There’s no severance package for Cancel Culture

Philip Grindell
Written by Philip Grindell
theres no severance package for cancel culture

In Alan Dershowitz’s recent book titled ‘Cancel Culture, The Latest Attack on Free Speech and Due Process’ he starts by suggesting Cancel Culture is the new McCarthyism of the ‘woke’ generation which ends careers, destroys legacies, breaks up families and even causes suicides. What is clear is that there is no severance package for the cancel culture. It can be a swift and ruthless end to careers, reputations and lives.

This article covers in-depth.

  • What is cancel culture?
  • The impact of being cancelled
  • Risk Management: Why the role played by a threat management consultancy such as Defuse, is as important as that by PR and Lawyers.
  • Solutions for when targeted for Cancel Culture

What is cancel culture?

‘Cancel Culture’ is the removal of support for public figures in response to objections about their behaviours or opinions. This may include boycotting or refusal to promote their work, or purchase products that they promote. The reality is that this may be boycotting a film because a particular actor is appearing in it, boycotting a company because one of their influencers has behaved in a manner that is judged as being unacceptable, or because of their directors may have posted or said something controversial or disagreeable, even if that happened to have been decades ago. Equally, speakers are now regularly being cancelled from speaking at Universities.  This happens because their views are misaligned to the often-hard left-wing/socialist views of those unionised members of committees controlling the debates. This not only stifles debate but creates echo chambers in the very institutions that should be promoting the complete opposite.

When Dershowitz refers to this as the new McCarthyism, he is of course referring the campaign against alleged communists in the US government and other institutions carried out under Senator Joseph McCarthy in the period 1950–4. Many of the accused were blacklisted or lost their jobs, though most did not in fact belong to the Communist Party. During this period films and tv shows were censored connected to anyone who had been blacklisted, attend a surgery or be taught by anyone of that list together with many of infringements, often based on misinformation….or in today’s vernacular ‘fake news’.

A separate association that has been made is the similarity of the current ‘woke’ generation (not a term I like) and the Stalinist of the 1930’s, who have been described as being purists sitting in judgement over the impure, with a better understanding of what is right and wrong and can distinguish this without the need for debate.

And herein lies the issue of ‘wokism’ and the cancel culture, the lack of debate or desire to understand, respect of differing views and judgement. The current culture that has evolved is one of judge and jury with no right to defend or debate, and an irrelevance of truth or proportionality. The concept of ‘those without sin throwing the first stone’ is long gone!

In 2019 former US President Barack Obama weighed into the debate about cancel culture, saying it was “not activism”. “If all you’re doing is casting stones, you’re probably not going to get that far,” he told an audience at an event for the Obama Foundation. He added that he got the sense some young people felt being as “judgmental as possible” was the best way to force change and cautioned them that the world was “messy” and full of “ambiguities”.

Much is the acceleration of the cancel culture has been conjoined with the populist campaigns #Metoo and Black Lives Matter movements (as opposed to the BLM organisation which has been demonstrated to be an anti Semitic Marxist organisation) where many have fallen foul of the identity politics groups and accused of being racists, transphobic, sexist or similar. These campaigns, worthwhile and with merit, have often been hijacked by activists who are less interested in truth or debate, but driven by a self righteous path of destruction and judgement.

The counter argument to this is that Cancel Culture is the ‘have nots’ taking on the ‘haves’ in an unfair system whereby algorithms prevent their voices and opinions being heard. There is some merit in this, however whilst I encourage debate and free speech, and have to tackle the algorithms on social media too, I don’t consider that the destructive nature of the tactic of cancel culture is a proportionate response.

The impact of being cancelled

Two of the key elements of any democracy are freedom of speech and due process, the right to be considered innocent until proven guilty.

There are no longer two sides to a story, and freedom of speech becomes selective, in that the freedom only exists if what you are saying is agreeable to those sitting in judgement. Debate and discussion are stifled, opinions no longer encouraged and with that the opportunity to persuade diminished.

Due process is now a selective privilege often not afforded to those accused of falling foul of the current campaign of interest. This has been accelerated with the use of social media and the internet where a story can circulate with little or no fact checking nor opportunity for the accused to defend oneself. Allegations of sexual harassment are no longer required to be properly investigated as the damage/justice is instant and because the idea of there being no smoke without fire, the innocent are forever guilty.



