Are YOU at risk of being cancelled?

Are YOU at risk of being cancelled? Reputation management expert reveals why it doesn’t just happen to famous people – and how your social media posts put you at risk

  • We have seen people from CEO to normal folk face the sack for their opinions
  • My advice is to always keep posts and comments fairly light-hearted
  • READ MORE: Who do they high priests of cancel culture most resemble? 

If you think cancel culture only affects those who are high profile or wealthy, think again.

Everybody is at risk of being taken to task and publicly ‘ousted’ if we make certain mistakes, especially if we have a no-holds-barred approach to voicing our bold opinions online.

And while we might only see the likes of the headline-hitters, such as Roald Dahl’s children’s books, or Tom Jones’s song Delilah being cancelled, it’s still bubbling away under the surface.

Whether it’s your strong comments made on a local Facebook group, your TikTok video that backfires, or ‘banter’ in a work WhatsApp group, things today can get serious quite quickly.

And before you know it, you’re making the headlines.

If you think cancel culture only affects those who are high profile or wealthy, think again. It can happen to anyone who expresses strong opinions online (stock image)

While cancel culture can be a great tool for the marginalised as a vehicle for victims to speak out against abusers, it can also be an unrelenting online frenzy where we pick up on other people’s mistakes and our compassion flies out the window.

Here, Roz Sheldon, the Managing Director of Igniyte, a UK-based business reputation management agency, reveals if you’re at risk, how to avoid it – and a potential path back if you do find yourself being cancelled.

How cancel culture works

If what you’re saying online is strong enough to offend someone, you could be at risk of being cancelled. That is, other people taking umbrage at your remarks, and letting you, and everyone else know about it (including potentially your employer).

Your ill-thought-out posts can gain momentum. The more people comment in response, or share your post or video online, the algorithms of social media will work to show it to more pairs of eyes – and very quickly it can become very popular.

Then, the likelihood is, if what you have said or done has offended some people, it will offend others too – or others will jump on the bandwagon, seeing that as the ‘right’ thing to do.

If that then goes viral, it gets out of control – and is more likely to be picked up by the media, thus escalating the issue.

If the original poster is a business owner, staff member, or person of interest, this then has an impact on their brand, their employment, their staff, or their fans – and it can impact their career or product (sometimes for the long-term). The knock-on effect is often huge financial losses.

In many cases, this can be seen as justice – if someone was found to be sexist, racist, homophobic, or physically, emotionally, or sexually abusive, then that person getting cancelled can be seen as justified. Cancel culture certainly has its place here. It can be a great tool for positive social change.

But frequently, at Igniyte, we work with individuals who have had their reputation and livelihood permanently damaged due to ‘grey area’ circumstances.

This might be allegations surrounding a celebrity that have become fact without a full investigation, one side of the story of an event that has been taken as the truth, or over-the-top backlash for offensive ‘jokes’.

As well as cancel culture being about people revealing their true colours, it’s also about people making honest mistakes – which is then amplified by a negative online pile on.

It’s a modern-day stocks and gallows.

The types of social media posts that will be red flags for employers, and why

Companies are cracking down on the people they hire by scouring social media to see the types of remarks you make online. If you look like a toxic, controversy-seeking individual, your potential future boss will give you a wide berth.

With that in mind, don’t be seen to be posting anything that appears to be racially motivated, sexist, homophobic, or transphobic.

You may have certain opinions about groups of people and how they live their life – and you are entitled to your viewpoint (be that wrong or right) – but think about how what you post online could be viewed by others.

Most companies don’t want to be associated anywhere near any employee controversy.

Why it’s important to pause before you post

Say you’re thinking about posting something discussing a topic that you know will divide people. Or you’re really annoyed at what someone else has posted, and you feel the need to defend or challenge something.

Before you throw caution to the wind because of ‘freedom of speech’, pause and fast forward to the potential outcome. Is it really worth it?

Be careful not to appear to be an online troll. Don’t be seen as an online bully. Because you will be called out if you overstep the line.

What’s safe to post

So what’s advisory to post, in the day and age of creating a great ‘online self’ and personal branding?

Well certainly be your authentic self, and if that means having a strong opinion online or being edgy, all credit to you.

Just be very careful not to creep into the territory of always being ‘controversial’ or posting your unchecked political or societal views, without being aware that they could negatively impair your career if employers don’t like your approach. Often politics and deep debates are best had offline.

My professional advice is to always keep posts and comments fairly light-hearted, and if you want to make a political or societal statement, try your best to have your posts as professional, well-researched, objective, and as friendly as you can.

The benefits of cancel culture on your reputation – and the negatives

On the rare occasion you’re known for being really controversial and that’s how you make your living, then being on the receiving end of a backlash is par for the course. But, for everyone else, the benefits of cancel culture in our lives and careers can be devastating.

Even if the initial online backlash from your behaviour or online remarks isn’t damaging enough on your mental psyche, you never know what commercial opportunities or job opportunities may be lost in the future due to people reading negative stuff about you online (be that the chatter on social media or negative headlines).

What to do if you’ve been cancelled…

If you’ve lost your job or other position with a company after a HR investigation following controversial online comments, it will be hard to appeal against this (being honest).

What you do need to do is make a conscious effort of managing the potential impact that past mistakes can have on your career, bearing in mind that people at some point will search your name in Google and may see the negativity associated with you.

In terms of your next job interview, or a discussion with a potential commercial partner, be upfront and say, “look you may find this out about me online, I have taken multiple steps to be better, and I am no longer associated with whatever the toxic event was”.

An employer or recruiter is more likely to look favourably on you if you have brought it to their attention, as opposed to them finding out first hand online (they may think you’re being deceptive).

If you find you have really moved on, you’ve learned your lesson and can see the error of your ways, and the post or article still lives in years to come, try to have that taken down.

But ultimately, the lesson needs to come before you share. Just because you have an initial opinion, it doesn’t make it right – and it doesn’t mean other people need to hear it.

Think about what your views are, what you want to be known for in your community, in your workplace, and then work backwards from that.

Roz Sheldon is managing director of Igniyte, a specialist agency that helps businesses and high-profile individuals improve their online reputation and negative perceptions issues,

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