You know what I hate about politics (besides everything)? Instead of bringing people together like it’s supposed to, it drives them apart. The popularity of politically passionate pundits like Keith Olbermann, Al Franken and Glenn Beck have helped to polarize the community. On the one hand, if you support affirmative action, you’re a heartless communist scumbag who supports terrorism (conservative talk radio). On the other hand, if you’re a supporter of tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans, you are the devil incarnate and you live to crush the souls of the middle class (liberal talk radio). Sure, people hear what they want to hear – that their opinion is right and all others can pound sand – but it’s also going against what the government is actually trying (we hope) to do: unite people.
That’s why I couldn’t be happier about advertisers pulling their support for Rush Limbaugh’s talk show. The comments he made were inexcusable and his apology was at best a joke, but it once again sheds light on the issue of extremist media. Though he has a history of inflammatory statements, I believe this one will be the straw that breaks the fat man’s gut, and it’s all thanks to the power of social media.
There have been similar initiatives to oust a controversial political figure through social technology, but this incident could be a defining moment in discovering the strength and influence of this medium. Before social media, there wasn’t an effective way to display disappointment and anger towards a product, person or issue. Letter writing and phone call campaigns only do so much, especially when most calls go unanswered and the majority of letters are never opened. With social media, the receiver of these complaints has no way to filter them, other than to delete offending comments which will undoubtedly exacerbate the negative reaction. Several advertisers backed off Limbaugh’s show immediately after he made his comments about Sandra Fluke. It took a few others some time to react, and they are the ones that will be losing big. Following apologies from ProFlowers and Carbonite, both of which came after heavy criticism for not dumping Rush when others did, the two companies didn’t see the public outcry quieted. Even after they apologized, comment boards were still filled with users vowing to never work with these businesses again. For the remaining advertisers that have stayed on Limbaugh’s show, I can only imagine the public relations nightmare they’re dealing with, and will have to deal with for some time to come. This confirms that, today, corporations are relying more and more on social media to make decisions like pulling advertising or, in the case of Susan G. Komen a month ago, reversing course on a business strategy.
It’s my personal hope that social media users continue to use their power to quiet these extremist media personalities – both conservative and liberal. That’s not to say I don’t think political banter has a place in the world, but outright hateful statements have no place in what is supposed to be civil discourse.