I had a completely different blog post planned for today. But an internet storm has taken over my Facebook feed and after going down the rabbit hole of articles, Facebook posts, and thousands of comments I just can't help but add my own thoughts on the situation. And it's my blog so I do what I want (read that in a lighthearted tone, please.)
So, what's the scoop?
Perhaps you saw a story that went viral last week about a young man from Iowa named Carson King. During a Game Day broadcast that took place in Ames, IA during the Iowa vs. Iowa State game he held up a homemade sign that read "Busch Light supply needs replenished" and had his Venmo handle. (If you don't know, Venmo is a way to send money to people quickly and easily, all you need is their name on the app.) What started as a joke became a phenomenon as King received far more money than he ever expected. He could have chosen to keep the money for himself. After all, he didn't even really need to ever share how much he received. Instead, he stated publicly that he would keep the amount equivalent to the cost of a case of beer and would donate the rest to the University of Iowa Children's Hospital.
That sounds awesome!
Yeah, it is! The story grew when Anheuser Busch - the company who makes Busch Light - picked up on the story and said they would match the donation King was making to the hospital, effectively doubling the amount. Venmo declared they would do the same, tripling it! So far Carson King's joke of a sign has ended up raising over 1 million dollars for charity. That's right, 1 million! Busch-Light has gone so far as to make t-shirts and beer cans featuring King's name and likeness, with proceeds from these items also going to charity (and some nice publicity for them in the meantime, too.)
So, what's the controversy?
Well, the biggest paper in Iowa, the Des Moines Register, decided to do an article profiling Carson King, his story, and this incredible impromptu fundraiser. Sounds great, right? The reporter assigned to do the story decided to dig into King's social media history. And I mean, dig deep. He went back as far as 2011 to posts King made when he was only 16 and found 2 racist posts. Two. When the guy was 16. This information was shared publicly and one of the end results is that Anheuser-Busch made a public statement cutting ties with King and immediately removed all links to items related to him from their website. (Though they have stated they will still donate the $350,000 they already commmitted.)
Okay, he said bad stuff. There should be consequences, right?
Sure, if he said these things last week. Or even a couple of years ago. But 8 years ago? When he was 16? Listen, social media was not around when I was 16 and thank God for that. I said dumb enough stuff when I was in my twenties (though nothing racist ever, that I remember.) What really bugs me about cancel culture (this idea that as soon as we find one bad thing about someone no matter how far in their past they should be "canceled" or removed from whatever influence they have) is that it doesn't give people room to grow.
If we dig deep enough in everyone's past we have all said or done something awful at some point in our lives. As Avenue Q reminds us, everyone's a little bit racist. I am not excusing racism - not in the least. But we have to give people a chance to own up to their mistakes, to change, to become better people. As Maya Angelou taught us, "Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better." I'm guessing that King knows better now about what is and isn't racist, what is and isn't appropriate, now at 24 than he did at 16. Don't we all know better now than we did at 16? About everything?
So how did Carson King respond?
King responded by reaching out to local news stations so he could issue a public apology. He didn't wait for the media to come to him, he reached out. With a real apology. I cannot emphasize enough how important that is. So often when a public figure is called out on something they give an apology that is along the lines of "I'm sorry you were offended." They don't actually take responsibility for their words. King gave a real apology and you can tell that it is heartfelt - you can watch that footage here.
Why were these tweets looked into in the first place?
I mean, good question! The Des Moines Register, who is coming under massive social media fire, put out a statement earlier today explaining their rationale. If you want to read the whole thing you can find it on their Facebook page here (along with over 9,000 mostly angry comments) but the gist of it is this: They wanted to do a profile on King and standard work on a profile includes going through all publicly available social media, then once they found the racist tweets they felt that information had to be shared so people involved with him would know. They planned to include just a paragraph about it at the end of the article. Basically, it's standard procedure and not our fault!
Now, to be fair to The Des Moines Register, King preempted them.
Previously I mentioned that King reached out to local news stations to share his public apology. He did this before the Register printed a single word about him. (The story has since been printed.) King even expressed gratitude for the reporter bringing the tweets to his attention as he had forgotten about them. (I mean, I couldn't tell you what I posted on social media last week without looking at it, let alone 8 years ago.)
Well, still, the Register kind of sucks in this. Let's cancel them!
That is definitely the rallying cry of the internet mob today. The Register's Facebook page is flooded with comments (on everything they have posted recently), a petition was going around requesting they apologize to King (last I saw it had over 25,000 signatures in just a few hours), and I've even seen a campaign urging people to cancel their subscription and take the $60/year it costs and donate that to the Children's Hospital instead. People are pissed.
But seriously, let's just cancel cancel culture already.
It's a knee-jerk mob mentality reaction to most situations. We need to respond to people with nuance, with compassion, with discernment about what really occurred. If we constantly look at what people did years ago and condemn them for that, rather than looking at who they are now, we will discourage people from ever changing. If I was a jerk once upon a time and people will always and forever see me as a jerk well, then, I might as well be a jerk!
We have to encourage people to change, commend them when they do, and dear God let's not hold anyone accountable forever for the stupid stuff they do at 16. Even our court system acknowledges this. If King had committed a crime as a minor it would be a sealed public record - no one would legally be allowed to know about it, let alone publish it! Why is this rule in our court system? Because we know people do stupid things as kids and it doesn't guarantee that they will be stupid adults. We want to give people a chance to grow and change. We need to do that with social media, too.
But wait, there's more!
I said I went down the rabbit hole on Facebook with this story and what I found was this - the reporter who initially dug up the tweets from King has been outed and of course the internet mob exacted justice by digging through his social media. And from what I can tell, what they found is far worse, far more recent, and far more prevalent than whatever King posted. I've seen posts of his using the n-word, trashing the LGBTQ community, advocating violence against women, and more.
Okay, maybe we should still cancel that guy.
Now I want to know your thoughts on this topic. Should King be cancelled for his tweets at 16? Should the Register be villified for outing these tweets in the first place? Should the reporter who did the work and seems to have far worse stuff in his own past be canceled? Let's chat!