Lessons in Damage Control from Callum McSwiggan’s Guilty Plea

Prominent LGBT+ vlogger Callum McSwiggan has recently pleaded guilty to a felony count of vandalism exceeding $400. In addition to three years’ probation, McSwiggan was sentenced to 52 anger-management sessions and a $7,000 restitution fee. Fortunately for him, the YouTuber is still flying high on his channel—so how can you escape a high-profile controversy unscathed?

According to the YouTube star, McSwiggan was attacked by three men upon leaving a West Hollywood gay club during his visit for VidCon last June. After the attack, McSwiggan damaged the bumper and mirror of the car belonging to one of the men. Upon calling the police, McSwiggan was apprehended for vandalism, and a lack of visible injury put his hate crime allegations under scrutiny by both the police and social media commenters.

Suspicion arose that McSwiggan made the hate crime up damaged the star’s reputation and credibility. When McSwiggan posted a hospital selfie after the incident, one of the alleged attackers Damien Nichols—who’s also gay—commented to discredit McSwiggan’s side of the story, describing the YouTuber’s “crazy” behavior after having had too much to drink. The selfie has since been deleted, per Advocate, who quotes the text of Nichol’s comment.

Per the plea deal, the misdemeanor charge for falsifying a police report was dropped, clearing his name on that count.

The First Steps of Reputation Protection

Warren Buffet famously said “It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five years to ruin it.” While large corporations may recover from an embarrassing misstep, individual and independent content producers can have a much more difficult time getting through a controversy unscathed.

If you find yourself in a snafu—very public legal trouble is only one example—you’ll need to exercise some serious damage control. The best and obvious first step is to stop talking, at least initially. Attention quickly diverts from one topic to another online. So while you collect your thoughts to pull together a statement, see if the situation might blow over. While preparing a statement is a good idea, it’s important that you don’t argue or fuel the fire with trolls online. If your issue is a legal battle, don’t speak to media unless you receive counsel first.

Don’t Throw Community Under the Bus

Beware invoking a wider community or speaking for others, as this might fan the flames. Shortly after the June incident occurred, McSwiggan cited the recent Pulse nightclub massacre—resulting in the death of 49 and injury of 44—while discussing his own victimhood. Considering many were suspicious, and continue to be, of McSwiggan’s hate crime allegations, invoking the bloodbath perhaps wasn’t wise; a quick glance at the comments section of the Advocate writeup detailing case—a publication focused on gay issues—presents many LGBT+ commenters disavowing the YouTuber, casting him as a bad example of their community who belittles “real” attack victims by exploiting the massacre for his own gain.

In the midst of a controversy, it’s important to identify your own responsibilities in the situation. It’s saddening that someone would be attacked for their sexuality, though one also can’t blame homophobia for their vandalizing property. Be conscious of how your defense can cast blame on others, or in some way damage their reputation.

Act with Grace to Protect Your Reputation

I’s also important to consider your audience, as well as your responsibilities as an influential platform. In McSwiggan’s case, he is a prominent vlogger who’s committed to issues in the LGBT+ community. This makes him a role model for LGBT+ youth, as well as a prominent member in community. With such a platform, it’s important to apologize with grace and humility to set a good example: McSwiggan did a good job of this when he issued a statement via Twitter that described the situation. He noted that he was cleared of the misdemeanor charge, but owned up to his damaging the car with regret.

Dealing with the Social Media Noise

When there’s juicy drama, everyone has something to say—and sometimes what they say can be hateful or damaging to your mental health. Imagine if you were in McSwiggan’s situation and were cast into suspicion after a traumatic episode. What’s worse, what if the feedback you received was filled with slurs that further attacked you?

If you have more angry voices calling on you than a Greek chorus, you’ll need to monitor your social media comments to avoid such attacks on your character. It’s important that everyone can express themselves, but there’s no place for rudeness or abuse—and while services like Instagram and YouTube have native automated comment moderation tools, each are quite lacking. Relying on keyword blacklists and shoddy algorithmic methods, these filters are easily bypassed and just not enough.

For one, it only takes a little bit of creative spelling and spacing for foul language to fool a keyword blacklist. These tools don’t work in real time either, often requiring you to sift through the abuse later to check for false-positives.

Smart Moderation is a great solution to this. It’s an artificial intelligence-based comment moderation tool that will erase profanity and abuse from your comments within a minute of posting, without your having to see it. You can connect it to the social media profiles you love like Facebook, Instagram and YouTube, so you can shake off the haters and focus on what you need to do to get your reputation back on track. If you want to try Smart Moderation out, go ahead—it’s free!