In an appalling but unsurprising state of affairs, Stop Funding Hate (SFH) has set about trying to cancel GB News. I say unsurprising because, long before the first show aired, SFH had been campaigning – although no one could have predicted how quickly it would make gains.
Helped along by other Twitter activists, SFH’s prime tactic involves pressuring advertisers to stop funding channels (“funding hate”, as its Enlightened Keyboard Warriors see it) and unfortunately it is rather a successful one. So far, companies including Ovo Energy, Octopus Energy, the Open University and Kopparberg have paused spending with GB News, and others have since followed.
Several organisations claimed that they didn’t know they had been advertising in the first place (don’t you just hate when you accidentally advertise?!). Others took a more moralistic position. IKEA, for instance, said it had safeguards “from appearing on platforms that are not in line with our humanistic values”, and OVO Energy, while pausing its spending, Tweeted it believes in a “kinder world” and wants to “promote inclusion and diversity”. Just not diversity of thought, it seems…
OVO strongly believes that a kinder world is a stronger one. We strive to promote inclusion and diversity across all OVO spaces and we do not place our brand in any places which distribute or promote hate. (2/3)
— OVO Energy (@OVOEnergy) June 15, 2021
In withdrawing their advertising, these organisations are not only hurting themselves (GB News has brought in ratings higher than Sky and the BBC, after all), but entrenching a dangerous culture that has gripped the West – whereby bullying and cancelling people/things now masquerades as social justice. This illiberal liberalism should have been put to bed long ago, but political and corporate cowardice has seen it exacerbate.
How do we stop it, though? That’s the tricky question, as Twitter activists have proven incredibly organised and capable of achieving their goals. The mainstream (because this isn’t just a right-wing phenomenon), on the other hand, sometimes seems at a loss as to how to respond, perhaps hoping these worrying trends will go away.
One thing that was encouraging about the GB News debacle was that people were more vocal than ever before in their disapproval of events. This is certainly part of the answer: companies need reminding that their consumer base goes wider than Twitter activists – and that they can inadvertently insult customers when they suggest shows, which many of them watch, are at odds with “humanistic values”.
Going forward, organisations need to strategise much better for Twitter storms. I have previously joked (ironically, on Twitter) that they could do with an “Ignore Twitter” department, but it’s not actually that far away from the truth – as what was so surprising about GB News was how unprepared companies were when they were targetted. Did they not realise that this would happen? Too often social media teams get spooked by Twitter – with no real sense of how well it reflects the real world.
Perhaps it’s time that the customer geared up, too. Occasionally I have wondered if we need to start our own campaign – a “Cancel the Cancellers” movement, for instance – to keep track of corporations that engage in cancel culture, but the danger is becoming as illiberal as the problem one is trying to counter. Personally I now simply keep a mental note of companies whose antics haven’t exactly enamoured me, such as The Body Shop, which piled in on JK Rowling. I’m just one person, but one person can quickly add up. It was notable that an advert on “toxic masculinity” by Gillette coincided with P&G’s $8 billion non-cash writedown.
In the future I suspect that some of the answer to cancel culture will be more organisations, such as the Free Speech Union and Counterweight, the latter of which offers “information, advice and support with dealing with Critical Social Justice (CSJ) ideology”, to deal with corporate politics, attacks on free speech and otherwise. What some of these unions have woken up to is that you actually have to be fairly proactive in fighting the perpetually “offended”, who are pretty organised.
In the meantime it seems to me that “people power”, as Emily Carver has recently written for ConservativeHome, will have the most sizeable impact on how organisations act. It was interesting to see the positive reaction to the Co-op, which was one of the few companies to stand by its decision to advertise with GB News, on social media. But this wasn’t completely out of the blue, as it had previously tried to stop funding with The Spectator, which did not end particularly well (read more here). That Co-op now takes such a brave stand suggests there’s truth to the expression “go woke, go broke”. It doesn’t hurt anyone to remember that only the customer can cancel in the end.