Thursday , May 23 2024
percy hynes white

Percy Hynes White and the Danger of Cancel Culture

Percy Hynes White, from Netflix’s Wednesday, has said he was falsely accused of sexual crimes, but Cancel Culture is still out to hound and destroy him. Crisis experts offer insight and solutions to reclaim reputation.

Image of Percy Hynes White
Percy Hynes White. Image by Xavier Collin / Image Press Agency / Deposit Photos

Can you imagine being a man accused of rape and sexual assault and then finding out that you don’t know, have never met, and certainly have never even touched the lady who’s accusing you of this heinous crime?

You think you should ignore this, and it’ll all go away. Except it doesn’t. Instead, more and more accusations are thrown your way, many of which have nothing whatsoever to do with this lady’s allegations. And soon, people are hating you for what they think they heard that you possibly probably did but they aren’t completely sure about.

And it’s not just passive hate that these people carry. It’s a vengeful type of hate that makes them harass your family, your colleagues, and your friends with offensive and horrific phrases that are meant to tear you apart. They also find your socials and ruthlessly make up accounts with disparaging words aimed at your parents and loved ones so that the hurt is now personal to you.

And then there are the death threats and the “kill yourself” posts, along with deliberate distortion of your parents’ attempt to defend you online so that it fits the wicked narrative they are determined to carry about you into the world.

Hate has a funny way of unifying people, people who are looking for something, anything, anyone to hate. And at times, this unification can turn into a powerful mob of destruction. Can you imagine if such a terrifying mob has you as their target — all because some stranger decided to falsely accuse you of rape and sexual assault?

This is exactly what Percy Hynes White, the 21-year old Canadian actor from Netflix’s hit show Wednesday, has said happened to him. The serious allegations against him began on January 19, 2023 on the Twitter platform.

White finally put out a public statement denying the allegations five months later, on June 7, 2023. He said he’s never even met his accuser. He explained how the accuser made false sexual allegations against him, and addressed how his underaged nude photos were used against him too.

However, within that space of five months, between January and June of this year, the sexual assault accusations against White had spread from the Twitterverse into the general internet sphere, spiraling out of control with cancellers claiming allegations of misbehaviour that ranged from “racism” to “misogyny” to “come on, really?!’

This has turned White’s case into a multi-layered affair, which, upon peeling back, reveals the undeniable crisis of an uncheckable Cancel Culture.

Percy Hynes White image to accompany the article. The image is of him at the World Premiere Of Netflix's 'Wednesday' Season 1 held at the Hollywood American Legion Post 43 at Hollywood Legion Theater on November 16, 2022 in Hollywood, Los Angeles, California, United States. (Photo by Xavier Collin/Image Press Agency/Deposit Photos)
Percy Hynes White at the World Premiere Of Netflix’s Wednesday Season 1 held at the Hollywood American Legion Post 43 at Hollywood Legion Theater on November 16, 2022 in Hollywood, Los Angeles, California, United States. (Photo by Xavier Collin/Image Press Agency/Deposit Photos)

The Cancellers Delve into the Past

White’s cancellers scoured his Instagram activity and past tweets despite his having deleted his entire Twitter account, and exposed some posts and comments/likes that are open to interpretation and for the most part appear innocuous.

Some of his content was troublingly misogynistic, however. He referred to women as “bitches” and “hoes.” And one of his posts appears to be a little blasphemous. These tweets, whether intentionally offensive or not, together with the sexual accusations against him created a less than pleasing public image for White.

On top of this, rabid fans of his Wednesday co-stars Jenna Ortega and Emma Myers, who were not happy that White was close to Ortega, and wanted Ortega/Wednesday to have a romantic relationship with Myers/Enid (Myers’ character) instead, were then triggered and joined the ruckus as well. (Ortega has maintained that she and White are only friends.)

From this Ortega/Myers fan group, along with the general public worldwide who had heard about the allegations and believed White to be guilty, arose an international assortment of vitriolic netizens wielding figurative torches and pitchforks but with real and unrelenting loathing and venom in their hearts along with savage and spiteful words at their fingertips. They marched to the metaphoric doorsteps of not only White, but of his costars, family and friends.

These haters/cancellers have been harassing White’s nearest and dearest (mostly his mom, Canadian TV writer-producer Sherry White) since the accusations started on January 19. They have inundated everyone who is intimately or even vaguely connected with White with denigrating and hurtful comments on a regular basis.

