***spoiler alert....it's not possible!! so HERE's what to do when you DO offend the internet!
So I'm walking out the front door of the brewery the other day and there at the bar was great friend and fellow brewery owner from down the block Damon Moreau of Common Crown Brewery. "How's it going buddy?" I blurt out, happy as always to see fellow brewers in our taproom. The somewhat fatigued look on his face said everything but yet he replied "Well our new beer just launched and social media is EXPLODING right now!!" We'll that's GREAT news I begin to attempt to congratulate him but he stops me in my tracks with a "yeah but NOT in a good way!" The reaction to the name" Cherry Karen Sour " hit fast and hit hard.
From my viewpoint I thought it was a clever play on a sour beer being named after a sour personality. I've seen enough of the Karen meme vids and GIF's online to get the connection and was truly surprised to see such anger and attacking comments towards them. Of course I've witnessed the Karen meme developing over the years since seeing #FuckYouKaren on Reddit YEARS ago. I've heard many tales of "the karen in the dental chair" when my wife comes home from work. I've just simply never EVER associated this meme with anything racist. My thoughts on the worst part of the Karen meme was the unfortunate affect on the poor ladies who, despite being incredibly nice, respectful, lovely ladies who DO NOT need to speak to the manager and simply happen to be named "KAREN"!
Growing up a red head I've certainly dealt with my share of internet's "less than flattering" meme's that range from my obvious lack of any semblance of a soul, all the way to people celebrating "kick a ginger day" (thanks south park) essentially mobilizing the world towards an entire day of the year promoting actual ASSAULT on myself and my fellow soul-less Gingers.
I don't think my own personal experiences as the target of the latest internet meme excuses ignorance towards other internet meme's. I do wonder, however, how much responsibility we are to shoulder for keeping up to speed with the latest EVOLUTION of a meme? From my ignorant line of sight "karen" had not yet manifested herself into a racially charged concept causing fear and possible harm to people of colour.
"Karen" had been making us laugh since 2017 on reddit but a quick search of Karen on "Know Your Meme" cites that a change happened in 2020! And OF COURSE it did. May 25th 2020 to be precise! That day saw the global pandemic collide violently with the killing of George Floyd AS WELL AS the Amy Cooper Central Park incident. Dr. André Brock, associate professor of Black digital culture at Georgia Tech stated "..the viral widespread resonance of “Karen” footage now is the result of an interest convergence where the coronavirus pandemic intersected with collective outrage over police brutality. The weekend that the video of Amy Cooper in Central Park went viral was the same weekend that George Floyd was killed after now-former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin knelt on his neck, suffocating him. The Central Park video only highlighted the extreme violence — and potentially fatal consequences — of a white woman selfishly calling the cops out of spite and professed fear."
That happened May 25th 2020. 50 days ago at the time of writing this. My point about the timeline of the evolution of the meme is that, as a fellow brewery owner, I can say with certainty that by 50 days ago our friends at Common Crown Brewery would have still thought Karen was funny and would have already ordered beer cans labelled with Karen based art work. There's simply no way anyone could convince me that any of the fine folks at Common Crown would ever intentionally offend anyone with their branding and I'm positive that every single person who has ever met them feels the same way. So WHY such a violent and angry outcry towards them? I think Ricky Gervais from his time eating vegan wings on "hot ones" has some relevant insight!
The video above is obviously an over generalization of this new world we live in but it's also hilariously accurate. When did we become a generation of people swiping endlessly through other peoples lives, waiting eagerly for OUR turn to be offended and stoke the internets mob justice flames. In todays day and age I wouldn't feel safe announcing ANY kind of beliefs online be it political, religious, medical, sexual, etc. The internet is now a terrifying place, ready at a moments' notice to bully you for announcing that you wanted the olympics in Calgary, or that you voted for nenshi, or that you drive a tesla, or, or, or,....
So NOW what!!?? Imagine you're a small business owner and despite your best efforts to make your customers happy, to make a living doing what you love and to create a great environment for your staff to call home, you find yourself on the receiving end of the angry internet? Recently my good friend and fellow business owner James Boettcher of Righteous Gelato (the artist formerly known as Fiasco Gelato) found himself in this similar situation. After releasing a Black Lives Matter Gelato the internet backlash was swift. I watched terrified from the sidelines as my good friend and true Canadian LEGEND of an entrepreneur battled his way through a minefield. What started as criticism quickly turned into a pretty savage attack with people assaulting him as a person and as a business owner. It was brutal. And knowing the incredibly high level of intentions that both Righteous Gelato AND Common Crown Brewery uphold in every decision they make, I'm sure more and more people are thinking "when is it going to be ME who makes a mistake? When will I be the target of the internet's wrath? And what will I do when it happens to me?"
Having caused a few controversial nationally viral stories myself, I'm no stranger to picking a fight and I'm no stranger to spending 24 hours a day for up to a week at a time responding to every single engagement, every single opinion, every single review and every single media request during these times and I have a few suggestions for you if your turn ever DOES come around!!
1. Take a Deep Breath - Right or Wrong, Good, Bad or Ugly when you find yourself staring down the loaded barrel of an angry internet, the first step is to recognize that these situations are INCREDIBLE opportunities to let the world see who you really are! What you do next will be a defining moment in the history of your business, so take a deep breath and think "how do I let the TRUE spirit of my company's DNA shine through."
