Lessons Learned: Cancel Culture
As founder of a small business consultancy in Austin, Texas, Sara Christensen often used her own social media platform to offer industry tips and career advice. An entrepreneur and 25-year business veteran, she’d been documenting on her Instagram Stories the hiring process for a social media marketing manager and after one interview, shared a photo on her story of an applicant (head cut off to protect her identity) in a bikini. She captioned it: “PSA: Do not share your social media with a potential employer if this is the kind of content on it. I am looking for a professional marketer—not a bikini model.” The applicant complained, and Christensen deleted the post. She admits it was a mistake. Just 57 people had seen it, but that didn’t matter—there’s really no such thing as deleting from the internet. The job applicant had saved a screenshot of the post and shared it on Twitter. The story became “Female CEO body-shames job applicant” and it caught fire, from ABC’s The View to NBC Nightly News, with Christensen universally slammed for the post.
But it didn’t end there. Anonymous internet trolls hit her from every angle: posting bad reviews that eroded her client list, sending threatening notes directly to her clients, bombarding her with more than 50,000 emails, texts, and voicemails, publishing her home address and personal information, and sending her death threats. “We see the headlines when an incident happens, but we don’t see the fallout,” Christensen says. A Minnesota native, she moved back last year to start over. Now Christensen speaks about the true cost of cancel culture and advises businesses on how to defend themselves against it. “Most people think, ‘I run a business of high integrity. I’d never do something stupid,’ ’’ Christensen says. “I’m here to tell you all it takes is one mistake.”
She shared some of her hard-earned wisdom.
• The media can be complicit
Some media outlets look to Twitter as a main source of stories. They pick up on controversial and outrageous stories—like cancellations. When the mainstream media picks up on cancel culture stories, they amplify them and bring them to the attention of even more people who join in on attacking your business.
• Protect personal information
Cancelers can easily find out your home address, cell phone number, names and addresses of family members, what kind of car you drive, and more. Remove this data now to protect your physical safety and that of your family.
• Develop a password strategy and stick to it
It’s time to stop using your dog’s name plus the number “1” as your universal password. Develop a strategy for your entire organization that will protect your most important assets should hackers try to access them. Long, complicated passwords may be a hassle, but they will protect you. Using a password manager, such as LastPass, can make this much easier.
• Be prepared
Don’t rely on a general crisis plan to protect and prepare you—you need a proactive cancel-culture crisis plan specific to your business and organization and specific to cancel culture. Creating a plan right now is the most important action you can take to both avoid cancellation and to soften its blow.
• Cancel culture isn’t just nasty comments on social media
Yes, there are dreadful things posted on social media, but the real damage is levied directly at the assets of your business. These are assets you’ve been building for years, assets that you can’t rebuild quickly after the mob retreats. Cancelers will infect your website with malicious code that will destroy it over time. They will swarm to create countless bad reviews. They’ll contact your clients and demand that they stop doing business with you.
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• Integrity won’t protect you
Don’t think you can avoid cancel culture because you’re a good person and run a clean, high-integrity business. Attacks can start for seemingly random reasons and, many times, because of nothing you’ve done. Once they start, these situations are difficult to manage or stop.
Cancel culture isn’t reserved for famous people. It attacks organizations of every size, in every industry. Unlike the president of the United States or well-heeled celebrities, most businesses can’t absorb these attacks without permanent damage.