Fallout, Reputation and Public Image

It’s been more than a month since White’s statement in June, and his haters and cancellers haven’t given up urging Netflix/Wednesday’s producers to fire him and making their presence known anywhere where the actor is associated.

White was recently removed from Comic Con Liverpool’s lineup. The Con’s initial announcements in May about White being a guest brought slightly over 2,000 comments and QRTs (quote re-tweets) on Twitter. A sampling of 110 of these found 70% to be negative comments and only 30% positive feelings towards White’s appearance at the event.

On July 13, Wednesday and Ortega were nominated for Emmy Awards. In a matter of a few hours, on the show’s Instagram account, about 1,500 comments proliferated under the post announcing the show’s remarkable 12 nominations.

A sampling of the first 100 comments showed that 51 carried the #CancelPercy tag or were otherwise against White. These comments were liked by the largest number of people and therefore appeared at the top.

With Wednesday’s international success, the accusations against White have been heard all around the world, thanks to the internet that carried and ran with the original misinformation and gossip. Also his five months of silence didn’t help matters.

So, in a nutshell: This ruthless attempt at White’s ruination started without a drop of proof of the allegations, but was instead amplified by Ortega/Myers fans’ detestation of him and his past social media actions, and in turn enhanced by White’s ill-advised lengthy silence that made people the world over believe the gossip, lies and misinformation that were being freely transmitted all over the internet.

It is safe to say that White’s public image and reputation have taken a beating and the optics surrounding him aren’t peachy.

The Crisis of Cancel Culture

Well……….

THIS, is cancel culture in the post #metoo format, propelled by the speed of social media — where anyone who’s never met you can say the most horrendous lies about you, and gullible people will believe the untruths and will swiftly scramble to hate you publicly in an attempt to cancel you.

THIS, is cancel culture where anyone who claims to be a victim isn’t examined critically and the alleged criminal isn’t given any form of due process before being condemned to a symbolic death sentence. “Believe victims” doesn’t mean we need to believe blindly, without any examination of the facts, inconsistencies or red flags.

THIS, is cancel culture where Chinese Whispers slather the cake of false accusations with additional layers of spice in the form of contempt, assumptions, and just pure lies, making sure to top the concoction with more intentional falsehoods, purposeful misrepresentation and baloney versions of reality — so much so that when it arrives hot out of the oven and is served to more and more of the public to consume, nothing real is recognizable in the taste anymore. Except the public doesn’t know this. And they will judge based on what they’ve been given to eat.

THIS, is cancel culture in that it doesn’t take much, and in White’s case nothing concrete at all, for this movement to become irreversibly destructive to the target. 

THIS, is the danger and crisis of Cancel Culture in 2023. And it needs to be stopped immediately.

A Solution in the Making: Using the Law

Most people think defamation is only a tort or civil issue, but interestingly in many countries defamation is actually a criminal offense, with attached prison sentences.

Canada, where Percy Hynes White and his accusers hail from, is one such country. It considers libel defamation as a criminal activity.

Whilst it is rare for the police to charge someone with criminal defamation, Canada’s last such criminal trial was in 2012. The defendant was found guilty and sentenced to prison for three months — for criminal libel that was far tamer than the allegations that White’s accusers have heaped on him.

In light of how easily libel and slander — especially libel via social media posts — can devastate and ruin a person’s life in this new era, I really think more countries should utilize their criminal defamation statutes and charge such malicious netizens as needed. What’s the point of having such laws on the books if you don’t use them, especially at a time when it’s vital we protect victims of defamation from being cancelled over malevolent lies.

And for those countries, like Australia and New Zealand, where defamation is strictly tort, perhaps a review is needed in this era, when online defamation can cause permanent damage very quickly and easily, leaving no recourse for victims who can’t afford a civil suit. We should give victims the chance to go to the police and have the state take care of the harmful defamer.

A Current Solution: Using Crisis Communication

Whilst we wait for our criminal laws to catch up with the online defamation that’s occurring everyday, victims of cancellation or hate should be aware that experts do exist who can assist in restoring a victim’s damaged or demolished image and reputation. These crisis experts tend to work in public relations, specifically in the niche area of crisis communication.

Bethany Bloch, managing editor of Mutant Communications, explained that when someone is being cancelled, especially over untrue claims, a crisis communication strategy should immediately take shape. She told us, “In instances where brands or individuals are the victim[s] of misinformation or disinformation, they should seize the opportunity to correct any and all wrongful perceptions. They can explain the situation, provide any evidence they have, and set the record straight as calmly, transparently, and quickly as possible — and without being defensive.”