2. Decide COLLECTIVELY on your position - We often react quickly with anger or defensiveness towards a seemingly unjustified criticism aimed at ourselves or our business. And why WOULDN'T we? NO ONE knows how hard we've worked as business owners to get to where we are right?? But that type of thinking is like a biased parent who's kid can do NO WRONG!! Anyone with kids on a sports team knows those parents! They are the WORST and usually have the worst kids! haha. But by involving your entire team to address the situation cooler heads can often prevail and can help a business see the situation from another position. Compassion, sympathy and understanding towards how others see our actions differently than we do is hard skill to master. It's also perhaps the most important first step in admitting that we may, in fact, have truly made a mistake and need to genuinely make things right. Collectively Involving your team members with less emotional connection to business is a great way to show them your level of respect for their insight as well as arrive at a position that the entire business believes and OWNS!
3. OWN your position...GENUINELY! - The internet can spot a fake a MILE a way. Bullshit meters these days are finely tuned to sniff out shallow apologies, or disingenuous attempts to make the situation "go away". As Ricky Gervais stated above, it's OK if people don't agree with your decisions, even if they're MAD at your decisions. But don't waffle. If you were wrong...OWN IT! Apologize and mean it! Here's a sniff test example of whether you own an apology or not: If you apologize online for your actions and then someone posts in support of you that they thought your actions were justified....and you don't CORRECT them? then guess what? YOU'RE NOT SORRY so don't say that you are.
4. Don't delete the thread! - I love reading other business's reviews online! But I never waste my time with the 5 star reviews. I always feel they're either fake or the business owners parents! either way there's no value to me reading them. It's the ONE star reviews that show me how a business responds to the challenges of business and most of THOSE are BS as well. When a bar gets a one star review because some jackass felt vindictive towards the bartender who "cut him off" for then night. I laugh at the drunk idiot who thinks that bad review of this nature makes ANY negative impact on the business. On the contrary, a witty, clever response to one star review of this nature can do wonders for letting the world see your business's personality. And when a REAL one star review comes in. It's a TRUE opportunity to show how your business is managed and you "right the wrongs". But somehow as business owners we FEAR the one star review!! Don't! Trust that the public will read between the lines and make their decision based on all the information. Again, we all have highly tuned bullshit meters and deleting threads of this nature not only stop the public from gaining the full context of the situation you may find yourself in. It also, more often than not, creates a perception of guilt. If i hear about a company experiencing something similar and i look them and can read the threads I can make my OWN decision on where I stand on the matter. But if the threads have been deleted, I instinctively assume "boy they must have really screwed up!"
5. Don't be intimidated by the volume of the angry - People who "oppose" are ALWAYS louder that those who "support". Just because you've never had this much attention on your social channels and it ALL appears to be negative. You have to know that in general people who support you are much less likely to dive into shark infested waters with you. However other SHARKS smell blood and are MUCH more likely to join in on the feeding frenzy. I guess it's just not as fun to stick your neck out there when you can safely watch the attack from the shore. Have faith, however, that despite the feeling of helplessness and the isolation of feeling totally alone in these times, there are TONNES of people who will read the posts, perhaps see both sides and potentially send you support on a private DM, email, or phone call in support of what you're going through REGARDLESS of whether you're right or wrong. OTHER business owners are the friends you need to lean on, and shoulders to cry on during these times.
6. LEARN, LEARN, LEARN - Regardless of the situation you've experienced, if you come away with out learning and actively attempting to be better moving forward than you're an idiot. The entire WORLD is receiving a crash course on what acceptable behaviour looks like from all corners of humanity. The last few years have exposed alot of mistakes humanity has made. The #MeToo movement, #BlackLivesMatter, and LGBTQ issues (to name a few) have given the world an opportunity to learn how our past behaviours, past stereotypes and even past ways of thinking are just not enough any more. Being truly open to learning about what matters in the lives of those around us is truly eye opening and incredibly important for loving forward progress of humanity. And with out willing hearts, open to the opportunity to LEARN we'll all just be s bunch of angry internet trolls looking for people to attack who don't think the exact same way WE do, or vote the same way WE do, etc!!
Finally My hope for this blog is a call for PASSIONATE understanding and forgiveness. It's OK to be offended and it's OK to let a person or a business know how they've offended. The piece of the puzzle I've seen missing for some time now, however, is understanding and forgiveness. UNDERSTANDING that the initial outward appearance of a can of beer named after "KAREN" does not reflect the INTENTIONS of the great people trying to do great things for our community. But also the FORGIVENESS towards them once the issue has been raised. Most businesses today would stand stunned, eyes wide open, paralyzed in fear and totally unaware of what to do next when faced with the attacks I've witnessed over the past year. Forgiveness is LIBERATING. It feels GOOD! But it takes empathy and compassion.
Imagine a thread someday where the offender realizes their mistake after reading criticisms they receive online. They regret it. They genuinely apologize. They learn a tonne about each other, and the offended parties empathize with them, show them compassion and publicly forgive them for their mistake? Jack Handy probably said it best..."I can picture in my mind a world without war, a world without hate. And I can picture us attacking that world because they'd never expect it"