By Evan Nierman, founder & CEO of crisis management firm Red Banyan, which provides crisis PR consulting to clients around the world.
The phenomenon of “canceling” or boycotting a person, business or brand because of unpopular remarks or views is a toxic trend and an ongoing threat that I believe is here to stay. It’s also nothing new.
“Cancel culture” is the latest moniker for the age-old practice of targeting or denouncing someone or something because you disagree with their beliefs or practices. It has been done for a very long time in a variety of contexts, both in the business world as well as in the not-for-profit space, and certainly in politics. But today, the effects can be devastating thanks to the power of social media.
And whether you call it cancel culture or some other name, the practices are essentially the same. No one has a monopoly on claiming victimhood or being on the receiving end of a smear campaign.
What once produced a few uncomfortable questions or maybe a news item or two can now take on a life of its own because of the internet. Minor issues can morph into major issues, and major issues can become huge problems once someone hits “send” as stories, photos and commentary spiral out of control.
The speed at which cancel culture can claim its victims is faster than ever before. The Jeopardy! host debacle is a prime illustration of how careers can be destroyed in just days. The meteoric downfall of Mike Richards is proof that a rush to judgment stemming from an ever-present online profile can destroy a personal brand in a flash. Cancel culture powered by the internet is a potent force.
While critics like to blame the right or the left for using cancel culture to achieve their ends, it is being employed by people on both sides of the aisle. In some instances, extremists have tried to co-opt overall displeasure among people and link it to cancel culture, painting it as a tool of one side or the other to achieve their ends. In fact, former disgraced New York governor Andrew Cuomo, hounded by allegations of sexual harassment and inappropriate behavior by more than half a dozen women, still blamed his downfall on the politics of cancel culture.
Here are some tips to avoid being canceled:
Share with care: Before you hit “send,” think about what you are planning to post. Could it be construed as offensive? Is it controversial or likely to draw criticism? When your audience is limitless, it is easy to offend. Make sure you will have no regrets when you post on your social media account.
Post with purpose: Do you have a reason for posting, or are you acting on impulse? If you have not given your post careful thought, then pause for a moment to consider possible consequences, because once it goes live you can’t take it back.
Steer clear of hot-button topics: If you don’t want to find yourself embroiled in controversy, don’t comment on dicey topics like partisan politics or religion, which are sure to draw fire from those who hold opposing viewpoints. Ask yourself what you are trying to achieve before you share something on the internet. Avoid no-win situations that will only erupt in discord.
Interpretations of humor may vary widely: Tread carefully when it comes to humor. One person’s definition of funny may be significantly different from yours, and the resulting conflict can quickly get ugly. Never assume anything, and always do your homework before you post. Err on the side of caution.
Apologize if you make a mistake, then take a social media pause: Saying you are sorry is one of the best ways to show contrition if you have made a public gaffe. Afterward, consider taking a break from social media and staying out of the public eye until the firestorm subsides. People have short attention spans and are likely to move on to the next scandal or topic of interest.
Be inclusive: Make sure your brand reflects multiple viewpoints and that your target audience includes people from many different backgrounds. Be thoughtful in your approach, proofread everything and vet your message carefully before posting it to social media.
People today can be quick to anger and poised to blow off steam online as they experience more and more stress from day-to-day living. Covid-19, job-related issues and partisan politics are just some of the stressors facing our society today. Even as America emerges from the pandemic, it is highly unlikely that cancel culture will just fade away in the background. The threat is real and likely to persist. Be aware of the risks, take proactive action and proceed with caution to minimize this ever-present online threat.
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