Warning: lots of sassy language in this post!
Yesterday, I was sitting with my sister as we watched a fairly well-known business owner get her ass handed to her.
This business owner messed up; she plagiarized content and got caught.
But instead of doing the right things, she somehow managed to do all the wrong things.
“This is just making it so much worse for her,” I said to Rose.
I thought about it more, and I realized that most people have no idea how to handle someone publicly calling them out.
They don’t know how to handle the hate comments.
It can feel very scary to get “canceled,” and most people make bad decisions when they’re under duress & pressure.
I wrote this guide to ideally be preventive. (The best way to not get canceled is to genuinely work on yourself and grow as a person so you don’t do things that could get you canceled.)
Some examples of things that could get you online heat:
- Saying something insensitive or inappropriate (however good your intentions were. This was my big f*ck up. I was still learning how to speak up as an anti-racist, and I ignorantly hurt people by saying the wrong things. I had good intentions and tried to show my support, yes, but I had a lot to learn. I caught quite a bit of online heat, and it actually launched a journey for me to actually learn what it TRULY means to be an ally and an anti-racist.)
- Silencing voices online or squashing important conversations. (See an example here.)
- Stealing someone’s work without giving credit
- Being called out for something wrong you’ve done in the past
But what if you do mess up? What if you do get canceled?
How should you handle it when you f*ck up publicly?
FYI, The article is written assuming you really did something wrong. If people are being trolls, that’s a totally different issue. Also, please note this advice is one person’s opinion and it is not reflective of the only way to handle things. It is written from my current life experience and current perspectives on things. As always, subject to change as I grow and learn as a human.
1. First of all, be a good person. Act with integrity at all times to the best of your ability.
The truth of the matter is, if you are a genuine and authentic person, you will have less to worry about.
Yes, you could still mess up (due to ignorance), but generally, people will be more understanding if they know your heart and they know what you meant or where you are coming from.
(That’s what I experienced. People know who I am as a person, and so, even though I said the wrong thing, I caught less heat because everyone knows I am a good person seeking to act with integrity at all times.)
Your motives are way more transparent than you think. We can see through any flimsy excuses you may have.
Truly, genuinely committing to walking the path of authenticity, transparency and integrity is a personal choice only you can make.
And it actually is far more important than just “not getting canceled.”
But not getting canceled is one small benefit that comes out of being a good person. So be a good person.
2. Really commit to “getting it.”
The more you understand online etiquette (for example, giving credit where credit is due), the less chance you have of being canceled.
From my personal scope of observation, the people who get canceled (especially around social justice issues) are entirely lacking important knowledge on important issues. They just don’t “get it.”
They haven’t committed to doing the work they need to do, and it shows, and they get called out for it.
Examples of that could be having an online summit with underrepresented BIPOC or sharing work from a BIPOC (or honestly, really anyone) without giving credit.
These are just two examples and certainly do not cover the full extent of wrongs you can knowingly or unknowingly perpetuate. The best thing to really commit to the journey of stepping outside your comfort to learn (and unlearn) things you were never taught. If you are looking for a coach in this area, I highly recommend my coach on this important issue, Nina Everflow.
3. Pay attention to who’s getting canceled and for what.
Let other people be in the hot seat for you.
If you see online drama happening, pay attention.
What can you learn from their mistakes? I really try to learn from other’s mistakes because it’s the least painful way to learn a lesson.
When I see an online leader getting online heat, I dissect it thoroughly.
(Actually, that’s how I’m able to write a post like this. Most of my takeaways have been from watching other people’s rise and fall online.)
4. If you f*ck up, take full & total responsibility.
The only way you will survive is if you totally and completely accept that you messed up. Don’t try to defend yourself.
I’ve seen so so so many people do not get this vitally critical point. You cannot make excuses for your behavior.
You cannot try to explain why you did what you did. It’s so tempting; I get it. Our instincts are to defend ourselves. But you will only make it worse.
To outside observers, it looks like you don’t get it. You don’t get the severity of your mistakes, or you don’t get how it hurt people, or why it was so wrong.
So, at this moment, take full and total responsibility. Just embrace the fact that it was your fault. Take it on the chin.
5. Don’t point fingers at anyone else.
People do this one a lot when they get caught.
They think they can blame an anonymous “freelancer” or “my VA” and somehow the problem will go away. Spoiler alert: it won’t.
First of all, we can all see through that in an instant.
Secondly, it reveals what a weak leader you are, compounding the negative feelings towards you.
Don’t ever publicly blame anyone else.
Not your team, not your mentor, not your vendors.
Even if your team really did mess up, it’s a weak leader that blames their team leaders.
If you do own your own business at the end of the day, the buck stops with you. So be a good leader and own up to your mistakes, and don’t point fingers at anyone else.
6. Don’t ask for any sympathy at all.
The hate comments can be shocking.
Having been on the tail end of them, it really is very jarring. So I really do get it.
But now is not the time to ask for sympathy.
I am writing this article assuming you messed up and are getting called on it. It’s okay to cry behind closed doors (from personal experience, I know it can be really raw and painful to feel like the world is out to get you. I get it. I do.)
But publicly, I notice that people seem to respect a brave face. Someone who can calmly and sincerely say, “You are right. I did mess up. I am sorry.”
7. Don’t fight back.
This will just drag it out longer and give people more ammunition.
Look, the harsh truth of the matter is, if you really did mess up, it’s your fault.
So don’t drag the situation out by going back and forth defending yourself.
8. Be intentional with your apology.
I recommend you write it out or record it.
I don’t recommend doing it live; I’ve seen that devolve quickly and make the situation much worse. Be sincere.
Put yourself in the wronged party’s shoes and empathize with them.
Genuinely reflect on what you did wrong.
Communicate your regrets with courage, even if it makes you uncomfortable.
9. Share what you are doing to fix the situation.
And then follow through.
This is a crucial one.
Share what you are doing to remedy the situation. Will you be refunding customers? Will you be taking a social equity program? Will you be pulling down that offensive post? Giving credit to somewhere where previously you didn’t? Reading books?
It’s so important to not only be specific with how you are fixing the situation, but it’s also critical to follow through.
Do what you say you’re going to do.
This restores trust..in yourself and your community.
Bonus 1: Let this be a powerful learning lesson for you.
If you’re going through your first “canceling,” likely you’re reeling from the shock.
Depending on the level of attention your f*ckup got, it can really leave you feeling raw and “less-than.”
Be sure to practice self-care.
If you need to turn off social media for a few hours to get a break, that’s understandable. Please understand that good can come out of this.
If you’re anything like me, you’re a more empathetic person.
You think before you speak more.
Perhaps you have become more resilient.
You also might see things from a new and different perspective.
Bonus 2: Here’s a sample apology structure:
Be sure to write your own apology from the heart, but if you’re looking for a structure or things to make sure you include:
- I acknowledge that I messed up.
- Here are the specific ways I messed up.
- I am sincerely regretful.
- I take full responsibility.
- Here are the specific things I am doing to fix it.
- I commit to doing these specific things, so I do not repeat this.
- I hope you can forgive me, over time, as I rebuild your trust.
I really hope you found this post helpful!
My hope for each one of you reading this is that we never have to use this. I wish that we are all harmonious, happy humans, personally and collectively striving to co-create a better world!