Tracking the marketing industry’s response to political unrest
Brands and media companies are being pulled into the political fray in the wake of the Jan. 6 Capitol Hill riot and continued attempts by Donald Trump supporters to call the presidential election results into question. Marketers must decide when, and when not, to weigh in. Below, a continually updated list of how brands, media players and agencies are responding.
Jan 14, 2020
10:40 AM EST
Watchdog tracks ads from major brands on conspiracy-minded sites
NewsGuard, a group that monitors the web to assess the credibility of publishers, issued a report today that found ads from 1,668 brands showed up on untrustworthy sites since October. Axios was first to report on NewsGuard’s analysis.
NewsGuard identified Progressive Insurance, Walmart, Disney, Harvard University, AARP and hundreds more. NewsGuard ran the analysis to identify if ads were showing up on sites that it claims helped spread disinformation around the election—sites like OANN.com, TheGatewayPundit.com and ZeroHedge.com. NewsGuard called out these sites for being part of the online information ecosystem that helped feed people misinformation that led to the insurrection in Washington last week.
“Programmatic advertising data shows that many of the world’s largest and most trusted brands have been financially supporting websites, including sites funded by the Russian government, that spread election-fraud myths and conspiracy theories,” NewsGuard said.
Online advertisers typically don’t seek to put their messages on these sites, but with the way programmatic ads are traded in automated auctions, it has proved difficult for brands to avoid every possibly objectionable site.
10:30 AM EST
Jack Dorsey tries to explain Twitter’s Trump ban
Late Wednesday, Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey issued a 13-tweet defense of the company’s policies that led to the ban on President Donald Trump. Dorsey weaved between explaining why Trump’s communications were an imminent threat, and how he fears the growing power of tech companies.
Twitter permanently suspended Trump from the service last week. Twitter is Trump’s favored platform helping him wield immense political power, driving him to win the White House, and ultimately it seemed to be the messaging service he used to help inspire a violent mob to attack the Capitol.
Even with the violence, Dorsey appeared torn about his own company’s position to silence Trump. Dorsey said he believed it was the right call, but then launched into a lengthy plan for the future of the internet, including a tangent about the benefits of Bitcoin.
Jan. 13, 2020
6:47 PM EST
Trump finds a platform
The president posted a video to Facebook, to the White House account tonight, hours after being impeached by the House of Representatives. The president’s personal Facebook has been suspended at least through inauguration, but he apparently still can access the official presidential account.
In a five-minute video, the president seemed to call for unity after the widespread violence his supporters unleased in Washington D.C. last week. His supporters stormed the Capitol apparently intent on taking over Congress and preventing them and Vice President Mike Pence from certifying the 2020 election for Joe Biden. Trump has been permanently suspended from Twitter, and faced at least a temporary ban on Facebook and YouTube. There have been concerns Trump could communicate to followers on social media more orders to commit acts of violence.
Tonight the president sought to distance himself from the mayhem unleashed on Congress, claiming the perpetrators were “no true supporters.” He also tried to equate the insurrection to racial justice protests over the summer following the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis.
“I want to speak to you tonight about the troubling events of the past week,” Trump said in his video. “As I have said the incursion of the U.S. Capitol struck at the very heart of our republic. It angered and appalled millions of American across the political spectrum.”
“Mob violence goes against everything I believe in and everything our movement stands for,” Trump said. “No true supporter of mine could ever endorse political violence. No true supporter of mine could ever disrespect law enforcement or our great American flag.”
In video of the attack rioters were seen using flags to beat one Capitol Hill officer, who died in the rampage. There have been more than 100 arrests since last week. Congress impeached Trump today for insurrection and inciting the mob, which consisted of his supporters who had just seen him speak in front of the White House.
6:10 PM EST
Nike pulls political support, while sneakers could be key to catching suspected rioter
Nike joins the list of companies who will not fund politicians who voted to reject certification of the Electoral College results. The company said in a statement its Political Action Committee “helps our employees support elected officials who understand our business and whose values align with our mission of serving athletes. These nonpartisan values rely on upholding the principles of democracy.” Though it has not yet made any political contributions during this election cycle, it says its PAC “will not support any member of Congress who ignores these principles, including those who voted to decertify the Electoral College results.”
Meanwhile, a pair of Nikes may be the key to helping the FBI track down one of the Jan. 6 Capitol insurrectionists. Quartz fashion reporter Marc Bain wrote that Nike fans noticed one suspected rioter featured in an FBI poster was wearing Nike Air Max Turfs, a relatively rare style from the mid-1990s that has since been reintroduced.
