How to Destroy the Business Model of Breitbart and … Whaleoil

One day in late November, an earth and environmental science professor named Nathan Phillips visited Breitbart News for the first time. Mr. Phillips had heard about the hateful headlines on the site ? like ?Birth Control Makes Women Unattractive and Crazy? ? and wondered what kind of companies would support such messages with their ad dollars. When he clicked on the site, he was shocked to discover ads for universities, including one for the graduate school where he?d received his own degree ? Duke University?s Nicholas School of the Environment. ?That was a punch in the stomach,? he said.

Why would an environmental science program want to be promoted on a site that denies the existence of climate change? Mr. Phillips figured ? correctly ? that Duke officials did not know where their ads were appearing, so he sent a tweet to Duke about its association with the ?sexist racist? site. Eventually, after a flurry of communication with the environment department, he received a satisfying resolution ? an assurance that its ads would no longer show up on Breitbart.

Mr. Phillips had just engaged in a new form of consumer activism, one that is rewriting the rules of online advertising. In the past month and a half, thousands of activists have started to push companies to take a stand on what you might call ?hate news? ? a toxic mix of lies, white-supremacist content and bullying that can inspire attacks on Muslims, gay people, women, African-Americans and others.

In mid-November, a Twitter group called Sleeping Giants became the hub of the new movement. The Giants and their followers have communicated with more than 1,000 companies and nonprofit groups whose ads appeared on Breitbart, and about 400 of those organizations have promised to remove the site from future ad buys.

?We?re focused on Breitbart News right now because they?re the biggest fish,? a founder of Sleeping Giants told me. (He requested anonymity because some members of the group work in the digital-media industry.) Eventually, Sleeping Giants would like to broaden its campaign to take on a menagerie of bad actors, but that would require a much bigger army of Giants, and ?it has only been a month since we started doing this,? he told me when I talked to him in December. Then he added, ?This has been the longest month of my life.?

One person’s consumer activism is another person’s blackmail. ?Whaleoil has suffered the same attacks where our advertisers were threatened with commercial ostracism unless they stopped advertising on Whaleoil. ?

There is something inherently wrong with this. ?”Whaleoil says Kill all Muslims. ?Do you want your company associated with that?” (our opponents would fraudulently claim.)

On the other hand, The Daily Blog has actually called for riots against older wealthy people. ?Do you want your company associated with that?

My Food Bag was targeted for having Talley’s peas.

The problem is that these activists have no power unless the companies being threatened give it to them. ?Think back: ?Which companies did respond to the pressure and removed their advertising from Whaleoil? ?Can you name three? ?Did you boycott any of them in real life? ?Are you still boycotting them now?

Another blog called for the blanket boycott of Mediaworks after it announced Campbell Live was to be cancelled. ?Mere days later the same blog was publishing posts that could not have been written unless the author watched TV3.

In the end, there is an element of blackmail to it that’s so close to illegal that it should be. ?In the end, it’s like a Mafia stand-over: ?stop advertising on this web site or your company will face commercial damage from our activists promoting that the public spends its money elsewhere.

This is one of the reasons we have started the Whaleoil 1000 Club. ??It is to protect us from the ?”consumer activism” that Breitbart is now facing.

In the behavior of some of these companies, you can detect the way our norms have already shifted. In the old normal, it would have cost little to stand up against neo-Nazi slogans. But in the new normal, doing so might involve angering key players in the White House, including the president-elect, Donald J. Trump, who has hired the former editor of Breitbart as his senior adviser. Mr. Trump recently proved the damage he could do to a company by criticizing Lockheed Martin on Twitter; soon after, its stocks prices tumbled.

Still, a new consumer movement is rising, and activists believe that where votes failed, wallets may prevail. This struggle is about much more than ads on Breitbart News ? it?s about using corporations as shields to protect vulnerable people from bullying and hate crimes.

It’s a jungle out there. ? Subscribe to?an ad-free Whaleoil to protect us from?the usual attacks during an election year.

This month is your last chance to sign up before the annual price jumps from $100 to $120


New York Times