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Left-wing activists are censoring conservative websites

A group of activists that call themselves "Sleeping Giants" have started a campaign to shut down websites that express political opinion that the group disagrees with. The method that they have chosen to achieve this goal is finding out which companies advertise on the websites that they don't like and persuading those companies to stop advertising there. The main target of "Sleeping Giants" is Breitbart.

Breitbart is a news website that presents world events from a politically conservative point of view. It is often referred to as "far right" news network by the mainstream media; however this definition is not technically correct. Far right political views are based on the believe that certain groups of people are inherently superior to others. This may include a belief of superiority of an ethnic group, people with certain genetically-determined physical characteristics or a gender. However, none of the articles published on the website express such beliefs. It is expected that a website that is dedicated to presenting a particular worldview may not be fully objective and contain some amount of propaganda. However, unless it promotes beliefs in genetic superiority, it doesn't fit within the common definition of "far right". A belief in superiority of a worldview, whether it is an ideology or religion, is practiced by every person that adheres to a specific ideology or follows a specific religion. Therefore, if the definition of "far right" would be expanded to include the belief in ideological or religions superiority, the majority of people would fall under the definition of "far right"

There are headlines on Breitbart website that seem racist or sexist at the first glance, such as "birth control makes women unattractive and crazy" and "here's why there ought to be a cap on women studying science and maths". Although many people will find such headlines distasteful and wrong, the content of these articles is much more benign. The former article talks about scientific studies which show that some forms of birth control may cause physiological changes. The latter article talks about differences in gender preferences rather than superiority of one gender over the other. The technique of adding shock factor to the headlines is known as "clickbait" and this is what Breitbart uses. People's curiosity is aroused by shocking statements, so clickbait headlines are generally effective in attracting large numbers of visitors. However, this technique backfires when met by people who have a strong opinion that is opposite to the actual or perceived message of a headline. Instead of reading more of your content, such people will want to shut your platform down. The campaign by "Sleeping Giants" to cut off Breitbart's advertisement revenue is an example of this.

The group has identified around 1000 oranisations whose adverts have been appearing on Breitbart, most of which, including HP, Lenovo and Uber have already agreed to block their adverts from appearing on the website. The companies that remain have declined to respond. The most likely reason why high-profile consumer-facing companies have agreed to participate in the advert-blocking campaign is because their executives have assessed that, if they don't comply with the requests to remove their adverts, they may be boycotted by a significant proportion of their customers and potential employees, who are largely liberal and university-educated, which would cost them more than the reduction of exposure due to the loss of an advertisement platform.

In the long-term, however, the campaign by the anti-Breitbart activists may backfire. Any PR professional knows that there is no such thing as a bad publicity. The announcements about advertisers boycotting Breitbart made by a large number of media outlets and shared widely on social media will make more people curious about Breitbart. People who have previously been indifferent to the website would be anxious to find out how bad its articles are and this will drive more traffic to it. Substantial increase in web traffic will make Breitbart more attractive to many organisations as an advertisement platform. Likewise, there are many organisations that cater mainly for people with conservative point of view, the type of people that is more likely to visit Breitbart. These organisations would be undeterred by activists groups such as "Sleeping Giants".

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Posted on 7 Feb 2017

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