Air Max Turfs aren’s as widely distributed as the more popular Air Force 1 and aren’t “traded with the same fervor as sought-after styles such as Air Jordans,” he writes. “That means a limited number of people probably own a pair, and the distinctive look makes them relatively easy to spot.”
2:07 PM EST
ADL sends a stern warning about Gab
The Anti-Defamation League sent a letter to U.S. law enforcement agencies today asking them to investigate how the social media site Gab allegedly facilitated communications that helped organize the attack on the Capitol last week.
The ADL, with other civil rights groups like the NAACP, has been chronicling a rising tide of hate speech and disinformation online. Participants in the insurrection were apparently active on many alternative social channels like Gab and Parler, which have been accused of becoming safe havens for extremists. “To the extent Gab intentionally served as a forum for people to plan, coordinate, engage in or otherwise facilitate the criminal activity that took place on January 6, a Department of Justice investigation is warranted,” the ADL wrote in its letter.
Gab and Parler both faced repercussions after the attacks in Washington. The sites have grown in the past year as conservative media personalities and rightwing groups looked for alternatives to Facebook, YouTube and Twitter, which have been restricting access to their content. Last week, Amazon took Parler off its cloud services, and Apple and Google took it off their app stores. In recent years, Gab has taken steps to avoid reliance on Big Tech, and has built its own servers and other systems to keep running independently.
2:05 PM EST
Unprecedented times call for unprecedented Washington Post access
Non-subscribers to The Washington Post are running into fewer paywalls these days as the publisher has opened its coverage around the insurrection last week, and this week’s impeachment proceedings.
“So that all readers have access to important public safety information, The Washington Post provides select stories and content for free,” a spokesperson for the publisher said in an email to Ad Age.
In recent years, newspaper publishers have gotten stricter about enforcing paywalls to keep their stories reserved for paid subscribers, and to keep their businesses running. However, in moments of crisis, publishers will weigh the importance of informing the general public as part of their mission. The Washington Post, of course, is headquartered in Washington D.C., making the insurrection very much a story of local interest, as well as a national one.
11:45 AM EST
Airbnb cancels all D.C. reservations
Following an earlier ban on hate groups (see below in this blog), Airbnb has now extended its cancelations to include all existing reservations in the Washington, D.C. area for inauguration week. Airbnb will not allow any future reservations for that week either. Guests will be refunded, the home share service noted in a blog post. The moves, which include reservations at Airbnb-owned HotelTonight, are “in response to various local, state and federal officials asking people not to travel to Washington, D.C.” Airbnb wrote on its corporate blog.
9:48 AM EST
Walmart, GM, Disney halt contributions as New York ends Trump contracts
Walmart and Disney are among companies that have vowed to halt political contributions to lawmakers who voted against President-elect Joe Biden’s election certification, according to a report by Reuters. Disney, in a statement to Reuters said, “Members of Congress had an opportunity to unite—an opportunity that some sadly refused to embrace.”
They join a growing number of companies halting political contributions, either to lawmakers who voted against election certification or generally, in the wake of last week’s Capitol insurrection. They include Kroger Co., which yesterday said it would halt all political action committee donations while it reviews it “PAC-giving philosophy.”
Separately, GM on Wednesday said it’s also suspending all political contributions. “Earlier in the week we stated that we had not yet determined GM’s PAC Contributions for 2021,” GM said in a statement. “To give greater clarity on GM’s PAC activity we can confirm that we have paused new contributions. In 2020, we enhanced the character and public integrity criteria for making contributions and that will help to guide our decisions moving forward.” Watch GM global chief marketing officer Deborah Wahl discuss the decision on today's episode of Ad Age “Remotely.”
In a separate cancellation likely to hit hard at Trump’s pocketbook, the Trump Organization, the city of New York said Wednesday morning it will end its contracts with the Trump Organization, AP reported. That includes contracts to run the Ferry Point golf course in the Bronx, and the Wollman and Lasker ice rinks and a separate carousel in Central Park.
