Public outrage has demonstrated tremendous power to topple the mighty who have done wrong. There are limits to this power.
What is the power of public awareness? First, and often most importantly, it can provide cover and safety for victims to come forward and bring their allegations. These allegations can spur disciplinary action from bosses. They can lead to public actions like boycotts. It could even lead to legal action as in the cases of Weinstein and Cosby.
Public awareness and outrage, on its own, however does nothing. It only has an effect when it can leverage a vulnerability of the accused. This is why liberal politicians such as Al Franken face so much more severe consequences than conservative politicians like Donald Trump when allegations are leveled against them.
In Al Franken’s case, most of his previous supporters were inclined to support the #MeToo movement and believe accusers. Franken himself chose not to defend himself as vigorously as he could have because of his own support for the movement.
In Trump’s case, on the other hand, his supporters were already suspicious of such allegations. Those who are upset about his alleged misdeeds would be opposed to him even without them, so the effect on his political position and power is quite limited.
It may feel that the whole world is on fire when one is facing allegations. In fact, it is usually a fairly small group of people who are truly incensed. Most people are simply too busy to care about what may have happened outside of their inner circle.
If this small group of people who are angered happen to include one’s bosses, clients, influential voters, family, friends, etc, then the consequences of an allegation are profound. If not, the consequences are far more academic.
And here we have one of the key frustrations for the #MeToo movement. The most unapologetic, the most degenerate, the most misogynistic men who do the most harm are almost untouchable by the power of public outrage. On the other hand, men who commit misdeeds on a more modest level as well as men who generally support their cause but transgress, such as Al Franken did, are very effectively removed from authority and influence.
Far from building a movement, this particular dynamic causes the movement to slowly erode its own base of power while leaving largely untouched the power base that opposes the movement.
There are a few important conclusions to draw from this dynamic.
The first is that public outrage will affect different people very differently. In some cases, it may have no impact at all as long as the recipient of the outrage doesn’t give it credibility.
The second is that this phenomenon may cause people to more actively seek more like minded people to associate. If one is concerned about being a target of this kind of outrage, they may inoculate themselves by filtering their associate and even clients and business partners. The social consequences of this can be profound, but we are seeing this form of self exile more and more often.
Are you dealing with public outrage based on misinformation? Contact us. We can help.