Last week saw a huge uprising take place in Brazil against right wing propaganda. Sleeping Giants is a US organisation that encourages brands to remove their ads from right wing platforms. Breitbart News lost out on over €8 million worth of publicity due to reporting stemming from the organisation’s 280,000 followers. Sleeping Giants has worked to great effect but no one was ready for Brazil’s sleeping giants.
Brazil has seen the rise of far right populism first hand and President Bolsonaro is a symptom of this swing to the right. The Sleeping Giants Brazil Twitter page started last week to spread awareness of digital advertising and how it can fund far right movements. In just under a week, the site gained over 340,000 followers and made major impacts on Brazilian advertising. Already ads from Banco do Brasil, Banco Inter and Samsung Brasil have been removed from extremist websites sharing misinformation.
The advent of social media has shifted power into users hands. Social media lets users hold a mirror up to corporations and holds them to account. In this sense, brands feel a social pressure to conform. A 2017 Sprout Social survey showed that 46% of US customers had called out a brand on social media when unhappy with their service. Brands are feeling the pressure and are eager to comply to protect their integrity. Sleeping Giants Brasil clearly documented a wrong, and called for these companies to take action on the dissemination of fake news. Ignoring this message would reflect poorly on the brand, akin to burying their head in the sand. As brands have adopted new “woke” images, it is essential that they walk the walk, and not just talk the talk.
The spread of misinformation via Whatsapp was a key factor in the result of the most recent Brazilian elections. It is clear that citizens are seeking retribution for this and holding brands to account, asking them to put their money where their mouth is. The fervour with which Sleeping Giants was adopted indicates a seachange in Brazil, and demonstrates the length some people are willing to go to get to the truth. Social media has afforded people a form of influence over major corporations that has never before been seen. Social influence can be activated by a call to action tweet, or a viral hashtag highlighting a particular issue. Social influence elicits change through compliance, obedience and conformity.
In this case, the vast majority of brands complied with Sleeping Giants request to remove their advertising. In Cialdini’s principles of influence, he outlines commitment and consistency as a key pillar in why we would comply with a request like this. As brands have become more publicly vocal about their values, a call out highlighting their presence on a harmful site can be viewed as inconsistent with these values. In order to save face and maintain their veneer, brands will likely assuage this pressure and comply with the request to remove advertising.
Obedience often falls in line with authority figures, namely that we are more likely to comply with a request from a person of authority. In Sleeping Giants case, their popularity may precede them and the strong social media following lends an air of authority to their requests.
Conformity refers to the behavioural change elicited when we want to assimilate with a wider group. Also known as peer pressure, social media again can enhance conformity due to the concrete numerical figures indicating how many people the post has reached. Sleeping Giants Brasil posts are averaging approximately 5.5K Likes per post, which is an immense reach and increases the pressure on brands to follow through.
Organisations like Sleeping Giants are invaluable to the spread of misinformation, and show the power of community lead initiatives. These movements are vital at the moment as fake news circulates at warp speed. President Bolsonaro has been repeatedly making false claims throughout the covid crisis and purposefully spreading incorrect information in the hope of preserving his power. There have also been reports of his party employing Twitter bots to spread fake news and propaganda on social media. Countless extremist groups are using advertising revenue to fund their activity. Google have even been said to be profiting from fake news, so it would be in their best interests to maintain the status quo. Facebook have just this week stated that it is not their responsibility to prevent the cascade of misinformation on their platform. Mark Zuckerberg stated in an interview “I just believe strongly that Facebook shouldn’t be the arbiter of truth of everything that people say online.” While Twitter have taken positive measures to hide Donald Trumps heinous remarks about the ongoing protests, this is not enough. Advertising is still big business for right wing organisations and we need to act now for stricter regulation around fake news.