We *can* do better: grassroots organizing against hate speech

TommyXtopher: Playboy Magazine Officially Hates Women, Conservative or Otherwise http://bit.ly/1aqcMe.* I hope other liberals join me in defending women, #tcot or not, from this crap.

jointheimpact: AT&T Latest Advertiser To Leave KRXQ Confronted By Advertisers, Media and Community … UPDATE: McDonald’s Is 10th Company to Pull KRXQ Advertising http://bit.ly/ki7vc //zomg! Amazing! (via @Andy_Marra)

nerdette: Join me in blogging this weekend against hate http://bit.ly/JqdDr We can #dobetter than use violence to change minds.

— from Twitter, June 1-5 (1, 2, 3, 4, 5)

In nerdette’s Don’t get mad, ORGANIZE call to action for the “We can do better” blogathon she discusses how online and offiline organizing are increasingly blurring together.  The swift reactions to Playboy’s article about hate-f***ing conservative women and KRXQ radio hosts encouraging violence against transgendered youth are two good examples of this — and both have gotten immediate results.

Word spread quickly after Autumn Sandeen blogged on Pam’s House Blend about KRXQ’s bashing and Michael Rowe picked up the story in The Huffington Post.   As GLAAD new media strategist Andy Marra writes:

Outlets like The Huffington Post, PerezHilton.com, The Sacramento Bee, FOX40, Instinct (here and here) and many more started to take a closer look at the show.

So did lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender advocates. Constituents frustrated over the segment and the hosts’ failure to apologize took it upon themselves to make their voices heard. Social networking tools like Facebook were – and still are – being used to contact KRXQ advertisers.

GLAAD issued an action alert, and became the central contact point, complementing the broad grassroots effort.  The list of advertisers dropping support for the show has steadily mounted: Chipotle, Snapple, Sonic, Bank of America, Verizon, Carl’s Jr,  Wells Fargo, Nissan North America, AT&T, McDonalds … the ball’s in KRXQ’s court, and after Judy Lin’s AP story yesterday, I’m sure we’ll be seeing more attention in the mainstream media.

The reaction to the Playboy story was even swifter.  Tommy’s Twitter Community Defeats Playboy Hate List has a summary of the early success:

I found out about it via Twitter, when one of the women on the list, Amanda Carpenter, sent a tweet (a public message) about it.  I contacted Amanda, and wrote a story about it.  That story was quickly forwarded to thousands of Twitter users, along with urgings to boycott Playboy.  The pressure mounted, and by late afternoon, Playboy had pulled the piece.  You can still see screenshots of it here.

Twitter flexed its muscle again when Politico took down a sanitized version of the list** at the urging of many Twitter users.

On the conservative side, Tabitha Hale on Pink Elephant Pundit, Ed Morrissey on Hot Air and a media release from Smart Girl Politics catalyzed the reaction.

It’s not clear whether the anti-Playboy protests will be able to build on this initial success.  Other than Fox News’ Megyn Kelly and The View’s Elizabeth Hasselback (both named on the list), I haven’t seen any coverage of the story in the mainstream media.  Disappointingly, relatively few progressives spoke up … in particular, as far as I know, other than the Huffington Post, none of the “big blogs” of the progressive blogosphere got involved.  And as Antonia Zerbisias discusses on Broadsides, some conservatives took the opportunity to bash feminists and progressive women.  Still, even if it doesn’t go any farther, it’s a great example of how a strong grassroots response can shine a spotlight on hate speech and get swift action — and the people involved are now working together in ways that will hopefully continue.

Put these in context with the campaign led by Colour of Change that forced the New York Post to apologize for the racist Obama cartoon earlier this year, and trends starting to emerge.   In the right situations, a grassroots social network/blog campaign can call enough attention to hate speech that media has to react.

  • Ideally, an existing network gets involved: the “Stonewall 2.0” community based around blogs like Pam’s and Join the Impact, the racial justice community around Colour of Change.
  • Pressure on advertisers is key — large corporations and local businesses can quickly see the cost of antagonizing large segments of a community, and this in turn hurts media outlets.
  • Entertainment blogs like Perez Hilton’s can have an important role in broadening the outreach

It doesn’t always work, but as activists gain more and more experience with this kind of campaign, we’re likely to be see more and more successful examples.

So at least in this way, we can do better.


PS: For additional background on hate speech, see the CFP 2007 sessions I helped organize on hate speech and trolls, the battle of civil discourse on free-association, and Tweet the Silence, from earlier this year.

* AOL has since removed Tommy’s post and fired him; see the original post here, and On Playboy and the Firing of Tommy Christopher

** which was filed under the “lighter side of politics” … as Ann Bartow says on Feminist Law Profs “because ha ha, what could be funnier”