he said in June 2022.
"It's always very sad that fans easily forget that we have entertained them for the last 10 years. You easily forget that I have made you dance in a club every time you go out for the last 10 years. But when I am demanding for my single right, y'all bash me out," Savara added.