Philip Taylor thought he was just engaging in casual conversation with his friend on Twitter.
[My wife] and I were just talking about how removed we feel from it all. Life could not be more normal, peaceful, and ideal in our hood. Almost makes me feel guilty. Almost.
The CEO and founder of the thriving personal finance community known as FinCon lives in a peaceful northern suburb of Dallas, Texas, and commented that he felt oddly isolated from the chaos erupting around the country after the death of George Floyd.
But this one tweet set off an avalanche of outrage from hundreds of his followers and irate members of the FinCon community that brought destruction into his live and swallowed his community and livelihood. Online culture is toxic, that’s true. But it’s not isolated online. The internet is all too real. For those with any degree of influence, cancel culture exists outside the sphere of the internet. It seeps through the online barricades, on a mission to upend lives and destroy livelihoods.
Suddenly, the same personal finance bloggers and content creators whose brands Taylor’s community helped grow turned on him. They forcefully denounced him as a racist and a misogynist, claiming that they knew Phillip Taylor was a bigot all along.
What’s known as “FinCon” is a community of thousands of content creators and brands dedicated to sharing the life-changing ideas of financial freedom and independence with the world. They do this by hosting an annual event & expo, maintaining a large online community, and sharing online education geared towards financial education for people from any background. FinCon is a vibrant community built on a positive message that financial independence is achievable for anyone who wants it. It’s a community where people meet to share ideas, success stories, grow their business or brand, and make friends.
But goodwill can quickly disappear.
It was an insensitive tweet, and Taylor realized the error of his ways shortly after sending it. What he saw as a casual observance, others saw as incredibly offensive given the heartache the black community was suffering shortly after the tragic, senseless death of George Floyd. What he saw as a comment on how unaffected by the coronavirus pandemic his family and friends had been, others claimed was a violent assertion of his privilege.
Taylor went to bed that night assuming he had successfully stamped out the embers of outrage. But the next day, things went downhill quickly. Hundreds of members of his own community decried Taylor as a racist, expressing outrage at the insensitivity of his words. Many conjectured that this is indicative of how the CEO always felt about people of color, and just now is he finally bold enough to state it out loud. A few community members uncovered a few old tweets that confirmed Taylor had supported Donald Trump in 2016. Taylor was politically conservative, but always did his best to keep his political preferences separate from his work life. He was very rarely outspoken about his political leanings.
This only added fuel to the fire. The narrative changed focus from Taylor’s insensitivity to his irredeemable racism.
Now, not only was he apparently fine with “brutalizing blacks,” but he was also a misogynist, according to a few influential female personal finance bloggers. On the FinCon community page, Taylor had once committed the heinous crime of declaring himself to be a “fan of Dave Ramsey.” To most fiscally responsible, average Americans, this doesn’t seem particularly problematic thing to say. Ramsey is famous in the personal finance space, even to those less active in it. However, some feminists believe Dave Ramsey to be a misogynist; therefore, any praise of Ramsey could only be interpreted as praise and admiration for misogyny itself.
Twitter user @herfirst100k jumps on the shaming bandwagon by posting an accusatory tweet, claiming that Taylor had unfairly silenced her by deleting a post within the FinCon community earlier in the year about Dave Ramsey’s misogyny. Taylor then requested she retract the statement, calling it untrue. He did this via DM, which the user screenshot and posted to Twitter, full of righteous indignation. She claimed that she was being “harassed and bullied” by Phillip Taylor and used this interaction as proof of his blatant misogyny.
He requested she remove the post and issue a retraction. His messaging and request seemingly crossed a line for her, even though a moderator of a community page on Facebook has every right to delete messages not relevant to community discussions or request retractions for statements that slander personal character without evidence. If this was bullying or misogyny, it was quite a polite and nonaggressive form of it. Nonetheless, the activists within the FinCon community rallied around her and condemned his actions as absolutely unacceptable. More negative comments rolled in. More people threatened to leave the FinCon community.
An author who goes by BrokeMillennial, an influencer in the personal finance space with 26,000 followers, also condemned Phillip Taylor in no uncertain terms. She declared that 2019 was the last year she would be attending the annual FinCon conference, usually attended by thousands and featuring keynote speeches by prominent personal finance content creators.
