The hashtags #BoycottPepsi and #BoycottWalmart were trending on Twitter on Tuesday morning – and for very different reasons. The calls for boycott of the largest retailer in the world came after Quebec announced that shoppers without proof of vaccination would be required to go to their pharmacy in Quebec. Soft drink manufacturer was also named after being listed in a report as having donated to Texas Republican Party.
Social media has made it easier to call for boycotts, although their effectiveness is certainly questionable. After Starbucks announced that it wouldn’t require 228,000 of its employees to get vaccinated against Covid-19 this week, #BoycottStarbucks became a trending topic. However, it did not seem to have any significant impact on Starbucks.
Jason Mollica from the American University’s school of communication said, “It is easy to get lost in the minutiae of social media.” People have many complaints and share their grievances on social networks. It happens with politics as well as sports and entertainment. There have been calls for boycotts of films because fans don’t like certain casting choices or the ending. “Boycotts are part of the common noise.”
Boycotts: The History
A boycott is a practice that has existed long before it was popularized. One of the most notable boycotts was the American one against British goods before the American Revolution.
But the term actually entered English language during the Irish Land Wars in the 19th Century. It was named after Captain Charles Boycott (an agent of an absentee landlord). Boycott tried to expel tenants after a poor harvest in 1880, but was attacked by protestors and social ostracism. His business was not open to anyone, nor would they do business with him. Even postmen were unable to deliver the mail. To harvest his crops, he had to employ workers from other counties. Yet, all of this took place. Long before the era of social media, the story went “viral” – and was picked up by distant newspapers including the New York TribuneThis was the first time that organized isolation was called a “boycott”.
There were many notable boycotts in the decades and a half following the Soviet boycott of 1984 Summer Olympics, Moscow by the United States, as well as the Soviet-led boycott at Los Angeles of 1984 Summer Olympics, Los Angeles. Also, the call for investment in South Africa under apartheid was echoed.
#Boycotts to Lose Their Teeth
Although social media makes it much easier to organize boycotts of certain organizations, they can also be very counterproductive, as these calls are made so often.
Mollica stated that when people use social media to ask others to stop buying Starbucks or Pepsi from Walmart it can spark a movement. But it is impossible to quantify whether this makes a difference unless people stop buying those products. We see that even though these hashtags go viral, there’s not much to them.
There is just too much noise in social media. The next trend is quickly taking over hashtags for Boycott that receive thousands upon thousands of retweets.
Mollica acknowledged that these calls can be lost. There are plenty of cases where the use of social media has made boycotts work.
Last April saw one of the most prominent social media-driven protests. They were used not to encourage the boycott, but as the victims of the public outrage. In protest at the inaction on online abuse, British athletes, sports teams and other leading bodies declared that they would boycott Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter for three days.
Mollica added, “When you have so many clubs and athletes as well as high-profile brands taking part in it, it makes a huge difference.”
This explains also why unorganized and constant efforts tend to move so fast.
Mollica stated that “The #BoycottPepsi latest won’t move it too much.” It’s not going to work if the hashtags don’t belong in a bigger movement.