Social Media is Giving Boycotts New Life

New Orleans   Frequently, I’ve quibbled about the role of social media tools in building organizations. I’ve argued such tools are powerful communication tools, rather than organizing tools. They can spread the word to people, lots of people, but they are not a substitute for actual people, participation, meetings, and actions. They might even spark a movement by communicating about actions and work on the ground, but social media does not organize movements. Nonetheless, where social media has carved out a powerful role because of its unique facility at almost instantaneous mass communication is in creating instant impact boycotts of companies and their products.

Look at the quick crash and burn experienced by United Airlines as an example. The impact of a passenger’s video of police forcibly ejecting a passenger from a crowded airplane and dragging him down the aisle was immediately viral. The reactions led to one revised statement after another by the United CEO reckoning with the fact that the reaction was dropping the company’s stock price forcing him to acknowledge that no passenger should ever be treated this way and promising to never use law enforcement to handle such situations in aircraft again. The company became the face of brutality on the internet.   One picture showed passengers inside a United plane with most of them wearing helmets. Another joke circulated that United was now specializing in its role as “first in Chinese takeout.” Corporate apologists commented on how the airline industry had become a kleptocracy where customer service was no longer a factor. Conservative economists asked why the airline didn’t keep raising the price it was offering to passengers to leave the flight until it was successful? Who wants this trouble? No company, and with 44,000 passengers bumped per year for oversold situations, it is the one where social media swarmed that made a difference.

The work of campaigning efforts like Sleeping Giants and #grabyourwallet have been extremely successful in bringing the heat on advertisers for companies with hypersensitive public profiles dependent on consumer purchases.   Breitbart News has lost advertisers from such efforts. Protests have been launched impacting Trump companies and supporter brands. Unquestionably Bill O’Reilly, a longtime Fox News rainmaker, is teetering on the edge of losing his show because the reaction has been so strong that half of his sponsors have pulled out over the paradox of his moralizing versus the $11 million in settlements for sexual harassment claims that he and Fox have paid in recent years.

Admittedly, these are thunderstorms that light up the sky, rather than permanent weather patterns. It is impossible to predict which calls for a boycott will strike lightning and create a social media storm, but the very fact that it is possible and that the clouds can move so quickly from balmy to raging is changing the corporate calculations. The drug companies withdrawal from executions in Arkansas was an example. The hypersensitivity that Trump tweets have brought to corporate America now are also part of the new environment.

Who knows what will last, but for the moment, social media has again weaponized the consumer boycott, and that’s a good thing.


Google Steps Up and Bans Ads from Payday Lenders

054985500_1441013137-google-headquarters-sign-640x0_digital_trendsNew Orleans   Just because we’re chasing them, doesn’t mean that payday lenders are on the run, but recently we got a break that could end up as a fatal blow and perhaps stiffen the backbone and open the eyes of those unwilling to confront the predatory practices that define the business model of payday lenders. Google or Alphabet or whatever they are calling themselves are one the largest tech companies of the world, and they have now announced that forthwith they would no longer accept advertising from payday lenders. Hooray!

A number of consumer advocates weighted in with congratulations, and, surely, this was a win that undoubtedly came after extensive behind-the-scenes meetings, but no matter how the result was achieved, it’s a significant victory. In the highly competitive online advertising world, hopefully, it will be “monkey see, monkey do,” and followed by Facebook, Twitter, and the hundreds of other sites and applications that worship that almighty ad dollar. The payday lenders association, or whatever that gang of hyenas call themselves at the predators’ ball, cried “foul,” and claimed they were doing a public service in stealing from the poor, but they were left with no recourse. Google is a private company after all, and not some politician they can just ply with a campaign donation or sic their lobbyist on.

All of which calls into play whether or not tech companies might be good targets for more and more campaigns, and that’s worth some thought. Even while we praise Google, we shouldn’t make the mistake of thinking that they will be pushovers if the history and ideology of tech companies is any guide.

Apple certainly waged a huge battle under Steve Jobs and his successors to prevent unionization of its contract janitors, and to this day, unless something has changed recently, solved the problem by simply taking the work in-house as direct employees rather than deal with the union. Many of these tech companies and their execs are Ayn Rand fanboys and hard leaning libertarians. The role of Microsoft’s Gates and Facebook’s Zuckerberg in trying to privatize and charter up public school systems is now legendary, where often their main partners are the Walmart Foundation and its conservative crew. Michael Bloomberg and Charles Koch coauthored an op-ed recently where they wanted to get their two cents in on the amount of free speech on college campuses where they are afraid that administrators and professors are bending over too far to kowtow to minorities, women and others that might built the power to object to some of the baked in dogma opposing their interests. Austin, Texas voters just had to administer a butt whipping to the ride-sharing Batman and Robin, Uber and Lyft, who wanted to allow their drivers to not be fingerprinted like other drivers in that city. Facebook is taking heat as well for slanting its newsfeed and creating an echo chamber. Amazon seems the most Teflon, since it seems to still be consumer crack.

The good thing is that at their current size, none of these tech behemoths can just hunker down and hide in Silicon Valley anymore. To the degree that public perception and buying power still is a major part of what makes them winners or losers, we may have some collective power to punish the baddies, like payday lenders, that we need to exercise even more by putting tech companies on our “must target” list.