BrokeMillennial tweeted,“I’d become keenly aware of the political and social beliefs of the founder based on social media likes on his brand account and I struggled with feeling as if my dollars, time and image were supporting ideologies that align with oppression and racism…There is room for us to have different political and religious beliefs. But actively liking groups, tweets and memes that are stoking the flames of hate, racism and oppression and blocking those who call out hypocrisy needs to be held accountable.”
Her followers praised her bravery and agreed that FinCon was no longer a safe space.
One FinCon community member took the accusations even further. An account called TheBudgetnista accused Taylor of actively discriminating against minorities for years. She complained that Phillip Taylor offers minority keynote speakers in the annual FinCon conference much less money than others, and used her own speaker fee as an example:
The official FinCon Twitter account attempted to set the record straight in a reply to this tweet; FinCon clarified that no speakers at the conference had ever been paid $50,000, or anything close to it. Per their statement, all speakers’ prices are negotiated individually and a price is set after those negotiations take place. In another post, responding to the false claim, the founder reiterated that the race or gender of the speaker had no bearing whatsoever on how much money the speaker earned for the event. The annual FinCon conference is extraordinarily popular, attended by diverse “money nerds” from around the nation. Many of its speakers in the past have been people of color.
This clarification issued by the official FinCon account did not do much to slow down the output of the outrage machine. FinCon community members started flooding the FinCon Facebook page, demanding refunds for their pre-ordered tickets for FinCon’s 2020 conference scheduled to take place in Long Beach, California in September. Dozens of active community members messaged FinCon with their ticket order numbers, declaring that they would never attend FinCon again.
Despite the ferocity of the attacks and the severity of the backlash, the FinCon founder kept his cool. Taylor calmly replied to posts condemning him and attempted to assuage people’s fears; he reaffirmed his conviction that every member of the FinCon community is valued and treated equally, regardless of their gender or race. He eventually issued an official statement of apology on the Facebook group which, unfortunately, did not satisfy his enraged community members.
Taylor sincerely apologized and took full responsibility for his insensitivity. He provided additional context for his original Tweet and clarified that it was part of an ongoing discussion with his friend about media-generated outrage. This apology was not enough; it was never going to be enough.
Just a few days later, Phillip Taylor announced that he will be stepping down as the CEO of FinCon in a recent public statement, issued to all members.
What I must communicate to you now is simple: I’m sorry. I recognize that my actions have alienated members of our community and made FinCon feel like it was not a safe place for everyone. The strength of our community was compromised by my actions.
I will be stepping down as CEO. The organization and our community requires and deserves new leadership to carry it forward.
Taylor gave up a leading role in his own business to quell the protests that erupted from one single tweet. For some of the FinCon members, that action was still not enough. Some commented that it was a cowardly move; that instead of stepping down, he should have stepped up and served as an ally for those he had supposedly harmed with his expressed beliefs.
Taylor’s offending tweet motivated his followers, his fellow community members, to dredge up past “transgressions” and use them to build a larger narrative; it grew from an individual problem into a systemic one. Within a few days, the accusations against Taylor escalated quickly. What started as a public shaming of his insensitivity quickly escalated into condemnation of his racism and misogyny, based on events that were incorrectly described, false, or context-less. Even though the examples of supposed bullying and discrimination within the organization were refuted, it didn’t matter to the mob. Neither facts nor context mattered and finally, Taylor saw no other way out but to step down.
In the end, there are no winners in this battle, only losers. We must ask ourselves, what is the path to redemption for those who have tweeted something offensive, and immediately apologized? There must be a better way; something other than retreating completely from public life or giving up on your own business.
The offender can delete the tweets, issue a heartfelt apology, and then pray for absolution. The offender can lay prostrate at the feet of the online mob, begging for his sins to be forgiven. And sometimes, it’s just not enough.
We need to make room in public spaces for people to air their opinions, even bad ones. We need to provide opportunities for bad opinions to change. We need to accept apologies. We need a path to redemption.