As we’ve often blogged about over the last several months, marketers of all kinds are facing enforcement actions because of the actions of third parties: their agents, affiliate marketers, influencers, and others. The principle boils down to this: if you’re engaging someone, profiting from their actions, and aware (or should be aware) of their unlawful activities, you can be held responsible for their conduct. Marketers cannot turn a blind eye.
I’ve been thinking about marketers’ responsibility to know, to monitor and to correct the acts of their agents. And I’ve been thinking about those responsibilities outside the context of advertising law. Recently, I spoke with a professional acquaintance who told me that, since the start of the pandemic, he has chosen to live in a bubble: ensconced in his suburban home with his family and only minimally following the news. He has witnessed neither the freezer morgues outside local hospitals, nor watched the videos of the brutal killings of George Floyd and other Black Americans. He wasn’t aware that the Department of Homeland Security is now tear gassing the moms protecting protestors in Portland. He tells me that he lives in a bubble to protect his mental health and his optimism about the future. In effect, he changes the channel. I understand the impulse.
I live in a bubble of privilege too: I’m White, employed, healthy, and have more than adequate means at my disposal. I too could change the channel. But I’m trying hard not to because I think it’s important to know, to monitor, and use all that privilege for change, in my own workplace and in the world around me. Do my actions make a difference to anyone other than myself? Honestly, I don’t know.
But I do know that, if I turn a blind eye, I am complicit.