The #MeToo Backlash — The Crisis is Just Beginning

Why every organization is vulnerable to #MeToo allegations

When humans are oppressed and repressed long enough and finally find a channel for venting their feelings, for finding justice, we sometimes overreact.  Riots occur, with innocent individual and businesses damaged (or worse).  Sometimes entire governments are brought down by such action – but, inevitably, some of the protestors turn out to be as bad as those they protested.  Innocents are hurt.

Now we have #MeToo.  A focal point and channel for women and others furious at the sexual improprieties heaped on them by offenders ranging from those who are consciously insensitive and demeaning to those who simply have no clue that their behavior IS offensive.  The latter isn’t justified, but does it deserve the same intensity/severity of response as the former?

Many of these complaints are legitimate, necessary and long overdue.  But let’s take this one step further and postulate that there is now a class of trolls we might call “Revenge #MeToo’s.”  They weren’t, in fact, victims at all but, in order to hurt someone else, perhaps from a broken relationship, they publicly claim that they are #MeToo victims and that their named offender had harmed them.

In my professional life, I have seen all three types of situations, and pretty much everything in between.  It’s my hope that those who rally to the #MeToo banner take the time to carefully fact-check allegations before reaching conclusions.  That we avoid virtual lynch mobs.

And what does this mean for organizations wondering if (or knowing that) they have one or more legit #MeToo situations amongst their employees – and maybe a Revenge #MeToo as well?  The public relations strategies between legit and revenge situations will differ significantly.

As always, crisis communicators will want to come across as compassionate, confident and competent, and should urge their stakeholders to be patient and respect the rights of both the accused and accuser.  It may well be necessary to engage a law firm or investigative agency to conduct the internal investigation; that should result in a quicker and more objective conclusion.  And remain aware, please, that not all #MeToo cases are going to be cut and dried, with documentation and/or multiple witnesses supporting the accuser.  And it’s those “in between” cases that are going to require the most delicate communications, so that lives aren’t ruined or harmed further.

Have you audited your organization’s vulnerability to #MeToo allegations?

Jonathan Bernstein is president of Bernstein Crisis Management, Inc., author of Keeping the Wolves at Bay: A Media Training Manual and publisher of the free email newsletter, Crisis Manager.

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