Cancel culture is a term used to describe the practice of calling out and publicly shaming individuals or organizations for engaging in behavior or using language that is perceived as unacceptable or offensive. This phenomenon has become increasingly prevalent in recent years, with social media providing a platform for keyboard warriors to voice their opinions, hold others accountable and wage campaigns to “cancel” people they deem to be in the wrong. While cancel culture has been successful in bringing attention to important issues, it can also be taken too far and have devastating consequences for those who are targeted. As we have seen firsthand, many students have been chased off campus, ostracized by peers, kicked off sports teams and faced threats to their safety after being canceled.
For students, in particular, cancel culture can pose a significant threat to their academic and professional futures. One mistake or misstep can lead to a social media firestorm and a tarnished reputation that may be difficult to overcome. However, there are steps that students can take to protect themselves.
Students: Protect Your Reputations To Be Proactive Against Cancel Culture
Here are some tips for students to help protect their reputations:
1.) Be Mindful of What You Post on Social Media
Social media can be a powerful tool for networking, staying in touch with friends and building your personal brand. However, it can also be a liability if used improperly. Be sure to think twice before posting anything that could be construed as offensive or inappropriate. Consider how your posts could be perceived by others and the potential impact they could have on your reputation. It’s also worth giving a second thought to what you are “liking” on social media.
2.) Be Mindful of What You Say… Someone is ALWAYS Watching (or Recording)
Whether it’s someone taking an embarrassing fall down the stairs, a fight on a plane or a student going on a drunken, offensive rant, we’ve all seen the videos. We live in a world where everyone, everywhere is attached to their phones. Be careful what you say, especially when you’re under the influence, because you should always assume it has the potential to be recorded and shared on social media.
3.) Stay Informed and Educate Yourself
Staying informed about current events and social issues can help you avoid inadvertently engaging in behavior that is perceived as insensitive or offensive. Be sure to read a variety of news sources and listen to diverse perspectives to get a well-rounded understanding of the issues.
4.) Be Respectful and Empathetic Toward Others
Treating others with respect and empathy can go a long way in preventing misunderstandings and conflicts. Take the time to listen to others’ perspectives and try to understand where they are coming from, even if you don’t agree with them.
5.) Build a Positive Reputation
Finally, focus on building a positive reputation through your actions and interactions with others. Be known for your integrity, work ethic and positive contributions to your community. This will make it less likely that you will be targeted by cancel culture in the future.
Five Tips if You Are the Victim of Cancel Culture
But what happens if you do find yourself the victim of cancel culture? You made a mistake (or, as we have seen all too often, have been wrongfully accused of making a mistake) and now you’ve got a target on your back. As we know from having represented dozens of students caught in the crosshairs of cancel culture, it can be a truly devastating experience. Here is our best advice if you find yourself in this situation:
1.) Take Care of Yourself
Being canceled can be an extremely stressful, painful experience that can take a toll on your mental and emotional well-being. First and foremost, it is important to prioritize self-care by engaging in activities that bring you joy and seeking support from trusted friends, family members and counselors. If your friends at school are not being supportive, reach out to life-long friends you trust who will stick with you in good times and in bad times.
2.) Stay Calm and Avoid Reacting Impulsively
When you experience being canceled, it can be tempting to lash out or respond defensively. However, this can often make the situation worse. Instead, try to stay calm and avoid reacting impulsively. Take the time to assess the situation and consider your options before responding.
3.) Seek Legal Advice if Necessary
In some cases, being canceled can have legal implications or other ramifications, such as being kicked out of school or other organizations. If you are facing serious consequences as a result of being canceled, do not wait to seek legal advice from attorneys experienced with navigating cancel culture.
4.) Apologize and Make Amends
As we’re sure your mother taught you, if you do something wrong, you say sorry. Apologizing can help to defuse the situation and show that you are taking responsibility for your actions. However, it’s important to do it right. Helping to craft strategic, genuine apologies is one of our specialties.
5.) Learn From the Experience
Finally, it is important to learn from the experience and use it as an opportunity for growth. Reflect on what led to this situation and consider how you can avoid similar situations in the future.
Cancel culture is a complex phenomenon, and has become the norm since #MeToo and even the pandemic. While it is important to hold individuals and organizations accountable for their actions, we must also be mindful of the potential destructive consequences of canceling someone, especially before all of the facts in the allegations are verified. At the same time, students must be vigilant and take steps to help proactively protect their reputations. If you do find yourself in trouble, we are here to help.
For additional questions or to speak with an attorney about issues related to cancel culture, please reach out to Student & Athlete Defense Partners Susan Stone (SCS@kjk.com; 216.736.7220) and Kristina Supler (KWS@kjk.ocm; 216.736.7217).