How to Handle Being “Cancelled” by the Online Masses (Backlash)

Depending on which direction the social tide currently flows, things you thought were fine to do and say in the past can strategically be used to ruin your reputation.

The actions you’re in trouble for may have stemmed from ignorance, naivety, and lack of strategic foresight. As you do something you shouldn’t have (in the perception of the masses) you may find yourself to be the next one to be “canceled” from social discourse.

The cancelling of online personalities is a mass act of unfollowing, defaming, and defunding. Millions of people can get involved. The goals of the masses seem to first start off with a social cause in mind, these movements seek justice, and since you’ve disturbed the balance of perceived social / criminal justice, you must now pay for your sins in the social context.

Once the ball starts rolling, there’s not much that can be done to stop the movement. As envy, jealousy, opportunity, and a sense of entertainment become mixed into this picture of legitimate public outrage, the fire around you burns excruciatingly hot.

The good news, is that the most painful portions of the backlash don’t last too long. The effects these movements have on your finances, businesses, and image though, can be here to stay.

This article aims to provide a sense of understanding, and a series of steps to take, for those who are facing unexpected backlash online.

Judgement is set aside in this article, and a general attempt to guide you through interpreting what’s happening to you (and how to move forward) will be made below.


Things to Know


Your Demise Will Become a Social Event

Your selection by the masses to be canceled / unfollowed / shamed will grow from being unique and personal to your situation, to an impersonal social event for the masses to attend to. Your demise will become a thing to participate in and perhaps derive entertainment from. It’s important that you start watching these happenings with an observatory frame of mind.

Remember, the vast majority of individuals attacking you do not know you, but they do understand how much pain they aim to deliver. They’ll come for blood; your video views, your numbers, and your sources of income will be attacked. You will become persona non grata.

Understand that your demise has become a social event, rather than a personalized, balanced, attempt at seeking justice. In being previously seen as a winner in the game that most people online attempt to play, do not be surprised if the effects of envy also make their mark. Things will be hectic, people will be vicious, and it’ll become easy to either be overly responsive or simply hide until it’s all over.

Notwithstanding how you personally react, observe your image / brand as being a part of this combative social event rather than a personal one.

Your Grave (and Apology) Will Be Spit On

People are sensitive to public attempts at controlling image and minimizing damage to a brand. Your apologies will be massively disliked, and your genuine attempts at seeming regretful of the actions that got you in trouble will simply be ignored.

Take it as a given that all attempts at immediate damage control will be sniffed out by the public. You have too many eyes and ears on you at the time of being targeted by the masses. Your apology will miss things people will dig up from the past, and your regret will be hypocritical compared to past videos / comments / and posts you made yourself.

With each iteration / correction you need to make to your immediate response in light of new evidence against you, the weaker your case becomes. What you hope is a meaningful apology can be painted as a shallow attempt at damage control simply by digging up something else from your past.

Though you should apologize if you feel the need to, do not expect it to benefit you in any way. The best apology in the immediate stages of the event at hand is one which submits to any accusations, amplifies the victims at hand, and expresses thorough regret without an argument added on.

Apologize due to a simple desire to apologize to people that you’ve wronged. Do not expect any apologies you make to magically cure what the public deems you to be in trouble for. A word of caution: Be very sure that your apology is sourced from genuine regret rather than social pressure. If you are called to apologize for something you don’t feel apologetic for, your future self will thank you if you refrain.

Your Arguments Will Not Work

On a similar note to apologies and regret, you’ll likely feel the need to give your side of the story at hand. The worst time to make your case is right after a halfhearted apology. Avoid this worst-case response to backlash online.

Nevertheless, you’ll be motivated to address every single accusation made against you. You’ll dig up old texts, comments, and photos. You’ll try to defend yourself with absolute knowledge of the truth, and will have concrete evidence to prove at least some innocence.

Remember that the momentum to the opinion of the masses does not respond to reason and logic once it’s been set on taking someone down. It is not the ignorance of all the individuals which has made a believable case for your cancellation, rather, it is simply an unfortunate mixture of the signals you’ve put out to the world in combination with the changes society has undergone. The numbers will not be on your side – no matter what side you turn to. Everything you do now will seem inorganic to something that grew organically. Your past troubling actions, words, and thoughts were organic. Now, your apologies, rebuttals, and addressals won’t be. The organic truth behind your words today will be sniffed out. The organic truth is that you’re trying to survive the storm and make things better. You’ll be biased and everyone will know it.

The horse is out of the barn, and voicing your side of the story prematurely will only serve to make the horse run faster and thrash more violently. Whatever truth you have needs time to be divulged. You won’t have a large-enough bucket to smother the burning flames. The distinction between rolling with the punches and leaning into them is vital for you to understand at this time.


Things to Do


Making a Dedicated Statement / Rebuttal to the Allegations

Dedicated apologies sourced from a genuine desire to apologize for any wrongdoings are different to those whose simple aim is to lessen anger. They both typically don’t work to ease public anger, but apologies sourced from genuine regret are important in resetting, dusting yourself off, and seeing what’s next.

