In 1692, a group of hysterical teenage girls in Salem, Massachusetts, began denouncing girls from rival families as witches. Accusations of witchcraft soon multiplied and spread throughout the town; some of the accused were as young as four years old. Ultimately, 200 people were tried, and dozens executed, for fictitious crimes. The court did not require evidence, as the accusations themselves were considered proof of guilt. There are obvious parallels between the Salem Witch hunts and today’s cancel culture, especially in the ubiquitous and toxic accusation of racism. The accusation alone smears the accused as guilty, and the denounced party has no way to defend against the charge. Looking back at Salem gives us insight into the conditions that enable cancel culture to take root, why the public tolerates it, and how it might end.
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