Breitbart Snowflakes Threaten To Sue People Who Have Asked Advertisers To Stop Advertising On Breitbart

from the free-speech-hypocrites dept

Earlier this year, we wrote a story about the boutique law firm Clare Locke that appeared to specialize in intimidating news orgs with legal threats to try to get them to kill stories. One of the firm's partner, Elizabeth Locke, flat out says that she thinks there's too much press freedom:

"... the pendulum has swung too far in the direction of freedom of the press."

As we pointed out in that article, if you're a journalist hiring such a firm -- and a bunch of the #MeToo journalists have done so -- to try to stifle stories from other publications, it would suggest you're an incredible hypocrite. Journalists thrive on the First Amendment. If you're a journalist threatening to stifle others' free speech, you're a hypocrite.

Enter Breitbart. Because, of course it would be Breitbart. According to a Daily Beast article, Breitbart has hired Clare Locke to threaten a group of people who have been advocating for advertisers to drop their ads from Breitbart. I should say up front, that I think all of these attempts to push advertisers to drop ads is actually pretty silly. It's mostly symbolic and rarely has a real economic impact. It's just a silly game of tit for tat.

But, according to the letter written by Clare Locke's other partner, Thomas Clare, asking advertisers to stop advertising could be "unfair, fraudulent and deceptive." From the letter:

I write on behalf of my client, Breitbart News Network, LLC. As you of course know, Breitbart has been the target of a months-long smear campaign by the online activist group “Sleeping Giants.” It has recently been revealed that you are a founder and leader of this group. My client is considering potential legal action against you, and we therefore demand that you preserve and retain certain documents in your possession that may be relevant to potential civil claims.

These include potential claims concerning unfair, fraudulent, and deceptive practices intended to cause Breitbart economic harm. We believe that Sleeping Giants has sought to deceive the public and, in particular, purchasers of online advertising, by making false, deceptive, and disparaging claims about Breitbart and the news content it publishes — including, among other things, accusing Breitbart of distributing “anti-Semitic” propaganda, of promoting “white supremacy,” and of being a “neo-Nazi propaganda” website. Sleeping Giants has directed these and similar deceptive and misleading statements to companies that purportedly purchase advertisements appearing on Breitbart’s website — and has encouraged its members and others to do the same — in an effort to drive advertising revenue away from Breitbart, and to solicit donations and sell Sleeping Giants’ branded merchandise.

The letter goes on to angrily deny that it is any of those things (while also plugging the fact that the White House Chief of Staff reads it). It then goes on to concoct quite a fascinating conspiracy theory, arguing that "Sleeping Giants" is really designed for "commercial interests" because many of its founders apparently work in the ad tech business. How that creates any commercial advantage isn't exactly clear at all. It just implies that this somehow is a fraudulent practice.

Although, as stated above, the group and its organizers have long attempted to conduct these tortious actions behind a veil of anonymity, a recently-published article identified you, Matt Rivitz, as the founder of Sleeping Giants and the acknowledged proprietor of its social media accounts. That same article noted that you have long worked in online marketing and advertising. Notably, after your identity was involuntarily disclosed through investigative reporting, you claimed that you hid your identity and role with Sleeping Giants as an act of humility in order to “keep this about the mission rather than the individuals involved.” But your past, conflicting explanations for hiding your identity tell a different story. For example, in January 2017, an individual identified only as a Sleeping Giants “founder” — who cited biographical details specific to you — told the New York Times that Sleeping Giants was conducting its campaign targeting Breitbart’s advertisers anonymously because “some members of the group work in the digital-media industry.” Similarly, in March 2018, a Sleeping Giants “spokesman” acknowledged to GQ that “the people behind Sleeping Giants” elected to remain anonymous because they “work in marketing-related fields” and their targeting of online advertisers “might be perceived as creating some kind of conflict of interest.” These frank admissions, made at a time when you and your supporters in the ad tech world expected their identities to remain a secret, are extremely revealing and hint at a hidden and improper commercial motivation behind Sleeping Giants’ deceptive practices targeting Breitbart. It appears that the reason you and your backers did not want their identities known was because it would have revealed their shared economic interests and deceptive practices.

These unfair, fraudulent, and deceptive practices may give rise to civil liability both for you and the members of the online advertising and ad tech worlds that you coordinated with. These potential claims include, but certainly are not limited to, claims relating to violation of California’s Unfair Competition Law (Business and Professions Code Sections 17200, et seq.), fraud, violation of the Lanham Act, tortious interference with contract, and tortious interference with prospective economic advantage.

I'm trying to figure out what exactly the "shared economic interests" are in getting companies to stop advertising on a site? It seems that a much more logical (and obvious) explanation for why the Sleeping Giants folks wanted to remain anonymous was because working for an ad tech company while supporting advertising boycotts actually goes against their economic interests, and might make their own employers kinda pissed off. But, this letter assumes the exact opposite, without any actual explanation.

It then asks Rivitz to preserve all sorts of stuff, including communications with an insanely long list of individuals, organizations and companies -- including a bunch of Breitbart critics.

This seems like a pretty blatant intimidation tactic. And while the letter, hilariously, claims that this threat is really "about Sleeping Giants’ desire to stifle speech that does not adhere to its narrow liberal politics," it's hard to see how you can claim that when the whole point of the letter appears to be to stifle the speech of people asking for advertising boycotts.

And, of course, asking for advertising boycotts is pretty common on both sides of the traditional political divide. In fact, it's not difficult at all to find a whole host of Breitbart articles happily reporting on campaigns to pull ads from news orgs deemed "liberal." Separately, I'll note that it's fascinating to see a subtle shift in tone when Breitbart reports on similar campaigns targeted at Breitbart allies. Those stories suddenly talk about "liberal outrage," "liberal fascism," and "corporate warfare attacks from the left." Oddly, those earlier stories about removing ads from CNN, MSNBC, TBS and NBC don't have any of that kind of language. Indeed, they seem to focus on whatever "outrageous" thing done on those stations that lead to pressure to remove ads. Must be a coincidence, huh?

So, to be clear: ad boycotts are overrated, but if people want to do them, it is their First Amendment protected speech to call for such boycotts, no matter what the reason, no matter what their politics and no matter how silly. Threatening those who exercise their First Amendment speech in such a way with a lawsuit, however, is not supporting free speech. It is bullying censorial intimidation tactics, and Breitbart should be ashamed (if such a thing were possible). The site regularly likes to whine about liberals and universities stifling free speech, but apparently has no problem at all trying to stifle the speech of people who ask its own advertisers to stop advertising on the platform.

Either way, all this red team, blue team bullshit is getting pretty annoying. Silly people who identify as either left or right wing (which is a stupid designation anyway) will do stupid things. And silly people on the other side will generalize and stereotype based on those things, while doing the exact same things themselves. But, seriously, stop freaking out about one "side" doing the exact same thing your side is doing and then coming up with all sorts of silly rationalizations for why it's okay when your side does it, but a horrific violation of the law when the other side does it.

Filed Under: advertising, boycotts, chilling effects, first amendment, free speech, intimidation, sleeping giants, threats
Companies: breitbart, clare locke


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  1. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 26 Oct 2018 @ 2:35pm

    Re: Re: Re: comment section apparently doesn't like the underscore in th

    I don't click on links where I don't know where they go because I have heard (not experienced for the above reason) too many stories about how someone said 'this is a link for this' and it turned out to be a link for something else. Sometimes disgusting, sometimes dangerous, sometimes what they said.

    And sometimes it's Rick Astley.


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