9:32 AM EST
LUMA launches 'Defund Sedition' LUMAscape
In keeping with the policy that there’s a LUMAscape for almost everything, Terence Kawaja, founder and CEO of investment banking firm LUMA Partners, has begun a “Defund Sedition” LUMAscape, chronicling brands that have ended political donations to lawmakers or entities involved in opposing election certification in the wake of last week’s mob action. Kawaja says the LUMAscape will only include companies that have cut donations to lawmakers who voted against election certification, not those that halt all donations. “While I applaud a reduction in corporate PAC donations in general,” Kawaja says, he’s not including brands that cut all donations because “this is not a ‘both sides issue.’ This movement is about rewarding anti-American behavior.”
Jan. 12, 2021
5:00 PM EST
P&G’s Pritchard sees social-media progress, declines to endorse Trump de-platforming
Procter & Gamble Co. Chief Brand Officer Marc Pritchard sees progress from social platforms enforcing their rules against hate speech in the wake of violence at the Capitol last week but declines to endorse or reject moves by Facebook, Twitter and others to shut down or limit President Donald Trump’s social-media accounts.
Pritchard, who’s been a frequent critic of social platforms’ slow progress in eliminating hate speech and other objectionable content, reiterated his call for better standards today in a speech for the virtual CES show. “We want a responsible media supply chain with quality, civility and respect for consumers at the center.” In an interview Monday, Pritchard said he sees progress, but declined to say whether Facebook, Twitter and the like took the right steps in suspending Trump’s accounts. “That’s something that’s probably not my pay grade to define,” Pritchard said. “I just go back to the principle of defining and then enforcing the standards. That’s what’s important.”
He said last week’s events “just reinforced for me the importance of all the platforms eliminating hateful content online and applying those standards everywhere. I can’t decide for them. But it’s really that the standards, one, need to be created; two, need to be enforced; and, three, need to apply uniformly.”
P&G has a virtual version of its LifeLab this year following two years of physical displays at CES. This year’s version hearkens to an older social medium – Second Life – with avatars and displays that include a Healthy Hygienic Home display focusing on such products as Microban 24, a surface cleaner that keeps killing germs for 24 hours after use, and a display of its 50-Liter Home Coalition showing ways people can use technology to dramatically reduce water use without sacrificing comfort. New products on display also include a Febreze Fade Defy Plug Air Freshener with a built in microchip that digitally controls how much scent is released for optimum scent release and endurance.
3:40 PM EST
YouTube under new scrutiny for Trump messages—including from Amy Schumer
Donald Trump may not be able to tweet or post to Facebook, but his messages are still getting through on YouTube, and people are starting to notice. There were growing calls today for YouTube, owned by Google to take down Trump’s videos, following the lead of Facebook and Twitter, which both put holds on his accounts. Amy Schumer, a popular comedian, posted to Twitter about an effort to “ban Trump” and “save democracy.” “YouTube is giving Trump the platform to spread lies and conspiracies,” Schumer wrote.
YouTube has been enforcing its rules on Trump’s accounts removing individual videos when it deems appropriate. There are plenty of world leaders and academics calling for more restraint from social platforms, too, raising concerns about tech companies’ ability to censor speech.
“Over the last month, we’ve removed thousands of videos which spread misinformation claiming widespread voter fraud changed the result of the 2020 election, including videos that President Trump posted to his channel,” YouTube said in an email statement today. “Our three-strikes system clearly outlines the penalty for violating our policies, from temporary restrictions on uploading or live-streaming to account termination for channels that receive three strikes in the same 90-day period. We consistently apply these regardless of who owns the channel.”
However, there are worries that Trump’s online messages could instigate more violent unrest in the U.S. the way his tweeting seemed to help spark the insurrection in Washington last week. Trump has made great use of YouTube throughout his presidency and in his campaigns. Trump’s YouTube account has 2.76 million subscribers, and videos generate tens of thousands of views each.
Today, Trump railed against the companies in his first major appearance since the events in Washington last week. His team uploaded some of the footage to YouTube from his visit to Alamo, Texas. “I think that Big Tech is doing a horrible thing for our country and to our country,” Trump told reporters. “And I think it’s going to be a catastrophic mistake for them.”
Trump’s video on YouTube generated close to 500,000 by mid-afternoon.
1:20 PM EST
Facebook’s Carolyn Everson addresses Trump social media 'risks'
Carolyn Everson, VP of Facebook’s Global Business Group, today acknowledged how drastic a step it was for the social network to take “the leader of the free world off Facebook.”
“The risks of allowing President Trump to continue to use our service during this period, where we are trying to get to the inauguration and a potential peaceful transition of power, the risks were simply too great,” she said.