Equally, where allegations are made and may well be truthful, the integrity of any legal judgment can be harmed by trial by Social Media and populist media, and despite a firm direction by the presiding Judge, can we be sure that the guilt is based on the evidence and facts and not by the gossip and character assignations freely published?

In recent times we have seen the campaign against J.K Rowling, accused of being transphobic and vilified for her comments, despite being defended by Eddie Izzard. This followed 150 writers and academics, including Rowling, recently signed an open letter “condemning intolerant climate for free speech”. The letter, which was published in Harper’s Magazine.

However, some of those who put their name to the letter, perhaps in fear of being cancelled themselves, have already begun to distance themselves from the document, saying that they didn’t know who else would be involved in lending their name.

Another UK celebrity being cancelled is Rita Ora, who has apparently been ‘dropped’ by the huge brands EE and Apple who she represents following a number of high-profile scandals involving her failing to comply with the Covid regulations. Whether Rita Ora as a brand will be ‘cancelled’ or not only time will tell, but what is of significance is that these global brands dropped her from their campaigns in fear of being associated with any negativity she was subjected to.

The financial and reputational implications are prioritised over any loyalty.  Brands can no longer afford to remain neutral because neutral is viewed as complicit. Nearly two-thirds (64%) of consumers around the world will buy or boycott a brand solely because of its position on a social or political issue, according to the 2018 Edelman Earned Brand study.

Equally, employees have been become internal activists forcing companies to change polices and choose their strategies wisely. Hundreds of employees of Wayfair complained to management for selling about $200,000 of bedroom furniture to a government contractor that operates immigration detention centres on the U.S. and Mexico border. When Wayfair’s CEO Niraj Shah refused to comply with the workers’ demand to cancel the sales, employees protested by staging a walkout.

Employees of Google, Microsoft, Amazon, Bank of America, Disney, Nike, Uber, J.P. Morgan and other top corporations have challenged certain actions of their companies that conflict with their social conscious, with some activist employees who purposely seek out jobs with companies that do not share their social and ethical beliefs.

The reality of being targeted by the cancel culture can be catastrophic. All too often we have seen careers destroyed where brands sacrifice staff or influencers to maintain share prices, truth be told this has real life implications for share prices and the bottom line and short termism is seen as the best option.

Edelman’s Trust Barometer Special Report on Brand Trust in 2020 identified that 70% of consumers describe trust in a brand as more important than previously, with 75% of people with high brand trust say they will buy the brand’s product even if it isn’t the cheapest.


Some of those on the receiving end have committed suicide where they see no opportunity for fairness or a second chance, lives destroyed to protect a reputation.

Investors today have to not just research the financial opportunities but make judgements of the histories of the companies to ensure that there are no skeletons that may appear, for which the investor will then be not only be automatically associated with but will be financially harmed by.

In the same way, high profile activists have to take a good look at themselves before they make judgements of others and promote populist campaigns.

Sir Lewis Hamilton, a case in point, a high profile advocate of the Black Lives Matter as the only black driver in F1 as well as being the most successful driver in F1 history. However, many will point to the fact that despite his views on BLM and the history of slavery, he is happy to drive for Mercedes, a company intrinsically linked to the Nazi regime of World War 2 and the slave labour of Jews.

More widely, we now see creativity being lost, education poorer, intellectuals living in fear that a debate published decades ago will be rehashed, with no understanding of context in the war against political correctness, ironically a term coined during the Stalinist regime to impose limits on freedom of speech, thoughts and liberty.

The Cancel Culture appears to have no statute of limitations and many young professionals will be deterred and disincentivised from saying or doing anything that may come back to bite them in years to come.

As a by-product our politicians will increasingly be vanilla, and many will be deterred from standing. It is a fact that many politicians come from a legal background and may have defended or prosecuted controversial subjects, perhaps even securing a not guilty verdict on an obviously guilty person, by doing their job and finding faults in the integrity of the evidence.

