#BoycottBudwiser. #DeleteUber. #BoycottNetflix. #BoycottStarbucks. #BOYCOTT.
These are just a few of the latest hashtag campaigns aimed at boycotting businesses in retaliation for uncouth political entanglements. The Twitter protests, all of which have formed in the last few months, stem from social media circles on the political left and right.
As “Hashtag Armies” on both sides of the political spectrum grow stronger, no one’s willing to stop and ask, is anything really being accomplished?
To find out, look at a breakdown of what sparked the aforementioned hashtag campaigns and their ensuing fallout:
On the Right
#BoycottBudwiser started as a reaction to a one-minute Superbowl ad where an intrepid German immigrant (intended to be Budweiser’s founder Adolphus Busch) moves to America, endures hardship and discrimination, and forges what becomes an enduring partnership with Eberhard Anheuser.
The result? Aside from Anheuser-Busch’s stock climbing a few points since Super Bowl Sunday, the ad generated about 16,000 dislikes on youtube. Mission accomplished!
Another trailer compelled conservative activists to begin boycotting Netflix. This time the trailer was only 30-seconds long. #BoycottNetflix began trending after Netflix aired a trailer for it’s new series “Dear White People.”
Is the trailer condescending? Yes. Tone deaf? A little. Does it warrant a national campaign to undermine a business for creating an Internet show that examines race from a different point of view? Not really.
Just days before #BoycottNetflix became a thing, outrage ensued when Starbucks’ CEO Howard Schultz responded to President Donald Trump’s executive order that temporarily banned immigration from 7 majority-muslim countries. In late January, Schultz announced his company’s plans to to hire “10,000 [refugees] over five years in the 75 countries around the world where Starbucks does business.” Hardly an objectionable offense.
Granted, Schultz’s rhetoric was clearly argumentative and perhaps a little overbearing, see his last paragraph:
“We are in business to inspire and nurture the human spirit, one person, one cup and one neighborhood at a time…”
An international business planning to hire refugees, many at locations outside the United States, is not a cause for alarm.
So, half a month later, what happened? Other than thousands of angry tweets, not much. Starbucks’ stock hasn’t changed by more than $2 a share since then and is actually slightly higher as of mid-February.
On the Left
There’s no shortage of hashtagivism on the left either. #DeleteUber began trending in January, when Uber, stuck in a Catch 22, turned off surge pricing coincidentally slighting taxi drivers who were on strike. Mashable did an interesting analysis of the fallout. Here’s what they found:
“After things died down in the first few days of February, however, the ranking stats show Uber back on top, with only a slight dip in ranking as Lyft’s momentum falls away. Importantly, no re-downloads or uninstalls are reflected in these figures, so it’s unclear how many repentant Uber users contributed to the data.
The iOS data shows that #DeleteUber made a quick impact — but the damage it caused was fleeting.”
One could argue that Uber CEO Travis Kalanick’s decision to step down from the President’s economic advisory council was a big victory for the campaign. But there’s a disconnect between the cause of the outrage and the remedy. How does Kalanick’s absence from the council alleviate the tension between cab unions and Uber drivers?
This kind of blind rage on social media is especially obvious in another case involving the co-owner of Taylor Gourmet, a DC-based hoagie chain. Casey Patten made the unfortunate mistake of attending a photo-op where the President promised to cut regulations on small businesses.
The backlash on Twitter was swift, and DC-area residents began pledging to never to eat another @TaylorGourmet hoagie again, simply because the co-founder accepted an invitation to the White House to discuss small business issues.
The outcry prompted Patten himself to respond:
The first amendment guarantees our right “to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.” And of course the freedom to protest is one that should be exercised. But is a one-minute commercial where Budweiser dramatically retells it’s founding a legitimate cause for outrage? Is a small business owner attending a meeting with the President to talk about small business issues really the root of bad economic policy?
Not all hashtag campaigns fall into the trap of hyperbolic overreaction, but before embarking on another social media tirade, one should first ask: “Is this really an injustice that needs to be remedied by the government? And is the entity I’m boycotting actually the cause of the problem?”
The word ‘protest’ should have some weight to it. It should invoke a sense of steadfast commitment to a deeply-held and enduring principle that requires more than 140 typo-ridden characters tweeted in reaction to the fleeting controversy of the day. Otherwise the idea of protest itself will become lost. What happens if something truly objectionable rises to the surface and the country is weary of yet another viral #Protest?
Then again, maybe we should just #BoycottEverything.