What can we learn from the Weinstein case?

The news from Hollywood over the past couple of weeks could be turned into a script for a melodramatic blockbuster. Harvey Weinstein, a well-known American producer of Oscar winning movies including Shakespeare in Love and The English Patient, was expelled from his own company, disowned by his brother and doomed by friends and colleagues, following allegations of systematic sexual harassment of aspiring young actresses.

Some of the reported incidences dated back to the 1980s. Among dozens of women who came forward were many of the film industry’s highest-profile figures, including Angelina Jolie, Gwyneth Paltrow and Kate Beckinsale. Despite the producer’s spokesperson 'denying any allegation of non-consensual sex' and preliminary criminal investigations in the UK and the US , many have already pronounced Weinstein’s career as dead.  The reputations of both the Weinstein Company and the film industry are also taking a hit in a classic snowball effect.

Reportedly, despite Weinstein’s departure, executives of his former business have already started negotiating the potential sale of some of its assets with Colony Capital, a private equity company. This is amid the alleged gradual withdrawal of the key projects and talent.

Meanwhile, Hollywood and the Oscars Academy are doing their best to distance themselves from the scandal and protect their names. This, in turn, is an effect of the intensified criticism for the culture of the film industry, which is being accused of normalising the discrimination and abuse of women by powerful male figures and silencing the victims of harassment.

While Weinstain’s case is a clear example of the impact that a wrongdoing of one individual can have on the reputation of associated third parties, it also highlights a couple more interesting issues.

First, it demonstrates that negative events can live a long time and can come back to bite one’s reputation at any time: some allegations against Weinstein date back to the 1980s. Consequently, high-profile individuals and companies might wish to consider auditing any information about themselves, their businesses and related third parties that is stored in the public domain, social media and databases. Such data can be easily searched, pieced together and compromised, by those looking for controversy. That’s not to say that such factual information should be hidden or denied but it does allow for false claims to be addressed or for a business to prepare for that moment when the spotlight shines on them.

Moreover, immediately after Weinstein’s case became public, many questioned why the women involved only came forward now. The feeling of shame, fear for the future and the culture of silence that allegedly governs the film industry are just some of the more obvious explanations. Another one, however, could be that people tend to find strength in numbers. That is, by sharing her story, one woman encouraged many actresses to speak up about their encounters with Weinstein. What’s more, she also empowered many non-celebrity girls to start talking about their experience of sexual abuse on social media, which started a real movement. The hashtag of #MeToo used by those involved has trended on Twitter and Facebook. This is a clear example of how quickly and powerfully information, which can often be crucial for the reputation of a brand, company or individual, is likely to be carried by the public and spread among the key stakeholder groups.