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Advertisers must defund misinformation outlets manufacturing anti-Pride sentiment

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By Nandini Jammi | Co-founder

June 28, 2023 | 10 min read

Nandini Jammi, once of Sleeping Giants and now a co-founder of the Check My Ads Institute, explains how the anti-LGBTQ+ backlash faced by Target, Bud Light et al is being stoked by publishers for their own profit.

Pride

Pride is different this year. This became clear when Target executives convened an emergency meeting in the face of a potential customer boycott brewing over its Pride merchandise and soon removed the items. Target executives weren’t alone. Major household brands including Kohl’s and Bud Light faced similar bizarre accusations of “indoctrinating children” for taking part in what was their run-of-the-mill Pride month activities.

But what these executives may not have understood under the pressure of viral social media posts accusing the company of “indoctrinating children” and “supporting groomers” is that the backlash is not as real as it may have appeared.

In fact, the “customer backlash“ against Pride month is far from an organic nationwide movement. Even a cursory glance at the top voices in the campaign shows a series of carefully orchestrated efforts by a handful of media outlets – and represents only a small vocal group of extremists. Their tactics follow a predictable playbook, built around levying and promoting serious accusations against their chosen target – and then covering the fallout of their own commentary as news.

Nowhere is this more apparent than The Daily Wire, an influential ’conservative’ outlet that led the call to boycott Target. For years, the outlet has focused on drumming up anti-trans rhetoric among its audiences, conflating the LGBTQ+ community with pedophilia and misgendering trans people. The company, led by Ben Shapiro, has argued that homosexuality should be categorized as a mental illness. Matt Walsh, who produced the anti-trans movie What Is a Woman, was recently demonetized on YouTube for bigotry. Michael Knowles suggested that transgender people must be “eradicated” in a recent genocidal tirade at CPAC, a prominent conservative gathering.

So when the title started on Target, it used the same tactics – often promoting false accusations at the company. You can read its Target coverage here and make up your own mind. Candace Owens, another influential conservative commentator, said shopping at Target is for gays and perverts, while Matt Walsh said the goal this year is to “make Pride toxic.” Ben Shapiro explained his calls for a Target boycott, saying: “We just don’t like the sexual indoctrination of the kids.

The outlet breathlessly covered a boycott of its own making.

It wrote stories about people upset that Target was selling “tuck-friendly” swimsuits to children, a sign that Target was grooming children into the LGBT ideology. (Target never sold these products as kids’ clothing.) It covered the dramatic drop in Target’s stock price, citing boycotts as the primary reason rather than the result of a poor Q1 earnings report.

One important mechanism that allows this is that Daily Wire has an ’entertainment’ and ’news’ section. The incendiary rhetoric is technically filed under ’entertainment.’ Daily Wire then files stories on the ensuing events as ’news’ and in these stories refers to tweets from its media personalities as evidence of the outrage.

Case in point: on May 26, Daily Wire published an article headlined Ben Shapiro Issues Challenge To Corporate America, Warns They Could Be Next Following Bud Light, Target Boycott. The story was filed under ’entertainment.’ Daily Wire has massive reach, some of which comes through the Google News algorithm. It also works within an ecosystem of outlets that amplify and cross-promote disinformation, including Gateway Pundit, The Federalist and The Post Millennial.

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This means that the stories that Daily Wire publishes receive a lot of clicks and views. And as the story grows and is amplified across the disinformation ecosystem, there are consequences: Target stores and employees were being harassed and threatened with violence. Ultimately, Target’s statement cited these growing threats of violence as its primary reason for removing the merchandise. But it’s also possible that it was spooked by the sheer flood of negative articles and viral social media posts directed at its company. These things are always smaller than they first look.

It would not have learned much from mainstream media reporting. CNN reported that Target had been the subject of growing boycotts – it did not specify that it was driven by a handful of players. In that pressure cooker environment, it’s easy to forget that over 70% of Americans do support the LGBTQ+ community.

Advertisers must start getting wise to the fact that real news outlets cover the news – they don’t manufacture their own controversies and news cycles. It’s a lucrative business model: driving traffic to websites through hateful narratives to sell digital advertising and subscriptions. The ad revenue payouts from Google Ads alone can amount to millions of dollars each quarter.

There is no sign of stopping. It’s the same pattern followed with Bud Light a few weeks prior, The North Face and plenty of others – even Chic-Fil-A has apparently become “too woke.” This will continue for as long as corporations let themselves get manipulated by these outlets.

The solution is simple: de-platform and defund the networks of hate and disinformation that insist on making their intolerance everyone else’s problem. Sites like Daily Wire, The Federalist, Gateway Pundit and The Post Millennial all rely on ad dollars to remain profitable. They will continue to operate this way as long as they receive your digital advertising dollars.

Corporate America has two choices here. They can allow themselves to be harassed and threatened by organizations working to harm their brands, their employees and their bottom lines, or they can lean into the values they’ve spent years investing in, from diversity and inclusion initiatives to Pride month celebrations.

The perfect place to start is with their own advertising spend: take proactive steps to ensure their own ad spend isn’t providing the financial support to the outlets that may turn around and bite them.

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