The digital flogging of Lavigne much resembles the recent #CancelColbert embarrassment, in which so-called "hashtag activists" launched a social media feeding frenzy by seizing upon an out of context tweet to demand the cancellation of Comedy Central's Colbert Report. The manufactured outrage and snap allegations of racism were eventually debunked, but it took a few days to play out and that is a lifetime online.
"Hello Kitty" is Lavigne's fourth single from her self-titled album, a record which was first released in November of 2013. If the lyrical content of the song was racially insensitive, then you would have to assume it would have attracted some attention six months ago. It did not.
The techno-pop tune, only being released by the record company as a radio single in Asian markets, had attracted little attention until the debut of a music video in which the singer dances in front of a quartet of stone-faced Asian girls in a bedroom, a candy store and a sushi restaurant. The only reason for this sudden vitriolic response must that the visuals of the video are explicitly racist in some way. Except they aren't.
Though you wouldn't know that if you read many of the tweets directed at Lavigne in the last 24 hours. Twitter user Hannah Sheridan tweeted about the video: “I feel physically sick, Its (sic) so much worse than you could imagine.”
On Twitter, #avrilracist became a trending topic for much of the day on Wednesday.
The virus spreads
The mainstream media jumped on the bandwagon, joining the mock disgust and falsely declaring on television and in numerous articles that the video had been removed from YouTube and other sites because of the the allegations of racism. The truth, of course, was that copies of the video were pulled down for copyright violations. The official, record company endorsed video, still resides on YouTube, VEVO and Lavigne's own website.
Lavigne, for her part, is not backing away from the single either, tweeting out: "RACIST??? LOLOLOL!!! I love Japanese culture and I spend half of my time in Japan. I flew to Tokyo to shoot this video specifically for my Japanese fans, WITH my Japanese label, Japanese choreographers AND a Japanese director IN Japan."
Not the first time
Social media makes it so easy to join in with these waves of "general consensus" that surge through sites like Facebook and Twitter. The pattern repeats again and again.
According to the Internet, Alec Baldwin, a diehard liberal Democrat who has officiated at a gay wedding in the past, is suddenly a well known homophobe. Manufactured controversies dominate our political landscape with politicians lobbing false indignation and outrage at each other on a daily basis.
A few poorly informed people will first declare someone to be a racist or misogynist or homophobe, then others like and retweet. Snarky jokes and comments throw fuel onto the fire. The truth matters less than a good narrative. In the age of social media, a person can become a racist simply because "everyone said so."
More likes, more retweets follow. In an instant, celebrities and politicians are being put on trial and publicly executed by a ravenous pack of uninformed and disinterested judges and jurors who are eager to move onto the next case.
What about the truth?
"Hello Kitty" is many things -- loud, somewhat obnoxious, catchy. It's not the kind of music I enjoy listening to. But it isn't racist, and it certainly isn't any worse than other chart topping pop singles of recent memory, as MuchMusic noted in their defense of the video.
It is time to stop this Buzzfeed-fueled mass hysteria of online culture. Weekly outbursts of fake outrage and phony charges of racism desensitize us to those actually outrageous statements, real racism and serious cultural issues we should be paying attention to.