This Article explores the relationship between two normative systems in modern society: “cancel culture” and criminal justice. It argues that cancel culture—a ubiquitous phenomenon in contemporary life—may rectify deficiencies of over- and under-enforcement in the U.S. criminal justice system. However, the downsides of cancel culture’s structure—imprecise factfinding, potentially disproportionate sanctions leading to collateral consequences, a “thin” conception of the wrongdoer as beyond rehabilitation, and a broader cultural anxiety that “chills” certain human conduct—reflect problematic U.S. punitive impulses that characterize our era of mass incarceration. This Article thus argues that social media reform proposals obscure a deeper necessity: transcendence of blame through criminal justice reform and, ultimately, collective emphasis on reintegration after human wrongdoing.
Steven Arrigg Koh is an Associate Professor of Law and R. Gordon Butler Scholar in International Law at Boston University School of Law. During the 2023-24 school year, he is a Senior Research Scholar at Yale Law School and Visiting Fellow at the Yale Center for Cultural Sociology.
Professor Koh teaches and writes in the areas of criminal law and international law. His scholarship—which explores the foreign relations, cultural, and racial dimensions of US domestic, transnational, and international criminal justice—has appeared or is forthcoming in journals such as New York University Law Review, Duke Law Journal Online, Cornell Law Review, Minnesota Law Review, Boston College Law Review, Fordham Law Review, UC Davis Law Review, and Hastings Law Journal. He is also a contributor to Just Security and Lawfare law blogs and recently served as co-chair of the Junior International Law Scholars Association (2021–23). He joins the Boston University School of Law faculty after serving as the Marianne D. Short and Ray Skowyra Sesquicentennial Assistant Professor of Law at Boston College Law School, where he was a winner of the Innovation in Pedagogy Award. Prior to that, he completed a fellowship at Columbia Law School.