Bloch continued, “Speed and agility are definitely key to moving past calls of cancellation or simply mitigating a communications crisis.”

Crisis management relies on two tenets: to speak early, and speak enough. Neither of these took place in White’s case, which then made his situation spiral into a further public image and reputation disaster.

Angela Sim, public relations director at Affluence PR, agreed. “If you are innocent, you have to step up and reply as honestly as you can. This actor’s [White’s] agency should have made a holding statement for him. And in the meantime, rush through the details to get another statement out in 24 hours. This is what is meant by crisis. To be addressed ASAP. Twenty-four hours is a good timeframe for companies/individuals who need some cross-checking, but saying nothing at all when it first happens and allowing the public to form more opinions and do their own search is very detrimental.”

Sim continued, “All kinds of information gets picked up and propagated by the internet. If there is misinformation and this misinformation is not balanced with real information, then when you do a search you will only find misinformation, which after some time becomes the only information and thus many people will think it is true.”

This is especially accurate in Percy Hynes White’s case, as neither he nor his representatives issued any statement, leaving the only information being the MIS-information found on the internet, which then spread all over the world, bringing about a mob of cancellers.

Perhaps crisis communications isn’t an area in which actors and their team of reps are necessarily proficient. In that case, White and his people could have, and should have, sought the help of crisis management experts early on.

Instead White’s case has become an example of what one should not do when faced with unjustified cancellation: i.e. never remain silent for months and let misinformation circulate freely, internationally.

Image of Percy Hynes White, to accompany this article. He's pictured with a fan.

Image courtesy of Percy Hynes White’s fan, Dominika Jelenciakova (Instagram handle: xmi.nikax) who met White in London in late May 2023.

Fans Step in to Play Detective

When White refused to say anything for months on end, it was his fans who stepped up to defend him. Tani, 30, a senior researcher at a tech firm from Islamabad in Pakistan, and Freddy, 20, an American who is in his third year of university majoring in multi-platform production, were White’s two loudest defenders in the early days of the accusations. Freddy’s clearly defined post where he debunked all the accusations can still be found pinned to his timeline.  

Sim said, “Since he [White] remained silent, they [the fans] did well by replying on his behalf for what they know is the truth. But the effect will be 50% of what the effect would have been if the actor had taken responsibility and steps to reply to these comments himself in the first place. His fans would have loved him more, and become more supportive, and his non-fans will start to respect him and perhaps become his fans too. By not saying anything, he created more enemies than fans, and turned some fans into enemies too.”

As much as Tani and Freddy managed to do great detective work (they were the ones who discovered the supposed rape victim’s name), and managed to piece together evidence that proved White’s innocence to a certain degree, Sim said that, “By remaining silent, he [White] was not giving his supporters information to defend him.” His fans could only find as much information as they could, having no real ties to White.

Is White’s Statement Enough?

We know White’s statement was not early, but now that he has released it after five months, does it say enough? Not likely, as White avoided addressing many issues. According to Sim who has seen his statement, “It’s insufficient. Too generic-sounding and doesn’t address any specific issues.”

It’s important when releasing statements meant to clear up misinformation and accusations, that one has to be transparent and tackle every aspect of the allegations. Total transparency is key. White’s statement falls short in that sense.

If You’re Wrong, You’re Wrong

As for the disturbing sexist and disrespectful tweets he made in his youth, fan Freddy explained, “I think that a lot of his past tweets that were shown displayed insensitive humor or unfiltered thoughts that were, quite frankly, made without the consideration of what other people would think/feel about them.”

An apology would do wonders if White regrets how he expressed himself earlier. Sim advised that “he can apologize for his youth and rashness, and make a statement that his recent life experiences have changed his mind and he urges other youths to be in control of their comments and emotions in order not to hurt others like he has.”

What If I’m NOT Sorry?

We’ve come to expect public apologies from popular figures as long as the majority of people have been offended, and I am of the opinion that if someone doesn’t feel they’ve done anything wrong, or if they feel there’s nothing for which to say sorry, then they shouldn’t apologize out of pressure or guilt or worse in a disingenuous attempt to rebuild a public image. Apologies need to be sincere in order to be considered a genuine act of reparation.

