Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Corporate and Social Media Mediated Vigilante Justice Ostracism

Physorg |  A: The commercial realm offers an interesting perspective. Businesses can act swiftly and unilaterally, without the need for coalition building required by legislative bodies. In crisis communication, one concept we look at when determining strategy is "locus of control." If the organization itself is at fault, then it bears more responsibility for righting the perceived wrong than if the situation was caused by an external actor. And of course, there's a big spectrum in between.

Rosanne Barr's highly successful television program was canceled just a few hours after she posted a series of racist tweets. There was nothing illegal about her statements, but the network made a business decision that the continued revenue would not be worth the reputational damage that might result from appearing to support her positions, even tacitly. In this case, the locus of control for the crisis was clearly Barr herself, and the network decided to sever ties immediately to distance themselves.

Distancing is harder to accomplish when the locus of control clearly rests within the organization itself, such as when a company creates an ad campaign that many find objectionable. The cosmetics subscription box service Ipsy recently came under fire when its online ad video, intended to celebrate Pride Month, was instead seen by many as using transphobic language. The company removed the ad and apologized, but not before it had arguably worsened the situation by, allegedly, spending the first couple of days deleting negative comments and responses from trans customers. The marketplace of ideas moves very quickly these days, but consequences tend to come more swiftly when the cause is an employee or third party.

Q: Let's flip this. Can this scenario also be used as a powerful force?
A: I think the continued effects of the #MeToo movement remain an excellent example of how powerful a force this kind of response can be when it crosses over from online into offline domains, and develops capacities as well as signaling. Actress Asia Argento, one of Harvey Weinstein's accusers, made a formidable statement at this year's Cannes (Film Festival) warning that powerful people will no longer be able to get away with workplace sexual misconduct as they have in the past. And Netflix canceled the U.K. press tour for the latest season of "Arrested Development" after a cast interview with "The New York Times" went awry. Actress Jessica Walter received massive social media encouragement for describing, in tears, the verbal abuse she had suffered on set from co-star Jeffrey Tambor—who had been fired from the Amazon series "Transparent" for sexual harassment claims. Her male co-stars, on the other hand, were excoriated for minimizing her pain and rushing to the support of Tambor.

Nothing that happened in the interview crossed into the realm of illegality, and Netflix operates on a subscription model that shields it from the risks of advertising-driven network television. And yet, even they took some steps to limit their exposure on this issue.

These incidents both happened months after the most recent wave of the movement began last October. That suggests this is not an ephemeral phenomenon that can be dismissed as mere online outrage, but a lasting shift in our collective consciousness and expectations, even without any kind of formal organization.

What's changing is who has power, and who is willing to use it. We just need to try to thoughtfully adapt our structures and systems alongside these changes, to reduce the risk of institutionalizing hasty decisions.