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Will enough companies drop ads at Brietbart to make a fakenews difference?

“A punch in the stomach”.

That’s how it felt to an environmental science professor when he clicked on Brietbart News and found ads for universities, according to a opinion piece by Pagan Kennedy in The New York Times,How to Destroy the Business Model of Brietbart and Fake News.”

Having achieved a satisfying resolution, the professor “had just engaged in a new form of consumer activism, one that is rewriting the rules of online advertising,” according to Ms. Kennedy.

“In the past month and a half”, Kennedy reports, “thousands of activists have started to push companies to take 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 Brietbart, and about 400 of those organizations have promised to remove the site from future ad buys.”

Sleeping Giants public profile makes an important distinction: “We are trying to stop racist websites by stopping their ad dollars. Many companies [advertisers] don’t even know it’s happening. It’s time to tell them.” 

Ms. Kennedy makes a vital distinction about this movement: “They say it’s not about taking away Brierbart’s right to free speech, but about giving consumers and advertisers control over where there money goes … Many organizations have no idea what their ads may end up [largely because of algorithms ] next to content they find abhorrent.”

The issue, of course, is replete with corporate policy dilemmas. Kellogg’s, one the first companies to remove its ads from Brietbart, experienced mixed public reactions: “The cereal company,”  Ms. Kennedy notes, “seems to have suffered from an uproar on social media. At the same time, it received lots of good press for taking a stand.”

She gets to the heart of the matter with this analysis: “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 Brietbart. News – it’s about using corporations as shields to protect vulnerable people from bullying and hate crimes.”