Those that are driving the cancel culture now, stifling debate, conducting digital kangaroo courts and perpetuating mistruths will be the leaders of tomorrow and will be expected to have an unblemished antecedence.

Risk Management: Why the role played by a risk or threat management consultancy such as Defuse, is as important as that of your PR and Lawyers.

 Whilst much of the expertise in dealing with such issues sits firmly with lawyers and PR experts, consultancies such as Defuse have seen an increase in clients asking for help.

There are number of areas in which specialists in risk and threat management add value. Being informed is a must before any response. One of the first elements in to understand who is attacking you, and whether they have grounds for such an attack. Are they a former employee seeking to cause reputational damage? What views have they themselves expressed online and in terms of damage limitations, what is being said about you or your company online? Is this an insider threat issue (as in activist employee) or an external issue? What is your strategy for countering any potential harm done?

It is key that any response, if that is the decision, it done intelligently, and that is Behavioural Analysis Service are sought after. This provides a scientific analysis of those targeting or seeking to cancel you, advising whether and how to respond and can be the difference between escalating of defusing the situation. No response should be based on ‘what feels right’ or what worked in the past. It must be based on properly researched and analysed intelligence.

With the current trend of #Metoo and #BLM its vital to review your position before making any comment or seeking to ‘jumping on the bandwagon’ in an attempt to capitalise on popular trends. You must have a PR strategy and understand the implications of action or inaction.

When recruiting senior executives, ensure that a full digital audit is conducted as part of the due diligence. It’s crucial to know whether they have previously published anything that may cause your brand harm, and equally important that the process is repeated regularly to ensure you are not caught out.  Vetting must be an ongoing process and not a one off, pre-employment process.

“It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it.” Warren Buffet

 For details of Defuse’s Digital Vulnerability Audit

Understanding where the vulnerabilities with your C-Suite or Family Office’s online platforms are is crucial. All too often the individual themselves have their profile managed and lockdown, but family members, friends or associates have posted or revealed something that may be problematic. A regular review will identify and prevent any harm from being done. In today’s culture, your online reputation is priceless.

As mentioned, the personal impact of being targeted can be catastrophic, and sadly we have seen suicides by a number of those involved. Ensuring that those impacted seek a Psychological Support Service, delivering confidential therapeutic interventions is crucial as well as understanding that this may impact not just the individual, but their families too.

In many ways the Cancel Culture causes more problems than it solves. It falsely accuses, implies guilt and is unbalanced and unfair. It has no statute of limitations and provides no platform for a defence, debate or transparency. It can be used maliciously, wreck lives, destroy brands and bankrupt businesses. However, despite that, managed professionally that doesn’t have to be the case.


• It is important to be proactive, know what your own digital shadow says, set clear values and live up to them.

• When issues arise, get informed and understand where the grievance developed from. Seek advice from a qualified and experienced behavioural scientist to advise how to respond. Consider creating a crisis management strategy involving experts from key areas.

• It is important to think before commenting on populist issues that have no relevance to you, and where appropriate consult with your PR team.

• It is beneficial to have a strategy of regular digital audits and consider whether a full TSCM sweep may be of benefit.

• Introduce sterile areas for meetings and discussions of importance, where no mobile phones or other technical equipment is required. For those that suggest that isn’t possible, it is and having engaged in many secure meetings including in the COBRA rooms in Whitehall, I can testify that in many ways it encourages a better planned and engaged meeting.

• Review recruitment policies to ensure a full digital review of key executives in introduced. People’s views and allegiances change so include regular reviews and a requirement for any significant chances of circumstance to be reported, such as it required under UK Government vetting procedures.

• Remember that in almost all circumstances, an early admission of wrongdoing is often best, together with an action plan of how you intend to fix and repair the issue. Then keep your promises and ensure you deliver.


Defuse Global
Defuse is a risk & threat management consultancy that delivers ‘peace of mind’ researched and operationally proven solutions to private family offices, high profile people & organisations troubled by stalking, harassment, abuse, threats, intimidation, reputational & privacy concerns.

[email protected]

+44 (0) 2072930932



Call us today +44 (0)207 293 0932 Have us call you back

This website uses cookies. By continuing to use the site, you are acknowledging the terms of our Privacy Policy.