Brands and celebrities under fire: The rise of cancel culture in Vietnam

Brands and celebrities under fire: The rise of cancel culture in Vietnam

Social media and digital platforms have given rise to a phenomenon known as “cancel culture”, where groups of individuals “call out” or boycott public figures or companies who express offensive statements or act inappropriately or irresponsibly.

According to the Milieu Insight report 2022, just 31% of Southeast Asians, including Vietnam, believe that individuals who have been cancelled can be forgiven or permitted to make a public appearance. Racism, sexual assault, and physical violence are sensitive issues for them that lead them to withdraw their support. 

“Usually, the goal of engaging in cancel culture behaviour is calling for corrective action or public shaming”, RMIT Senior Lecturer in Digital Marketing Dr Alrence Halibas said.

Furthermore, she shared that the interconnected nature of social media networks fosters a sense of community and solidarity among like-minded individuals (or online mob), enabling collective action and mobilisation on a large scale, while allowing users to voice their opinions and grievances in real-time.

Any brand or celebrity can be exposed to the risk of cancel culture (image: Freepik). Any brand or celebrity can be exposed to the risk of cancel culture (image: Freepik).

RMIT Digital Marketing Lecturer Dr Anushka Siriwardana articulated that celebrities often serve as influential societal figures, leveraging their social media platforms to endorse products and brands. However, the increasing scrutiny of public figures means they are not immune to online criticism. 

“A single status or post from a brand or celebrity can quickly gain traction, sparking widespread public debate and influencing public perception. 

“Hashtags and online campaigns serve as rallying points for consumer activism, allowing social media users to pool their resources and exert pressure on companies and public figures,” she said. 

Dr Umair Akram, Senior Lecturer in Digital Marketing at RMIT Vietnam said that anonymity and pseudonymity can empower individuals to participate in cancel culture without concern for personal repercussions or judgment.  

However, the anonymous nature of cancel culture poses challenges to accountability and due process, facilitating malicious behaviours among social media users. 

“Their behaviours can damage brand reputation or image, lose customers, and cause financial consequences to businesses,” Dr Akram said.

While cancel culture may not be as prevalent in Vietnam as in some other countries, there has been an increasing number of online backlash and criticism directed at celebrities. Not so long ago, Miss World Vietnam 2023 Huynh Tran Y Nhi faced criticism from netizens after issuing derogatory statements towards her boyfriend and people her age. The backlash led to widespread condemnation and calls for the beauty queen to be more mindful of her statements. Likewise, her lapses in judgment also resulted in the withdrawal of brand sponsorships.

In Vietnam, certain issues carry heightened sensitivity. For instance, there were recent calls for a Snapchat boycott among Vietnamese social media users and communities. The outcry stems from Snapchat's inclusion of the contentious 'nine-dash line' on its map. This same concern has led to the cancellation of the Barbie movie premiere in Vietnam and the near-cancellation of a concert by Blackpink

Social media and digital platforms have given rise to cancel culture (image: Freepik). Social media and digital platforms have given rise to cancel culture (image: Freepik).

RMIT International Business student Tran Ve Giang also witnessed how local fans criticised and cancelled many celebrities for their undesirable behaviours and cultural missteps. However, she opted not to join this frenzy and chose not to engage believing that we should allow room for growth and improvement without having to publicly shame anyone. 

"This culture can also effect positive changes, prompting celebrities to reflect on their behaviour. Not every misstep warrants cancellation, and genuine efforts to address issues and learn from mistakes should be acknowledged and encouraged,” the third-year RMIT student said.

Dr Akram believes that brands and celebrities can take proactive steps to mitigate the risks and consequences. They can address controversies or mistakes openly and demonstrate a commitment to accountability and improvement. This builds trust and credibility with audiences, reducing the likelihood of cancellation. 

Additionally, "brands and celebrities should use feedback as an opportunity for learning and growth, adapting strategies accordingly to meet evolving expectations,” Dr Akram said. 

Dr Halibas emphasised the importance for companies and celebrities to stay updated on developing behavioural trends, cultural sensitivities, and evolving societal norms that could influence people's views and actions. Similarly, companies and celebrities must adopt social responsibility and adhere to ethical norms. 

Dr Siriwardana concluded: “It's vital for brands to develop a robust crisis management plan in the event of negative publicity or backlash. This plan should include proactive planning, effective communication, and strategic response capabilities.”

The lingering question is whether cancel culture in Vietnam effectively holds brands and celebrities accountable, promoting positive change and growth? Or is Vietnam internet culture becoming more toxic?

Story: Dr Alrence Halibas, Senior Lecturer in Digital Marketing, The Business School, RMIT Vietnam 

  • Media release

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