Behind the Mystery Group Hitting Breitbart Where It Hurts

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By Karen Hao
Mother Jones
April 24, 2017

hortly after the November election, a Twitter account called Sleeping Giants (@slpng_giants) began using the social media platform to chisel away at the ad revenue of extreme right-wing news site Breitbart. The account, which now has more than 73,000 followers, has a simple strategy: Tweet at companies who unknowingly have ads on Breitbart and teach them how to blacklist the site from their ad distribution algorithm. Sleeping Giants is the work of an anonymous group in the digital marketing industry, and their strategy seems to be working: To date, more than 1500 companies have joined the movement, including big names like Visa, Sephora, and Audi.

In addition to its Breitbart campaign, Sleeping Giants is also working to improve automated ad-buying systems, which give companies very little control over ad placement. Even when companies take the measures taught by Sleeping Giants to blacklist Breitbart, their ads can still end up on the controversial media site through various loopholes. We talked to one of the people behind Sleeping Giants — who wishes to remain anonymous — about how the idea gained momentum, the big-name companies who have signed on, and how the group wants to change online advertising for good.

Mother Jones: Describe the moment when you first started to consider this idea.

Sleeping Giants: Well, it probably happened a week after the election, when Steve Bannon was being thrown out to be a very senior advisor in the White House. We were curious and wanted to know more about this guy, so we looked at Breitbart after the election — it wasn’t even before — just to see what stuff they were printing. What we found is even worse than we’d anticipated. It was extremely racist and sexist and xenophobic. Once we saw that, the next logical step was, who’s responsible for paying for this? It turns out that everyone was.

MJ: Why did you decide to use social media as a central part of your strategy?

SG: Companies have boned up their customer service on Twitter. I personally was at IKEA once — and this is kind of where the whole thing came from — I was waiting for, like, two hours for some shelves. Whereas on the phone you’ll have to wait, I just tweeted at them and literally within two minutes they wrote back, “Hey, how can we help you?”

Twitter’s a public forum. Once a tweet is there, companies kind of have to answer these questions. It makes them quicker to act and actually holds them accountable for their actions.

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