Chrissy Teigen made headlines over her comments following immense backlash over her past cyberbullying of media personality Courtney Stodden. In her statement, Teigen described feeling “lost” and “depressed” as she grappled with the toxicity of cancel culture, and despite a well-meaning apology to Courtney, Teigen is now yet another example of the growing phenomenon of “cancelling” people online. For public and private citizens alike, Chrissy Teigen’s experience offers a lesson to be learned on how to navigate the unforgiving world of social media, and what to avoid to stay out of hot water.
Modern Day Cancel Culture
Cancel culture has existed long before the term was coined. However, traditional examples of cancel culture typically centered around public figures such as politicians, celebrities, artists, or influencers, and was usually an attempt to hold these people accountable for wrongful behavior or statements.
Today, cancel culture has evolved. Cancel culture does not exist for the sake of righting a wrong or teaching a lesson, it has become a toxic mechanism through which even private citizens and small businesses can be targeted, simply for a difference of opinion or perspective. 38% of people now agree that cancel culture is often a mechanism to punish people who don’t deserve it. Modern-day cancel culture allows online entities to silence, intimidate, and unfairly ruin the reputation of others.
One important thing to recognize is that no matter who you are, all of us have “built-in haters,” or those who simply do not agree with some aspect of who we are or what we do. These biases could be rooted in gender, race, ethnicity, religion, social status, sexual orientation, or countless other areas. As we come into ourselves and develop our personalities and beliefs, this group of haters only stands to grow, and worrying about trying to change their minds can be an uphill battle not worth fighting.
However, with growing toxicity online, many of us worry about how to navigate the landmines of social media and avoid falling victim to cancel culture. Where can we go from here?
Build A Crisis Response Team
One of the most important things to do to proactively manage online image and squash backlash as it arises is to build a strong crisis response team. The right crisis response team can monitor online commentary and circulations in order to identify backlash before it has the chance to reach a full-blown cancel campaign level.
By staying ahead of the curve, it becomes easier to make an informed decision about how or if to respond to these negative comments.
Understand Your Brand Personality
Another integral factor to in combatting cancel culture is understanding your brand’s personality. For conservative brands, overreacting to criticism online or making controversial statements may be an invitation for even more criticism from the public, as these behaviors would be uncharacteristic and unexpected. However, some brands intentionally adopt an edgier presence online, and it may be appropriate for them to respond to criticism, stick by their beliefs, and own the public’s response. Regardless of where you or your brand fall on the personality spectrum, it is important to recognize that this plays a role when you encounter cancel culture online, and can greatly aid in mediating backlash.
Factor In Your Tolerance for Criticism
With brand personality in mind, it is equally important to gauge the degree of criticism that you can effectively absorb without doing irreparable damage to your reputation or public image. For brands that adopt a more controversial online presence, receiving a little criticism in online spaces may be the norm, and easy to recover from. However, for many brands, especially small businesses, even one bad review or negative post can be extraordinarily damaging.
Be Intentional About What Platforms You Inhabit
All social media platforms present some degree of risk when it comes to negativity and instances of cancel culture. While Twitter is often credited as being the most prolific platform for cancel culture to run rampant, this sort of toxicity and negativity is not unique to any one platform. Because of this, it is imperative to weigh the benefits and risks of different social media platforms with your business’ objectives. Are your audience members and fellow industry members on TikTok, or Instagram? If not, consider whether those are “worth it” platforms for you.
The goal of social media is to be where your audience is. What’s more, surrounding yourself with like-minded followers can be an excellent way to build a loyal digital “tribe” who would be willing to help in squashing negativity on your behalf. Being intentional about what social media platforms you inhabit can ensure you set yourself up for success and are reaching your target audiences effectively, while limiting the risk of facing criticism.
Recognize That Not Everyone Will Agree With You
A large reason why cancel culture online has gotten so out of hand is because many people have forgotten a very simple fact: Not everyone is going to agree with you. This is true across all social media platforms, and yet we are often quick to become argumentative or call for public and private citizens alike to be “cancelled,” over mere differences of opinion. The more we can recognize that it is okay to disagree with one another, the easier it will become to navigate backlash and create a more accepting and positive online space for individuals and businesses. Until then, following best practices and staying true to yourself and your brand holds the key to navigating instances of cancel culture online, and can help preserve your reputation in the face of backlash.
Grace Savage is a Public Relations and Content Development Intern at Flackable, an award-winning public relations agency representing financial and professional services brands nationwide. To learn more about Flackable, please visit flackable.com.