As many of you know, for the past few years my law practice has become more and more focused on reputational issues. Nearly every day, someone who has been called a racist or bigot contacts me to seek guidance. Businesspeople, professionals, professors, college students, and even high school students are targeted for condemnation and cancellation. It is routine for people to file website petitions (on sites like change.org), calling for another person’s firing due to a comment perceived to be racist or bigoted. Today, a person who competes too aggressively on the playing field can be called a racist. Raising the slightest objection to a corporate policy geared toward the LGBTQ community earns you the “bigot” title. The smallest transgression can result in the immediate loss of a job, removal from an office, and even scrubbing from employer records. I am not exaggerating when I say that cancellation represents an existential threat to your future.
So, what is a person to do? The first and best policy is to avoid statements that lend themselves to misinterpretation. As a part of this strategy, you should get off social media entirely. Close your Facebook and become anonymous on Twitter. Even the most carefully cultivated social media posts, reinterpreted five years from now, can be condemned for saying the “wrong thing.”
At work, you must learn that you do not have any friends whom you can trust. You can never let down your guard. You can never trust that your coworkers, partners, or those whom you teach will not misinterpret something you said. The risks are too high.
However, if someone calls you a racist or bigot despite the best efforts, I have learned that the only effective response is to fight back with everything you have. I also recommend that you first hire an attorney to advise you about your circumstances before you do anything. Each state has different laws on these issues, so you need a competent professional familiar with your state’s laws to help.
If a coworker calls you a bigot and will not retract after you confront them, you need to have your attorney contact them. If a person establishes a change.org petition calling you a racist, you need to send that person a letter and force them to take the petition down immediately or face the consequences. In today’s electronic society, these things do not go away. When you apply for college, for graduate school, for your first job, for your 2nd job, and on and on, the record of the false allegation will live forever.
As our society moves more and more in the direction of cancellation for people who fail to abide by prevailing opinions, they run a severe risk of losing their economic livelihood or suffering hundreds of thousands of dollars of damages to their ability to earn an income. Again, I am not exaggerating when I say that people call me and tell me how they were fired or how their businesses were destroyed over racism and bigotry allegations.
So, is there hope? I have always believed that truth wins out in the end. Unfortunately, right now, we are at a point in our history that does not tolerate dissent. I am sure in time, as has happened in the past, things will balance out. Until then, be very careful. A parting thought is that you personally do not need to fight this fight. There are many people out there who have already been canceled and can speak truth to power. Let them do their job, and maybe in time, things will get better.
Billionaire Chamath Palihapitiya recently tweeted that we “may be one defamation lawsuit away from canceling cancel...