5 Steps for Surviving Cancel Culture
While cancel culture claims a growing number of celebrity scalps, it seems a similarly-troubling trend is on the rise: ordinary people without large platforms getting their reputations crushed and careers ruined by decades-old tweets—or completely unsubstantiated allegations.
We all live in glass houses now—and it doesn’t matter if you’ve decided you won’t personally throw stones, with everyone else chucking them around, chances are you’ll have one land a blow.
In the case of Justice Kavanaugh, he didn’t even have to actually do anything to have his entire life’s work and reputation destroyed in the press.
Friends confess having a terrifying, constant feeling of vulnerability—even if they don’t have any skeletons in their closets—and while I can’t blame them for feeling that way, I do have a solution.
It’s the same solution I have for literally everything: Prepare for it. Here’s how.
1. Be honest. Tell the truth at all times about who you are, where you’ve been, and any mistakes you’ve made. That doesn’t mean you have to start tweeting confessions or being self-deprecating, but it does mean you shouldn’t claim to have a spotless record—or throw stones at those who’ve made mistakes.
2. Be forgiving. We don’t forgive people for doing or saying bad things because they deserve it or because we’re magnanimous—it’s an acknowledgment we’d want forgiveness too… and that we’d be just as unworthy of it as they are.
So when you see the rage mob come for others—no matter what side of the political aisle they’re on—don’t join in the dogpile. Be forgiving, be kind, and in lieu of all that, mind your own business. Remember when people used to do that? Those were good times.
3. Get proactive. If you’re really anxious, delete your old tweets and start over… now. If you’re worried tweets or posts from long ago lack context (or good judgment), why let them linger around like time bombs? It’s not a perfect solution, but if you’re trying to build a strong social media presence, it’s not a bad idea to at least consider.
4. Keep your receipts. This is the saddest advice I have to give, but I’ve seen more than one friend vindicated simply by saving text messages and voicemails. In the case of the Mattress Girl, Facebook messages proved she had fabricated almost everything she claimed about her “attacker.” Even though many still inexplicably “believe her” and the life and career of the man she falsely accused was severely harmed by her lies, imagine how much worse it would have been if he hadn’t been able to provide evidence of his innocence in black and white.
Does that mean you need to carefully archive every DM, text, and chat? No, but you should always communicate clearly in all your written correspondence—don’t leave anything up to misinterpretation. Always speak to people with respect and dignity. To update the popular expression, never text anything you wouldn’t want to see the New York Times tweet as a screenshot.
5. Go the extra mile for perception’s sake. I’ve probably spent hundreds of dollars over the years taking Ubers home from events that I could have easily split with male colleagues or male friends heading to the same neighborhood. I’m also never behind closed doors alone with a man unless the door is glass or someone else is in the room with us.
Why? Before everyone lost their minds about the Pence Rule, we used to just call it common sense.
A few years ago I was walking home on Capitol Hill and I saw a well-known journalist leaving a bar to get into a cab with a woman who was not his similarly-well-known wife. It was past midnight and they were both clearly pretty tipsy—their laughter still audible a block away after the car pulled off.
Was it innocent? Maybe. But in that moment I realized just how vulnerable a reputation can be—and that I should start doing a much better job protecting mine.
I don’t do it begrudgingly or with rage at the patriarchy. In fact, I often feel strongly that I’m protecting the reputations of the men in the situation more than protecting my own.
Because even before the #metoo and #believeallwomen era, these small gestures and signals mattered. Even if you know your behavior is appropriate, that’s not necessarily what everyone else sees.
I’m not saying everyone should follow the steps I do—but you should start to consider the optics of every situation.
Will taking these steps protect you from an unthinking rage mob hellbent on your personal destruction? Maybe not—but doing what you can to protect your reputation and staying aware of how you’re perceived should give you peace of mind and should equip you to handle whatever comes.
And if all else fails: Put down your phone and go for a walk.