CA trends to follow in 2019

By Sergei A. Samoilenko

In this blog post, I continue the tradition of observing cultural tendencies relevant to the study of CA and reputation management. Last year, the world witnessed a major cultural shift towards new values created by social movements, technological progress, and the populist political order.  In 2019, American society will continue to be a trendsetter for the rest of the world, transforming international norms of business, politics, and human relations.

Traditional roles will continue to be challenged

In 2019, traditional notions of gender, race, ethnicity and sexuality in binary terms will be further contested. A notable trend of 2018 concerned the stigmatization of social norms and communication habits of traditional   masculinity, labeled as “toxic masculinity,” targeting publicly demonstrated forms of symbolic power attributed to patriarchal behavior. Last year, the American Psychological Association published a 36-page report “Guidelines for Psychological Practice with Boys and Men” warning of the “harmful” ideology of masculinity — marked by “stoicism, competitiveness, dominance, and aggression.”

The effects of #MeToo will create more controversy

In 2018, the #MeToo movement made a big impact on societies across the world, becoming a global movement and a new symbol of emancipation and gender equality. Human resources professionals say #MeToo has increased awareness of harassment, made it easier for victims to report offensive behavior and prompted enhanced employee training. At the same time, the social movement provided various opportunists with a bully pulpit platform to advance personal agendas and settle scores with enemies under the pretense of serving the cause. As a result, the campaign soon underwent criticism for its selectivityexclusiveness, and witch hunt tendencies. In 2019, there will another set of controversies discussed in relation to the #MeToo era.

In corporations, the overarching impact is more likely to result in gender segregation and the dehumanization of work space. Controversies include confusion about workplace etiquette and the possibility of fewer opportunities for women, as male executives prefer to cut any informal relationships with both male and female subordinates. A poll directed this year by LeanIn.org and SurveyMonkey found nearly half of male managers are uncomfortable participating in common work activities with a woman. Experts report increasing reluctance from men in positions of authority to hire or work closely with women, which may lead to further disconnecting women from professional networks. Across Wall Street, men are adopting controversial strategies , for instance excluding women from casual after-work gatherings or altering HR hiring preferences. A recent Pew Research Center poll revealed only 12 percent of respondents  said the workplace interactions between males and females would now be easier. In this tense and suspicious environment, one of the most pressing consequences for recent female graduates is the loss of mentors and colleagues, advising them on career progress.

This is especially true in today’s unpredictable public space in which a single word can swiftly have unintended consequences. In fact, the artificial censorship and  dehumanization of the office culture contradicts the findings of the Hawthorne effect, a series of experiments in mid 1920s and early 1930s, demonstrating that social context, human interaction and interpersonal communication between employees has positive effects on team productivity.

The notion of character will continue to decline

This year, public support for political contenders will be primarily determined by partisan identification rather than perceived strengths of character, such as competence or trustworthiness. The widening polarization in American society cultivates political and cultural tribalism, which supports intolerance towards dissent and praises group partisanship and loyalty to party agenda. During the 2018 hearings of Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, the debate over the quality of the candidate in his designated role was replaced by an ideological battle between his supporters and opponents.

Negative bias and incivility will profit politicians, individual entrepreneurs, and the media

Despite the declining relevance of character, there is no evidence that the volume of negativity and character attacks will decrease. The toxicity of todays political environment is indicative of the declining quality of public sphere as a result of ongoing turbulence in society. As prompted by sharp ideological division, political factions will continue to resort to character assassination as the extreme means of social persuasion. Individual entrepreneurs also benefit from continued political scandals by collecting compromising materials and subsequently blackmailing public figures.

Public interest in prominent personalities, like Donald Trump, will remain high and thus constantly monetized by media retailers through negative coverage. Due to economic imperatives, the Internet companies contribute even more to the growing incivility of civic discourse and frequent CA campaigns. According to recent research by Zeynep Tufekci, social media algorithms directly contribute to the rise of political extremism. Her 2017 book, Twitter and Tear Gas, demonstrates that people spend more time on the website if you show them progressively more radical content. Therefore, YouTube’s algorithm is practically designed to radicalize its users.

Technological companies will censor online communication and reinforce normative control in society

The hysteria around “fake news” gave corporations an excuse to apply new algorithms in a  totalitarian manner to reinforce appropriate behavior and sanction detected violators. In October 2018, Facebook announced it had removed more than 800 political pages and accounts for “coordinated inauthentic behavior” and spamming.

The American Internet in 2019 will be more conducive to the spread of corporate spin and frames approved by corporations. To microtarget individuals with ads, today’s platforms massively monitor their users. Through  “decentralized surveillance” companies stealthily gather information about private life of citizens with smart home devices. Most importantly, internet companies and intelligence agencies now have access to large amounts of personal data including compromising information that can potentially be used for blackmailing the next generation of political and business leaders.

As mentioned in my previous blog post,  smart assistants, like Alexa and Siri, will be used more and more for personal advice and moral solutions. Many decisions and opinions concerning complex life issues will be largely determined by technological algorithms. Spurred by numerous reports of sexual misconduct, developers have introduced apps that help users bypass the traditional forms of interpersonal communication and collect evidence by signing a virtual  “contract” agreed upon before having sex.

Online governmentality will impact the assessment of reputation

Governmentality is a term originally formulated by the French philosopher Michel Foucault in the late 1970s.  It emphasizes the governing of people’s conduct through the willing participation of the governed. Crowdsourced opinions could be used as means of symbolic violence and have grave implications for social status and the ability to exercise individual agency.

According to the Future 100 trend report by J. Walter Thompson Intelligence, online impacts everything from shopping to moral sanctions on individuals and groups they represent. For example, Uber is reinforcing this review culture, punishing or rewarding drivers and riders based on their rating. In China, the authorities apply the best practices of the Foucauldian panopticon to test the disciplinary society of surveillance by enforcing social reviews of its citizens. Thus, the new Social Credit System calculates a score for each citizen based on financial transactions and daily behavior. Citizens can be penalized for things like not picking up after their dog or smoking in non-smoking areas, and can be banned from school, public transportation, or denied promotion due to low scores.

In my opinion, the risks associated with reputational harm will become even more prominent in 2019, as individuals and groups will struggle with fewer options and outdated competencies to manage their reputations. Public figures, aside from established populist leaders like Donald Trump, will take great care in the way that they present their opinions and true values in the public domain. The well-proven strategies of strategic ambiguity and impression management will be in high demand, as well as the services of public relations specialists and defamation lawyers.

Happy New Year, everyone!

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