Your genuine apologies will  attract detractors and naysayers, but if you feel as though you should apologize for any wrongdoings for the sake of holding yourself up to a personal standard, then exhibit that behavior.

An apology’s true perk is the exhibition of authenticity and personal values rather than damage control. These expressions must be authentic and no damage control or reward should be expected from them.

As noted above, the likelihood that you can explain away the allegations made against you with either an argument or an apology are low. Even if you were to appear angelic in your rebuttal, the corner you’d be already backed into will work against you in ways you don’t expect.

Your apology will appease your diehard fans and induce salivation in those who want to see you fall. There is unlikely to be crossover between the two groups.

A rule of thumb is to veer away from making dedicated, separate, statements if you already have an established channel of communication prior to any allegations being made against you. For instance, if you have a weekly podcast that is uploaded to social media, the strategically wise move is to not make a dedicated, separate video addressing – what you believe to be false – allegations made against you.

A dedicated response empowers attempts at demeaning your character, spreading lies, and damaging your reputation. A dedicated apology will be no different. It will make those against you feel as though their attempts to damage are working.

Personal and business factors will influence your desire to put out a dedicated apology for any misdoings or whether to simply implement the apology as part of your regular output routine.

Ride out the Storm with Expected Behavior

The early stages of your response to public outcry or an angry online mob should not involve you taking any risks. Though this may not have to be said, be set on first riding out the storm of public opinion and discourse surrounding you. Your vehement apologies won’t be rewarded, so tone them down and make them authentic. Your regrets won’t be empathized with, so don’t act like you’ve changed overnight. Your claim of innocence will not be believed by most, and your claim that you’ve learned will need time before making. Still though, continue on.

Seeing more attacks on your name and image come your way as you’re doing all the things being commanded of you by the masses is a normal part of the process. Simply do what needs to be done, and do not stand out in your attempts at doing those things early after the backlash.

Your situation will be unique in the specifics which plague it whilst being general in the course it would be taking. You’ll receive advice on what to do from those around you and will need to judge various elements specific to your situation for yourself. Do what you decide is best to do when you’re in the eye of the storm. Know that not much will help. Don’t expect anything to get better, and simply set your sights on riding out the worst parts.

An essential aspect of your response to allegations made against you is the decision you’ll make on whether to continue with your regular professional output schedule. The desire to “go dark” and take a hiatus will obviously be strong in the midst of the events in question. Remember though, the decision to take a hiatus in the midst of your “cancellation” should only be made based on the desire to preserve your mental health. Going dark introduces new issues from a strategic communications perspective which serve to bind your future self.

Stepping away from the pressure of the public without allowing for its slow release will place a burden on your first instance back into the spotlight. Your first podcast / show / appearance / communication back from a hiatus you take in the midst of damaging allegations made against you will be stressful. It will also be highly viewed and listened to. Ultimately your decision to step back should consider whether you’re confident in performing under pressure when you’re back from your hiatus.

To most, it seems better to continue with their regular output if the allegations made against them are of nonlegal nature. Amidst their regular outputs, statements on the allegations made against them can be sown in at their discretion. This approach will decentralize your response to the allegations, making followers of the drama you’re surrounded by work harder to critique your every word.

Have and Utilize a Direct Channel of Communication With Your Audience

It is important to maintain and use a direct channel of communication that all interested parties can tap into. Social media accounts play a vital role in getting your controlled thoughts out without being misconstrued. Even if taken out of context, your existing output – whether on a social media page or on a blog –  will always be present for anybody to reference.

The importance of having a direct channel of communication lies in your ability to control the source signal of any information that your friends and foes have in their possession about you. The personalized approach you take in expressing yourself whilst under the spotlight will aid in humanizing your situation to onlookers.

A direct channel of communication with those interested in your current situation can encourage others to join you in raising their voice and establishing positive social proof to work in your favor.

Those against you will come out in droves as you put out your direct signals to the public – so be ready for it and willing to undergo that scrutiny.  However, the benefits to maintaining and utilizing a direct channel of communication with your audience will outweigh the consequences of opening yourself up to increased negative feedback.

Show More of Yourself to Entice the Recognition of Your Authenticity

As you find yourself on the tail end of the storm you went through, it’ll now be time to take productive action. A strategy which seems to improve things is to give people the opportunity to watch / listen / and read your thoughts in a more accessible, lengthier format.

The people who were once savagely attacking your image will now be interested in your perception of the storm they unleashed upon you. Your first instances of showing yourself back in the online spotlight will be a magnet for volatile, interested gazes and ears.

Simply be you, but in a more accessible manner. This means show more of yourself more often. Allow others to experience the human behind the character / brand which they were so adamant about attacking. This step is all about giving them more opportunities to see that in addition to all the bad aspects of your personality, you have relatable, good aspects about you as well.

Examples of this can be making longer videos, accepting requests for long form interviews, and being more frequent in how you interact with your community of followers. Do not be surprised if the attacks keep on coming. The point is not to stop the backlash you face with this step. The point first, is to show that you’re willing to exhibit the changes you’re making for the public to see. Second, a goal should be to reestablish how authentic, real, and human the public perceives you to be.

