Blackballed Again: Are You Prepared?

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Be honest. If the title had been “Are you prepared to be cancelled?” would you be reading this first sentence? Or how about “Are you prepared to be de-platformed?”? Would that have lured you in? Or does it sound too geeky?

The fact is, those modern-day synonyms merely reflect an awful tradition that dates back centuries, if not to the beginning of man’s time on Earth.

Indeed, there’s a really bad 1986 movie called The Clan of the Cave Bear. It stars Daryl Hannah, whose main character is ostracized from her Neanderthal family. As far as I can tell, they blackballed her because, unlike all the brunettes in the clan, she had blonde hair. (Of course, being caveman times and the lack of adequate shower facilities, perhaps it would be more accurate to describe her as a “dirty blonde.”)

In terms of good cinema, there’s always Looney Tunes’ 1953 cartoon “Bell Hoppy,” featuring Sylvester the Cat voicing the phrase “Blackballed again” when the Loyal Order of Alley Catz Mouse and Chowder Club declines his membership.

Most of us have had the unfortunate experience of being left out. It usually happens when you’re a kid. That doesn’t mean it doesn’t pop up when you’re an adult. It could be at work or in an organization you belong to.

Do you remember what it felt like when it happened to you?

You felt pretty bad, didn’t you? Chances are, you made a promise to yourself to never do unto others what others had just done unto you.

Have you kept that promise?

Truth be told, that’s a pretty hard promise to keep. Why? Because, in the extreme, it could require you to enable bad behavior. I’m not talking about abetting a crime. I’m just talking about accepting the unacceptable.

Like I said, it’s a real tough choice.

Now, let’s get to the meat of this column.

The real issue isn’t the “cancel culture.” Yes, like all kinds of blackballing, this is naked discrimination, but we can live with being shunned. Heck, a lot of people live to be shunned. To them, this fad to “cancel” someone is a red badge of courage they’d wear proudly.

There are, however, other forms of modern blackballing that have more significant consequences.

The first is one you’re probably very familiar with. It is the act of boycotting someone or some organization. Those who promote the concept justify it on (their own) moral grounds. Victims of boycotting may find they cannot participate in activities they would otherwise enjoy or are prevented from earning monetary rewards they would otherwise have access to.

The more recent manifestation of contemporary blackballing is called “de-platforming.” This act removes your very presence from the particular network that is de-platforming you. The most famous example today is Twitter’s decision to remove President Trump’s account.

You may think, “I’m not worried about de-platforming. It only happens to the rich and noisy.”

Alas, de-platforming has been a reality for a long time. We just haven’t called it that. And its impact upon you is very real. It can and does restrict your freedom to choose or even cause you to pay more for something than you should.

Here’s an example ripped from today’s headlines:

News organizations have been in a quandary regarding social media platforms for some time. On one hand, these popular networks gave them free distribution of their articles. That often directed audience to the content provider’s site. That’s a good thing.

Media companies became addicted to this “free” service. That was a bad thing.

Somewhere along the line, and this makes perfect sense, social media platforms decided they could make money by leveraging off news providers dependence on their ability to aggregate readers/viewers/listeners. First, they sold ads that appear next to the provider’s content. Then they discovered they could restrict access to that content, requiring the media producer to pay for distribution.

All this is fine and legal. Above all, it’s totally natural.

Well, media companies didn’t like this. They claim these social networks are making money off of third-party content. These news organizations demand they get a cut of this ad revenue.

In response to this, the Australian government has announced plans to pass legislation to require companies like Facebook and Google (which owns YouTube) to pay for the use of content generated by the news media. In a pre-emptive move, Google has independently made arrangements to pay content providers.

Facebook did something worse. They de-platformed all Australian news outlets.

That’s right. If you want to read Australian news, you can no longer do so on Facebook.

If you think there’s no cost to this, imagine all those Australians who belong to the Facebook group of their favorite news organization. They’re plumb out of luck.

De-platforming has put libertarians in a bind. On one hand, they believe every private individual and organization has a right to choose who they associate with, including who they sell to.

Americans might recall “the right of the people peaceably to assemble” being a key clause in our first amendment. This is what the libertarians have latched on to.

But, that’s also where the problem arises. It turns out the first amendment also has a clause about “prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech.”

Ouch.

So which way should you go? Freedom to associate or freedom to speak? On the one hand, we believe companies are free to discriminate (yes, that’s what freedom of association means), while, on the other hand, we believe in free speech.

This conflicting dichotomy doesn’t offer an immediate resolution.

That’s not what is important, though. What’s critical is you prepare yourself in the case you or your favorite business is de-platformed. Remember, big businesses “de-platform” competitors all the time by buying them out then closing the competing line. When this happens, your choices are reduced and what you pay for them can go up.

It’s all about managing distribution channels. If you rely on one path of doing things – one channel or one vendor – you become dependent on that path. That’s a vulnerability that can be used against you. If someone or something blocks that path, what are you going to do?

This is a question all business owners face every day, but you don’t have to own a business to experience this problem. For instance, how many times have you been warned that your cable or dish provider is about to eliminate one of your favorite stations?

How do you fix this problem? How do you prepare to be blackballed?

The answer to this – and it’s contrary to all the superficial cost savings lessons they try to teach you – is to spread the wealth. Don’t rely on only one (or even a few) vendors. Diversify who you are dependent on. If one fails, you have a Plan B. (And if Plan B fails, you have a Plan C, and so on.)

De-platforming has always been with us. And it’s counter-move has also always been with us.

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