On Activism Through Capitalism

Sapna Maheshwari for New York Times:

Those motivated to choke off Breitbart’s ad revenue have become particularly attentive to which brands appear on the site. That effort has been led by a Twitter account called Sleeping Giants, which uses screenshots to publicize and shame brands with ads on the site. The anonymously led account, which has more than 75,000 followers, was created in November as Breitbart drew attention for its ties to Stephen K. Bannon, the site’s former chairman, and now the chief White House strategist, and as critics accused the site of promoting racist and misogynistic views.

Sleeping Giants accomplishes two things: to raise the awareness of Breitbart’s existence and to point out that these brands are advertising on such a site. It’s a great move that effectively mobilizes social media as a medium for activism and awareness.

The process includes heading to Breitbart’s website and taking a screenshot of any ads next to article titles, tweeting these screenshots to the brand who served the ad and allowing their association with Breitbart to be a type of passive-aggressive shaming for others following the exchange. Simple and looks to be effective.

However, there are several implications of Sleeping Giants that spell out an interesting future for activism:

  • Damaging an ideological mouthpiece by “attacking the wallet” is the acceptance of capitalism as the primary (or sole) means of activism; that to quell conservative or alt-right opinions, one must hit its revenues rather than the publication itself.
  • Assumes that these publications are only ad-supported; that this form of activism is supremely effective in stopping a Breitbart from continuing to exist.
  • This social media movement does not attempt to confront the foundational causes that would allow a Breitbart to exist in the first place.

One’s participation with Sleeping Giants is the acceptance that Breitbart and related websites are inherently an economic issue, assumption that Breitbart and related websites are solely ad-supported, and also the marginalization of efforts to understand the causes of the alt-right and right-wing extremism.

Is Sleeping Giants accomplishing anything more than taking down a website it disagrees with? I could not deny that I’d have a good feeling in my tummy if Breitbart went bankrupt, but afterward, what then? Continue this alt-right censorship by ruining more ad revenues? And what if Breitbart goes as lean as Drudge Report and can exist without much revenue at all?

These are a lot of “what if” questions for a movement that appears pragmatic and effective on paper. It would not hurt to contribute to this economic campaign against the alt-right. But it would do nothing to solve the more long-term issues of a West reading two completely different pages of information, does not solve the issues of rising unemployment and other tradeoffs of global capitalism. To play in the game of capitalism is to be subservient to it.

So one piece of advice: If you are compelled to tweet a screenshot for Sleeping Giants, do so and then spend another five minutes searching for ways to participate in your local community or organizations seeking a world that no longer needs a @slpng_giants any longer.