The flip-flop in roles is nothing less than seismic. It’s occurred, in large part, because of the rise in social media.
Ever since the Franklin D Roosevelt administration in the mid-20th century, the government has been the principal driving force behind positive social change on almost all fronts.
Whether it’s civil rights, LGBT equality, the environment or the nation’s key social safety net–Medicaid, Medicare, Social Security and now Obamacare–successive administrations, even under Republicans, have been the catalyst for change.
Corporations were the bad guys, polluting the environment, producing unsafe products and running roughshod over consumers.
But with the election of Donald Trump, the tide has changed.
Trump has turned the government into a reactionary agent, rolling back key social protections, ending environmental protections, slashing women’s rights and encouraging the rise of intolerance, racism and religious bigotry.
On the other hand, O’Reilly’s ouster at Fox News for alleged sexual misconduct is the latest example of corporate responsibility that exceeds the government’s own social responsibility.
There’s good reason for the change.
Trump won the White House–despite losing to Democratic rival Hillary Clinton by nearly 3 million votes–thanks to the electoral college.
Now, he has a four-year free ride and has begun to show it by acting imperiously. He’s gone back on his campaign promises with impunity and has set a new standard for lying and government misinformation.
But businesses don’t have that luxury. Thanks to social media, they face a virtual election every day, even every minute.
Scorn for corporate bad behavior spreads like wild fire on social media. When that happens, tens of millions of dollars in marketing can go up in smoke in a second.
If the actions are particularly egregious, corporations can face punishing boycotts and plummeting stock prices.
In the case of Fox News and Breitbart, the hate spewing right-wing propaganda site, advertisers abandoned them, well, with abandon, once corporate missteps were exposed.
Fox News paid the price–figuratively and literally– all because its Golden Boy couldn’t get laid.
His “locker room” behavior–similar to President Trump’s–has cost the network at least $13 million in payouts to his alleged victims, and a score of advertisers. How many times can a guy strikeout before he’s out of the game?
21st Century Fox, which owns the network, tolerated his behavior for 13 years. But the cover up ended when social media exploded with allegations from his alleged victims.
He was given his walking papers yesterday, following an advertiser exodus induced by public scorn.
For his part, O’Reilly is still going the Trump hangout route, denying all the charges. But obviously few believe him, including the Murdochs who own Fox.
Only President Trump, insulated from public opinion for the next four years, is still on board.
It should come as no surprise Trump reportedly wants O’Reilly to join his administration, according to media reports.
Fox News doesn’t have that luxury, but it’s far from the only example of rising corporate social responsibility.
United Airlines CEO Oscar Munoz just learned a hard lesson, as well, about the power of social media.
Airline security roughed up a doctor because he refused to surrender his seat to make way for United employees on an overbooked flight.
The airline was barraged by criticism after a video went viral showing passenger David Dao being dragged from the plane.
At first, Munoz issued a dismissive “non-apology,” calling the incident a “passenger accommodation.” But that only heightened the scorn.
United’s stock tanked and calls for a boycott began.
Munoz quickly reversed himself. He launched an internal investigation and issued a groveling apology.
Because the incident reflected a “systemic problem,” the company says it won’t fire anyone— including Munoz, according to USA Today.
Whether that’s enough to pass muster on social media remains to be seen.
Perhaps businesses are simply filling a void created by the Trump administration; more likely social media has provided a way, more than ever, to hold them accountable for their actions.
Of course, it goes without saying–and typically without notice–that hundreds of corporations are now far more socially responsible than the Trump administration.
But one thing is increasingly certain; in today’s economy, businesses can’t escape the long-arm of social media.
Going forward, they’ll live by it–and die by it.
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