Everson spoke with Shelly Palmer, a recognizable media personality within tech circles, who was livestreaming his coverage of CES, the tech conference taking place online this week. Palmer had a chance to discuss with Everson the events in Washington last week and the reaction of the platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and others to remove messages that could inspire violence, including Trump’s posts.
Everson reiterated the words of Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg from last week, when Facebook first announced that Trump would be banned from the platform through the inauguration. Facebook says it is dealing with an ongoing persistent threat of violence. Twitter voiced similar concerns when it permanently suspended Trump from his favorite messaging platform last week.
11:30 PM EST
Airbnb vows to ban hate groups, more companies pause political giving
The list of companies pledging to pause political donations to Republican lawmakers opposing the presidential vote certification, or other parties involved, continues to grow. Hallmark, Coca-Cola Co., Marriott, Ford and Goldman Sachs are among the companies taking action. Coke says “these events will long be remembered and will factor into our future contribution decisions,” Bloomberg News reports.
Airbnb is “removing accounts associated with hate group members, including Proud Boys,” according to a corporate blog post, which notes that the company will cancel reservations in the Washington, D.C. area from guests it deems are associated with hate groups.
12:15 PM EST
Congress investigating role of social media in insurrection
Leading Democrats in Congress promised to probe how digital platforms were used to inspire the attack on the Capitol last week. Many of the digital platforms like Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Amazon have been reviewing their policies that enabled any violent groups to organize the insurrection and spread disinformation.
Both Facebook and Twitter even silenced accounts run by President Donald Trump after his posts last week were seen as directly inspiring the assault on Congress. The Washington Post reported that Frank Pallone Jr., a New Jersey representative, promised the House Energy and Commerce Committee would investigate and hold hearings.
The move is another sign that Big Tech will be in the spotlight in Washington this year, following multiple hearings last year that included visits from CEOs from all the major internet companies.
11:45 AM EST
Amazon purges QAnon
The e-commerce giant began taking down merch affiliated with the conspiracy group QAnon, another sign of the fallout from the insurrection in Washington last week. The Washington Post reported that it would take at least a few days for Amazon to take down QAnon-themed products from its online store. Amazon founder Jeff Bezos owns The Washington Post.
Amazon’s move comes after the violent rioters stormed the Capitol last week, and many were seen draped in QAnon paraphernalia. QAnon has been a source of online chaos, spreading lies that helped motivate the attack on Congress. The group bought into online propaganda that the election was stolen from President Donald Trump.
Digital e-commerce companies have been trying to drop their support of such sellers. Last week, Shopify was the first major online e-commerce platform to drop sellers of merchandise affiliated with Trump.
11:30 AM EST
Twitter dumps 70,000 accounts
Twitter continued to try to clean up its messaging platform by newly blocking 70,000 accounts that were helping spread messages that have been encouraging political violence in the U.S. This week, Twitter punished accounts sharing messages like “stop the steal,” a reference to the lie that the presidential election was rigged against President Donald Trump.
The Twitter purge of accounts was starting to hit the world of rightwing media, with many conservative personalities noticing their follower counts dropping on Twitter. “I’ve lost 50k+ followers this week,” tweetes Sarah Huckabee Sanders, Trump’s former press secretary. “The radical left and their big tech allies cannot marginalize, censor, or silence the American people. This is not China, this is United States of America, and we are a free country.”
11:25 AM EST
Facebook plans next steps to secure the new administration
Late Monday, Facebook outlined its next steps to protect the platform from bad actors who have been using any and all online platforms to organize insurrection. Facebook is working 24/7 to enforce its policies, the company said, including taking actions against users, Pages and Groups promoting “stop the steal.”
Facebook banned any references to “stop the steal,” the rallying cry of the rioters in Washington last week, who believed erroneously that the election was stolen from President Donald Trump. Facebook will also impose rules on posts that try to delegitimize the presidency of Joe Biden after the inauguration. Facebook said it would put a “label on posts that attempt to delegitimize the election results [that] will reflect that Joe Biden is the sitting president.”
Facebook noted that it removed the original “Stop the Steal” group from the platform back in November. On Monday, Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook's chief operating officer, told Reuters that Facebook has been more effective, with more transparency, than most digital communications services combating extremism. Alternative social sites like Parler, a refuge for conservative voices banned from Twitter, is one apps that is now under the microscope for how violence could have been plotted there, for instance.