How an Activist Group Turned to the Dark Side to Hit Breitbart Where It Hurts


Like the millions of Americans who watched in horror as a long, contentious, and bigotry-filled campaign season ended with Donald Trump winning his bid for the Oval Office, the group of friends behind Sleeping Giants were feeling, as one of them puts it, pretty “bummed out” in the weeks following Election Day 2016. But after it became clear that former Breitbart executive Steve Bannon would be appointed to a senior position in the Trump administration, they decided to respond by doing what everyone does when they spot something bad in the world: Start tweeting about it.

Relying on a combination of digital media savvy, Google research, and their intuition about major corporations’ fondness for being associated with stuff like this, the friends correctly guessed that “programmatic advertising” was responsible for many of the ads that appear on Breitbart. Rather than manually place digital ads, companies large and small will pay brokers—Google, Amazon, and the like—to place them all over the Internet, irrespective of the destination site’s content. Programmatic advertising is why, for example, a reader who scrolls to the bottom of a Breitbart article might come upon the smiling face of Bernie Sanders, urging them to sign on as a Medicare for All co-sponsor.

Brokers, however, also allow clients to place potential ad locations on a blacklist. All they have to do is ask. Armed with this information, Sleeping Giants began tweeting at companies’ official handles, notifying them of their perhaps-unwitting presence on Breitbart and offering to help fix it. When a community of like-minded users began following suit, Sleeping Giants authored a step-by-step guide to the process, pointedly reminding newbies to phrase their overtures in a “non-offensive” way. Many third-party tweets based on this template end with a cheerful, we’re-all-in-this-together refrain that has, as far as I can tell, developed organically: “@slpng_giants can help!”

My emphasis.  Follow the money is always an effective approach.