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Crisis Management Following Allegations of Leader Sexual Misconduct: Avoiding Account Ambiguity To Lessen Public Moral Outrage
We propose that third parties perceive ambiguous crisis management responses through a negative moral lens. We integrate and build on theories of ambiguity and intuitive moral judgment to explore third parties’ moral judgments toward leaders and their affiliated organizations following leader responses to sexual misconduct allegations. Across one archival dataset (267,816 Tweets) and three experiments (N = 1,415), we compare the effect of ambiguous accounts (denials, silence) versus unambiguous accounts (apologies) provided by leaders accused of sexual misconduct. After confirming that denials and silence elicit more ambiguity than apologies (Study 1), we used machine learning techniques to examine moral sentiment expressed in Tweets toward accused leaders and found that those who denied the allegations or remained silent elicited more negative moral sentiment than those who provided an apology (Study 2). We also found that ambiguous accounts were indirectly more likely than unambiguous accounts to elicit third parties’ corporate boycotting and publicly voicing concerns about the accused’s organization and avoiding future interactions with the accused via moral judgment (Study 3). In sum, this paper provides multi-method support for the intuition-based repercussions of ambiguous public accounts following misconduct allegations.