Breitbart Wants To Sue Activists For Telling Companies They're Advertising On Breitbart
Since 2016, a social media campaign called Sleeping Giants has provided a helpful service to companies by letting them know that their ads are appearing on Breitbart. Because of the way many of these companies buy ads -- in large packages that allow them to target potential customers regardless of what site they are visiting -- many of them do not actually know where their ads are appearing.
Sleeping Giants explains how the campaign works in a pinned tweet on their Twitter page.
The campaign merely encourages people to take screenshots of advertisers appearing on Breitbart, and then tweet to the advertisers in order to notify them that they are appearing on Breitbart. Anyone can participate if they like. This is what is known as "free speech."
Many of these companies, once made aware of the fact that their ads are appearing on Breitbart, choose to blacklist the site from their campaigns. Why? Because they don't want their brands associated with the bile that comes out of there. Would you? No, Breitbart is gross. Part of the point of advertising is to get your products to be associated with good, positive things. That is why it costs more to advertise during the Super Bowl than, say, a shit sandwich eating contest.
In two months in 2017, as a result of the Sleeping Giants campaign, Breitbart lost 90% of its advertisers.
On Wednesday, Breitbart sent a letter to Matt Rivitz, the founder of Sleeping Giants, announcing that they are considering potential legal action against him, and telling him to preserve communications and documents that they believe will bolster the case they don't actually have.
The thesis presented in the letter written by lawyer Thomas A. Clare is that Sleeping Giants is going around telling lies about Breitbart for the purpose of ... selling swag.
These include potential claims concerning unfair, fraudulent, and deceptive practices intended to cause Breitbart economic harm. We believe that Sleeping Giants has sought to deceive the public and, in particular, purchasers of online advertising, by making false, deceptive, and disparaging claims about Breitbart and the news content it publishes — including, among other things, accusing Breitbart of distributing "anti-Semitic" propaganda, of promoting "white supremacy," and of being a "neo-Nazi propaganda" website. Sleeping Giants has directed these and similar deceptive and misleading statements to companies that purportedly purchase advertisements appearing on Breitbart's website — and has encouraged its members and others to do the same — in an effort to drive advertising revenue away from Breitbart, and to solicit donations and sell Sleeping Giants' branded merchandise.
The letter also states that Sleeping Giants has unfairly labeled Breitbart as anti-Semitic, which they claim is impossible because the site was founded by "two Jewish men."
(No, not Bill Kristol, or even Kevin O'Leary. They do not, to our knowledge, run Breitbart. That is just how some of the Jewish people who founded Breitbart, edit Breitbart, or write for Breitbart refer to Jewish people sometimes. MIGHT IT BE anti-Semitic? MAYBE.)
The letter also claims that Breitbart cannot be racist, on account of how there are people of color -- even some who are women -- on their staff. You know, the old "Some of my best friends are black" defense.
Apropos of nothing, here are some articles written for Breitbart by and about noted white supremacist Paul Nehlen.
The gist of the letter is that Sleeping Giants willfully lied about Breitbart being terrible, racist, sexist and anti-Semitic, and that these lies led advertisers to blacklist the site. This, however, is followed up with a rant about how fabulously popular the site is.
As you well know, Breitbart News is none of those things. It is the 48th most trafficked website in the United States (according to Amazon-owned Alexa), the 3rd most trafficked news site, and the 15th highest engagement Facebook publisher in the World (according to NewsWhip). According to NPR, it is read every morning by the White house Chief of Staff. It is, in short, an influential, conservative-leaning news outlet that is read by millions of Americans every day.
Given the self-asserted popularity of the site, it is ridiculous to assume that advertisers don't know enough about it to know they don't want to be associated with it. Surely, they are all capable of visiting the site and making that assessment for themselves. Additionally, people are free to say that Breitbart is terrible and that they will not buy the products of any company that advertises on the site. Not only is this "free speech," it is the free market.
Here is Breitbart celebrating when Wonkette -- which used to take ads, in the before times -- lost a good chunk of its advertisers following a gross post about the Palins in the previous regime. Oh, we see now that Dana Loesch wrote the post for Breitbart, haha small world. A quick Google search shows Breitbart wrote about it 41 times. On the other hand, Wonkette's editrix thinks the boycott of Wonkette led by Breitbart was what enabled her to purchase it for a sandwich in the first place, so all's well that ends with her buying her own job and creating several.
The communications and documents the letter seeks appear to have nothing to do with proving that anyone was lying about Breitbart for the purpose of selling swag and soliciting donations. They do, however, focus pretty heavily on George Soros, the man at the center of every ridiculous anti-Semitic conspiracy theory on earth. They also include communications with sites like Media Matters and ThinkProgress, organizations like the Southern Poverty Law Center, and individuals like Anil Dash, Craig Silverman and Scott Dworkin. Also, for some inexplicable reason, a random charter school in Baltimore.
It's not illegal to dislike Breitbart. It is not illegal to criticize Breitbart. It's not illegal to talk about how much you hate Breitbart with other people who also hate Breitbart. It's not illegal to communicate with or even take money from George Soros. It's not illegal to tell advertisers that their advertisements are appearing on Breitbart. It's not illegal to say "Hey, I won't buy your product if you continue to advertise on this site." Boycotts are a legal form of protest, and it is not illegal to protest effectively.
The only people to whom any of this would be an outrage, or think it is somehow illegal, are the people who read Breitbart. Not to sound like a conspiracy theorist myself, but it kind of looks as though the purpose of this fishing expedition is to get a hold of communications that will appear damning to their own audience, rather than a serious lawsuit of any kind.
The only entity Breitbart ought to be suing for making them look racist, sexist and anti-Semitic is themselves. They are, after all, the ones publishing the material that people are using to make these accusations in the first place. Without that material, not only would such a boycott not happen in the first place, but no one, including advertisers, would take it seriously. Someone could tweet that an article titled "10 Adorable Corgis Who Hate Cold Shoulder Tops As Much As You Do" is racist all day long, but it's unlikely that they would find much of an audience for that, or be able to convince advertisers to drop their support for a site that would run such a thing. The only reason the campaign is as effective as it is, is because Breitbart is actually the worst, and that's their own problem.
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Robyn Pennacchia is a brilliant, fabulously talented and visually stunning angel of a human being, who shrugged off what she is pretty sure would have been a Tony Award-winning career in musical theater in order to write about stuff on the internet. Previously, she was a Senior Staff Writer at Death & Taxes, and Assistant Editor at The Frisky (RIP). Currently, she writes for Wonkette, Friendly Atheist, Quartz and other sites. Follow her on Twitter at @RobynElyse