JK Rowling, the international superstar author of the Harry Potter series of novels has experienced an up and down relationship with the media, based on her comments, new writings and spoilers in interviews. Known for speaking her mind, even when it aggravates fans, Rowling recently ruffled feathers for supporting a recently-fired researcher, Maya Forstater.
According to media reports, Forstater was a visiting fellow at the Centre for Global Development. In March, the group refused to renew Forstater’s contract, she appealed, but the court upheld the decision, claiming that her views on sexual identity were “absolutist” and may “violate the dignity” of people, leading to an “intimidating, degrading, or offensive environment…”
Rowling, who has been a stalwart supporter of liberal politics for many years, voiced her opposition to the firing, tweeting: “Call yourself whatever you like. Sleep with any consenting adult who’ll have you. Live your best life in peace and security… But force women out of their jobs for stating that sex is real?” She added the hashtag “IstandwithMaya”.
Activists immediately went on the attack, piling on Rowling for “excluding” trans people from her version of feminism. Both individuals and groups continued to denounce Rowling’s support for Forstater in the guise of advocating against discrimination. Rowling didn’t back down, and that’s what we’re going to discuss in this article.
These days, it can be damaging, even career ending, to comment on specific socio-political issues. However, some people and brands are in a unique position: Rowling can, literally, afford to upset people. So, she has a de facto platform to speak out, regardless of the consequences.
Most people are not in that position. Because of so-called “clap-back” or “cancel culture,” it’s imperative that personalities, entertainers, public figures, and brands consider the consequences before they wade into the culture wars. Consider the recent reversal by the Hallmark Channel. The network made one decision based on a consumer complaint, then reversed course, creating a problem where none needed to exist.
The idea, then, is to have a committed and dedicated PR plan before you decide to dive into a contentious cultural conversation. Because, no matter what position you take, someone is going to be angry, and they’re going to take that anger to social media, where it could very well explode well beyond the level of upset the stance would have caused in the past.
Social media creates an immediacy and amplifies messages, and that’s a double-edged sword. You could be cast as Baby Yoda, or you could be Roseanne Barr. When you make the choice, do it with your eyes wide open and a plan to deal with the consequences, good or bad.