News cycles are moving quickly these days. With all of us spending more time at home than ever before, a single tweet, video clip, or email is making its rounds faster than ever before. When we’re the subject of media coverage, the way we handle ourselves in these situations can make or break the way we’re judged for years to come.
In our new series, we look at the subjects of widely covered news stories this week and how their reputations have been reshaped for the better and worse based on their response to these events. See last week’s post here.
This Week’s Reputation Losers
What’s the only thing potentially worse for a company than an external reputation crisis? An internal one. Facebook is now facing both of these.
Due to his sharp stance in contrast to Twitter and Snap, both of which have implemented measures in response to highly controversial posts from President Trump – some of which were believed to have promoted violence, and others which were believed to have been factually inaccurate or misleading – Mark Zuckerberg took a controversial position by refusing to label or remove any content whatsoever.
Zuckerberg’s claim was that Facebook’s role is not to serve as the ‘arbiter of truth’, and should therefore let all content be. This immediately led to fierce backlash from the media. As CNBC and many others pointed out, Facebook often serves as an ‘arbiter of truth’ in many other ways to its member community.
Perhaps making this even more risky to the company’s public perception is the fact that Facebook received much of the blame for the fake news that circulated during the 2016 election, which many believe could have altered the outcome altogether. It was only months ago that Facebook pledged to ramp up its ability to flag fake news. Among many other items, their official October 2019 statement pledged to directly address misinformation, “Preventing the spread of misinformation, including clearer fact-checking labels”.
Not only did Zuckerberg’s refusal to budget lead to a public outcry against Facebook, but it led to:
- Civil rights leaders saying they were “disappointed and stunned” by Mark Zuckerberg’s failure to grasp the race issues at hand due to uncensored content.
- A loss of business opportunities. Talkspace was the first to publicly pull out of an ad spend deal with Facebook.
- Internal dissent amongst Facebook’s employees. Many have staged virtual walkouts this week, other high-ranking employees have publicly spoken out to express their disappointment, and some have even resigned.
For every Facebook employee who has spoken out or resigned, there are far many more who will quietly continue on, albeit with less resolve to work hard for an employer whose ethics they fundamentally disagree with. Others will be less likely to seek job opportunities with the company. This could all lead to a dismal future for a company that currently finds itself at the top of the food chain.
It’s hard to estimate the long-term damage this may cause Facebook both internally and externally, but both Zuckerberg and Facebook find themselves in very hot water. This is a situation to watch closely as current events continue to play out.
Lesson to be learned: An external reputation crisis is typically very costly. An internal one is usually existential.
2. Lea Michele
Sometimes, a reputation crisis can have nothing to do with what you did today, but actions of yours that date back years. Such was the case for Glee co-star Lea Michele this week.
After fellow co-star Samantha Marie Ware called Michele “a living hell” to work with, others from the Glee cast weighed in with their own stories. Here are just a few:
- Glee’s Heather Morris Says Lea Michele Was ‘Unpleasant to Work With’: ‘She Should Be Called Out’ (People)
- Lea Michele Accused of Being ‘Absolutely Awful’ to ‘Ragtime’ Understudy: ‘I Used to Cry Every Night’ (US Magazine)
- Glee’s Alex Newell Reacts to Lea Michele Allegations: ‘Get Her’ (Just Jared)
Michelle issued the following apology on Instagram:
While an apology is always a necessary first step in situations like these, the media cycle continues to live on, with new stories coming out as we speak. Additionally, Michele has already lost a sponsorship deal, as HelloFresh swiftly backed out of its partnership with Michele once the story broke.
Lesson to be learned: Consider how every action of yours will be judged not just today, but in the years ahead as well. Inappropriate behavior will eventually be called out.
This Week’s Reputation Winners
If you read last week’s column, you may remember that Twitter was declared a reputation loser at the time. We want to highlight Twitter in this week’s winners column to show that redemption is very possible with the right response to criticism.
While its execution has been far from perfect, Twitter took some big first steps this week and has stepped up its efforts to combat misinformation and threats of violence stemming from high-profile accounts on the platform. Putting warning labels on tweets ‘glorifying violence’ from President Trump and Rep. Matt Gaetz was a move applauded by many who had previously criticized the social media giant for failing to follow through on promises it made last year to police misinformation and other inappropriate content.
More importantly, Twitter has enjoyed some good fortune by way of the greater slip-ups of others. The failure of Facebook to label or delete such content immediately shifted much of the public criticism to Facebook. And more recently, the New York Times became the face of both external and internal outcry for allowing US Senator Tom Cotton (Arkansas) to publish an op-ed calling for military deployment in US cities.
Regardless of how one may personally feel about these issues, Twitter seems to have narrowly escaped the scorn of the press and its employees for the moment. As the company has a very challenging and delicate task on its hands going forward, this situation is subject to change.
Lesson to be learned: It’s never too late to do what you initially took heat for not doing. Also, timing and luck can sometimes play a role in one’s own reputational fate.
2. John Boyega
Taking political action is always a risky move for celebrities, athletes, and others in the public spotlight for nonpolitical reasons. Just ask Colin Kaepernick, who still can’t land a job 4 years later and is only now beginning to win the universal support of his peers and the NFL.
John Boyega fully recognized this when he stood amongst a George Floyd protest crowd in London:
“Look, I don’t know if I’m going to have a career after this, but f— that.”
The Star Wars actor put everything he’d worked for on the line to speak his heart, breaking down in tears as he delivered his speech. And it paid off in a big way.
Boyega immediately won the praise of Jordan Peele and other directors, who said they’d be eager and more likely to cast him in one of their films after his speech.
Star Wars shared words of praise on Twitter:
— Star Wars (@starwars) June 3, 2020
Even Mark Hamill weighed in with his own words of praise for Boyega’s bravery.
— Mark Hamill (@HamillHimself) June 3, 2020
Boyega’s speech will long be remembered as one of the defining moments in this historic movement.
Lesson to be learned: Speak from the heart and trust your instincts when it’s clear that you’re on the right side of history. Sincerity and courage will be praised by the masses looking for bigger voices to support their cause.