Should the bullies go unanswered?

Sallie Krawcheck has been a fixture and powerful force on Wall Street for decades. Today, she is the chair of the Ellevate Network, a global professional women’s network, and CEO and co-founder of Ellevest, a “digital-first, mission-driven investment platform for women.”

Among her objectives is the goal of elevating women by helping them build financial security.

Ms. Krawcheck is not offering advice without authority. Before those roles, she was CEO of Merrill Lynch and Chief Financial Officer for Citigroup.

She is a 1987 graduate of the UNC School of Journalism where she attended as a Morehead Scholar. From there, Ms. Krawcheck made a name as a research analyst before earning an MBA at Columbia.

I have heard that she excelled as a high school athlete.

We are all human, but the idea that Ms. Krawcheck ever felt insecure, vulnerable, or anything less than completely impressive was hard for me to imagine.

That was, until I read an interview years ago where she was quoted as follows:

“[In middle school] I had the glasses, the braces, the corrective shoes. I was half-Jewish, half-WASPy. I couldn’t have been further outcast[.]” …

“There was nothing they could do to me at Salomon Brothers in the 80s that was worse than the seventh grade.”

I thought about her disclosure this week as I was considering the potential impact of social media.

Recently, we have consulted with a number people suffering from social media attacks. Most are young.

  • Boys have been accused of inappropriate encounters that allegedly occurred years ago.
  • Others are maligned for their association with a person who committed some misdeed.
  • One person was accused and threatened over social media for allegedly damaging the property of someone he never met.

It can seem trivial, until you or your loved one is the target.

Often, the targets are entering phases in their lives when they hope to join organizations, form lasting friendships, and build good reputations.

Parents fear that the virility and permanence of these social media attacks will have lasting impacts on their children’s emotional development, confidence, and reputations.

“What happens when he applies for a job in ten years?”

We aren’t the only ones concerned. Enterprising businesses are offering insurance for “cyberbulling.” While few people have the coverage now, the promoters project that it will be common in a few years.

But to collect, you have to first suffer some emotional, professional, or economic damage.

Our goal is to prevent or minimize that.

We are left with the difficult choice of potentially highlighting the issue with a response or hoping to minimize the damage by allowing the attacks to die a natural death. The answers are not always clear and have more to do with our clients’ circumstances and tolerance for risk than our legal assessments.

Standing up to the bully has been universally accepted from the beginning of time, but social media is new. Punching someone in the nose is simpler than developing an effective media strategy. Defamation suits are difficult, and the scrutiny points in both directions.

We have generally counseled restraint, but I am beginning to question that advice. The fight has been one-sided and unfair with the power belonging to the bullies.

A more aggressive course may be timely, necessary, and eminent.

In fairness, Ms. Krawcheck said that she was an outcast, not that she was bullied. Whatever the nature of her problems in middle school, they were not compounded by an onslaught of negative social media attention.

Could that additional pressure have changed her trajectory completely? Nah, she would have kicked their asses.

We are criminal trial lawyers. We represent people accused of criminal offenses who risk losing everything. We work to get them their best results and back to leading productive lives.

Call if you need us, or if you just want to say hello.

Amos

P.S. Take heart, UNC has two former players in the NBA finals. Justin Jackson did not play for the Bucks last night, but Cam Johnson had 8 points, 3 rebounds, and 2 assists for the Suns.