Earlier this year I wrote a blog post about my own paradoxical thoughts on cancel culture and perhaps more importantly, how many public figures were hijacking the concept and rage-profiteering. At the time, I struggled philosophically with this subject and ultimately decided to pause my writing on it for a while. Recently though, (as the public discourse over the internet's impact on our wellbeing, culture, democracy, and humanity have been front and center) it seemed important to revisit the subject.
Fortunately, HBO Max recently teamed up with Monica Lewinsky and Max Joseph to produce 15 Minutes of Shame. The film explores the "bullies, bystanders, psychologists, politicians, and the ruthless media" of cancel culture, along with the evolution of technology and role of social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook. The documentary examines social behavior by "embedding with individuals who have been publicly shamed;" including Western New York's own Laura Krolczyk, who was fired from her position as a Vice President at Roswell Park Cancer Institute after a shaming campaign orchestrated by a WNY politico and now former Trump White House official (Michael Caputo) gained national attention.
The film also sheds light on some of the legal challenges victims face in holding someone--or even anyone--accountable in the context of the first amendment and other protections. To be sure, navigating the legal and PR response to public shaming can be overwhelming for a victim; even paralyzing at times. Most of us don't have a crisis management plan at the ready or a PR firm on standby. By the time we realize we need one, the impact and scope of the damage may already be disastrous to our professions, our businesses, our families, and our lives.
But there are some legal options that can help when it comes to managing the damage to one's reputation--or at least mitigating the fallout. A particularly libelous post or story may give rise to defamation claims. If the public shaming resulted in termination from your job, there may be a need to negotiate severance or examine wrongful termination or discrimination claims for protected classes and activities. Of course, the behavior may be so malicious that it crosses over into criminal conduct such as harassment and the need for orders of protection to keep the victim safe from harm.
Victims can feel completely ostracized and alone. Having an experienced team of legal and public relations professionals there to help can make a world of difference.
These are not chess pieces to be moved on a board to your pleasure. These are human beings. And if you fail to see their humanity then you will always thwart your own goals in changing hearts and minds.