IBM Gets It Right on Cancel Culture and Corporate Responsibility

By Tina Casey
Jan 20, 2021 2:00 PM ET

Christopher A. Padilla, IBM’s vice president of government and regulatory affairs, is among those recognizing the threat that the “cancel culture” slur poses to the corporate voice on matters of moral, social and civic concern. 

In an IBM blog post last week, Padilla did not call out the Republican party by name, but he clearly intended his message as an argument for corporations to flex their public muscle far beyond the cancellation of donations to Republicans. “Many of our peers in corporate America have started by suspending their financial contributions to elected officials who objected to the clear and certain outcome of the election,” Padilla wrote. “But this moment in history should be about much more than organizations temporarily withholding political money to take a stand. This is an opportunity for us to pause and think, to look ahead at what policy measures can truly restore trust and confidence in our democracy."

Padilla also highlighted two legislative proposals previously supported by IBM, which bear directly on the ability of the Republican-backed mob to organize and break into the U.S. Capitol building with lethal force, reportedly with the involvement of law enforcement officers.

One is the issue of justice in policing, which dominated the public discourse in the months leading up to the 2020 election. IBM is among the corporations supporting the Black Lives Matter movement, and Padilla pledged to step up the company’s efforts to advocate for new racial justice legislation like the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act.

The other reform has bears on the issue of tech company liability for online content. Tech companies are currently shielded under Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, and Padilla pledged that IBM would support transparency-oriented legislation like the bipartisan PACT Act introduced during the previous session of Congress.

Section 230 reforms cut straight to the heart of the “cancel culture” slur by affirming the responsibility of tech companies to make moral, ethical, and civic judgements about the speech and images they host.

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