Describe the Series of Events in an Observatory Manner

Your first hand perspective of being at the receiving end of a ‘cancellation’ is obviously unique to any new eyeballs your situation attracts. You’re likely to feel things not many have felt before, and have seen a certain viciousness not many see from such a perspective.

There is value in communicating your point of view from an observatory perspective. The steps with which an angry mob develops, the initial moments of finding out about your trending status, and how those close to you reacted as they questioned whether they should believe what’s being reported about you are all interesting observations to ponder.

This phase of your response provides you with an opportunity to indirectly criticize some of the more outlandish attempts at dragging you through the mud. As you establish an observatory tone about the series of events and describe how they played out, the listener will be allowed to distinguish legitimate critics from envy-ridden opportunists trying to leech from your demise.

Acknowledge That Damage Was Taken Without Playing the Victim

Providing your vehement critics a sense of closure starts with your admission that their attempts had their intended effect at causing damage. It’s important to not assume any semblance of a victim role. Refrain from allowing your feeling that the criticisms were undeserved from making its way into your dialogue about said events.

Acknowledging the damage that was caused to any facet of your life involves exuding an understanding tone about the nature of the criticisms that came your way. Describing sponsors severing ties with you, for instance, should be done with an undertone signifying its obviousness. Speak about the reactions to the criticism you faced in an understanding manner, and don’t cast blame on anyone who reacted to the things they heard and read about you.

Doing this will add onto the contentment felt by those who were rigidly against the idea of you having a voice online. You won’t seem like you’re attempting to fix everything back to a state that it was in. Acknowledging sustaining damage will send the message that you understand the inevitability of changes to come.

If you’re willing to admit to the permanent changes you’ll witness in response to this event, you’d be willing to permanently change as an individual (in the minds of those looking on). They’ll feel vindicated in their attempts to silence you and bring you down in notoriety, whilst also seeing that you’re accepting of the changes that are to come in your life.

Be Honest in How You Felt During the ‘Cancellation’

In an effort to build trust in the honesty with which you’d be operating after the worst parts of the backlash you faced are over, you’d need to voice some expected truths about how you felt in the moment. Keep in mind that your commentary should be observatory of how you felt in the past. Not how you feel right now. Be honest with how painful, how bad, and how scary it was to be on the receiving end of the backlash you faced.

Communicate how your internal reaction shifted from phases of anger, resentment, regret, acceptance, and then to learning. Be as honest as you can be with how you felt during the backlash you faced.

The purpose of this step is to first humanize your viewpoint in the matter, and then to admit to not always understanding why you were receiving the backlash. Nobody simply accepts the backlash they receive. People go through stages in terms of how they feel in the face of backlash they face. There is often anger and misunderstandings floating around the traumatic event of receiving backlash. Voice the angers you felt and the things you did not understand.

Package Your Mistakes as Genuine Lessons for Yourself and Those Who Stuck Around

Finally, ensure that you are at peace with the mistakes you made which caused your “cancellation” from social relevance. Voice your honest analysis of the mistakes you made, and the lessons you learned, to the portion of the fan-base which wants to listen.

You’ll be quickly reminded if you’re off the mark in the analysis of the mistakes you made. Ensure that you’ve analyzed your behavior in a healthy, complete, manner and perhaps sought professional help to pinpoint where the mistakes you made were.

Show that you’ve changed by being absolutely objective surrounding the mistakes which led to the backlash you received. Yearn to package that information to be perceived as lessons for those who are still listening to take away in the long form content you dedicate yourself to providing (as mentioned above). Be detailed in your analysis and allow your authentic inner voice to be heard by others.

As you continue creating content online, continuously refer to the mistakes you made during this instance when the context calls for it. Do not shy away from completely owning the fact that you made mistakes which cost you big time in the context of social discourse online. A sign that you’ve learned from your mistakes will be your act of continued, long lasting, use of references to the mistakes you made.

You’ll begin treating your prior mistakes as actions of a past version of you. As you do, your audience will begin to share that sentiment. They’ll begin viewing the person who received all the backlash as having grown and learned from his / her mistakes. You give yourself the best chance of moving forward by owning the mistakes you made along with ensuring that you clearly / honestly communicate the lessons you learned.

Concluding Remarks

As you can now tell, there isn’t a magic formula to remaining unscathed in the face of backlash online or in the realm of popular social discourse. You’ll lose followers, your videos will be disliked, you’ll be dragged through comment sections, and reception to your social presence will generally take a hit. The time is scary and it is hectic.

This article hoped to communicate a sense of understanding, and to realistically set your expectations for what may be to come. It remained general in the steps it proposed as the specifics of your situation may differ from others. With that said however, the hope is that you now have a framework to build your strategy of dealing with backlash around.

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Disclaimer of Opinion: This article is presented only as opinion. It does not make any scientific, factual, or legal claims. Please critically analyze all claims made and independently decide on its validity.