If White feels there’s no need to apologise, not even for his sexist or blasphemous remarks, then he shouldn’t do so. He should instead offer an explanation as to why his posts or likes/comments should be considered acceptable. For example, he might point out that those tweets were meant for a close circle of friends or family who weren’t insulted by his words. That would suffice as a good enough clarification.

Ultimately, the public would be happier with some explanation rather than a fake apology.

However, he can’t leave his past tweets and Instagram activities unresolved since they’ve already been discovered and are being weaponized by his haters to cancel him.

The Public Awaits

Sim said White should “apologize where wrong, turn it around into something to learn from, and create content that is more positive to overshadow the negative.” Instead, White has stopped creating content and posting on his Instagram altogether, and has taken down his Twitter page.

By remaining absent from his Instagram page, White isn’t doing himself any favours in trying to turn the tide on his public image or in remaining connected to his fans, who’ve been going all out to defend him when he couldn’t or wouldn’t.

Some of White’s Twitter fans call themselves collectively “Percy Nation.” On June 3 they released a statement on Instagram saying that they wondered if White was sabotaging himself by keeping himself out of the public eye for so long. The statement also said, “We’ve been holding on, but it’s really hard to when we’re essentially talking to the wall.”

They go on to say, “you [White] shouldn’t have to fear the backlash of coming back onto social media because the same dedicated fans are willing to defend you.”

As Sim said, reintegrating himself into social media, and trying to churn out positive content, would be a far better step for White than keeping himself isolated from public engagement.

Image of Percy Hynes White, taken by a fan, to accompany this article.

Image courtesy of Percy Hynes White’s fan, Dominika Jelenciakova (Instagram handle: xmi.nikax) who met White in London in late May 2023.

What Is the Next and Final Step?

In any crisis management situation, the necessary final step is to repair damaged reputations, whether self-inflicted or caused by Cancel Culture. According to Bloch, “When an individual’s reputation is suddenly being dismantled, it is worthwhile to invest in saving it, as much as possible. If nothing else, it will assure people that you’re paying attention, that you’re listening, and that you care.”

Sim advised that White should do a press conference, podcast or an AMA (Ask Me Anything) session, where he can elucidate all unaddressed issues once and for all. That would then give him a clean slate to reinvigorate a positive public reputation. It would also be an opportunity to be transparent and honest, which the public always appreciates, especially in this case when they’re still unsure of things his earlier statement didn’t spell out.

If White answers all remaining grey areas in a podcast or interview, the general cancellers or the Ortega/Myers fans who despise him will have nothing to hold onto to justify their hate. Unjustified and unsupported hate will usually dissipate quickly.

Crucial Lessons Learnt

This case of Percy Hynes White is pertinent to learning what to do and what not to do when one faces cancellation, especially given that we live in an era when any one of us can be hated or cancelled over what we did even years ago, in our youth. We also live in a time when half-truths and brazen lies can permeate the globe within hours, and White’s case proves that when that happens, you can’t just sit idly by, without responding.

From the crisis management experts, we also learn that there are solutions when you fall from grace, or are pushed from grace as in White’s case. Remaining quiet and keeping out of the public eye isn’t the answer. Being absolutely accountable by clarifying everything (and that includes mistakes too), and then churning out positive content, is the way to go in order to remedy a tarnished reputation/image.

Conclusion

It’ll be interesting to watch the next steps White takes, as defamation is a criminal offense in Canada, where he and his accusers lived at the time of the alleged offenses. If White’s statement is to be believed, then everyone who falsely accused him could potentially be investigated by the Canadian authorities for criminal libel. There is a maximum five-year prison sentence attached to a malicious criminal libel offense in Toronto.

After all, haters and cancellers were convinced to step up and undeservedly harass him and everyone he knows because of the unsubstantiated allegations. In addition, this might’ve unjustifiably caused White some missed opportunities, work and income. We already know that he was eventually pulled off the Comic Con Liverpool lineup of guests, perhaps due to the excessive amount of hate his original announcement garnered.

Given the unwarranted and unreasonable negative effect worldwide that the accusations have had on the brand and name of “Percy Hynes White,” perhaps the Toronto police should be White’s first stop, on his way to reclaiming his reputation and public image.

Editor’s note: The above is a condensed version of a longer article available here, here or here.

About Saffron

I work exclusively in Entertainment. I can be reached at: [email protected], Instagram.com/SaffronWriter and Twitter.com/SaffronWriter .

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