Sleeping Giants Has Its Eyes On Breitbart

by Elizabeth Strassner
Mario Tama/Getty Images News/Getty Images

'Trump succeeded because of Breitbart," declared Vanity Fair reporter Ken Stern in a late-November account of what he called the "right-wing media vortex." Throughout the election, Breitbart, a conservative news site, attracted a new level of national attention. Before Trump entered the race, the discussions around Breitbart largely centered on its often-controversial — and sometimes factually disputed — content. In 2016, for example, Breitbart writer Patrick Howley claimed that the Obama administration "was actively supporting Al Qaeda in Iraq," a claim debunked by PolitiFact but shared by Donald Trump on his Facebook page, which has millions of followers. However, when Breitbart's head, Steve Bannon, became an official part of the Trump campaign (and now is a member of the White House), the site has received more attention and scrutiny.

Some of Breitbart's content has been called "despicable," but that doesn't seem to be stopping its millions of monthly visitors, according to tracking by Alexa. With articles like "There's No Hiring Bias Against Women in Tech, They Just Suck at Interviews," "Birth Control Makes Women Unattractive and Crazy," and, recently, "How Many People Do You Have to Kill to Get Involved with the Women's March,?" not everyone is pleased with Breitbart's success — and an anonymous group on Twitter is fighting back.

Twitter account Sleeping Giants, whose creators spoke with Bustle on condition of anonymity, has spent the last several months calling out Breitbart's advertisers in an attempt to persuade them to remove their ads — and their dollars — from the site.

Since its inception in November 2016, Sleeping Giants has grown with remarkable speed. "People are frustrated right now and ready to pour themselves into something," the Giants' creators tell Bustle. "We've all filled out zillions of petitions, including our own, without ever seeing the results. This gives [other Twitter users] results quickly and they can do it from anywhere."

"Right now, Breitbart is one of the biggest purveyors of bigotry on the internet, posting articles that regularly race-bait and incite their followers to denigrate minorities, women and the LGBT community," its creators tell Bustle. "We don't think this should be a profitable venture."

"[Breitbart] can and should be able to print whatever they want... We just don't think companies should unwittingly have to pay for it.""

Sleeping Giants' model is simple, and by definition, anyone with a Twitter account can participate. Would-be participants open Breitbart to view ads (and, therefore, advertisers), screenshot the ad placement, and call the ad to the brand's attention on Twitter, tagging the official Giants Twitter account (@slpng_giants) in the process.

The thought process behind this methodology, according to the Sleeping Giants' FAQ, is an assumption that many advertisers use programmatic advertising, a technology that places ads for a company based on a user's browser history. This means that many advertisers might not have known that their ads were displayed on Breitbart — and Sleeping Giants aims to notify them.

Nearly 80,000 Twitter users have followed the Giants Twitter account, and the Sleeping Giants feed is a litany of retweeted posts from concerned users calling out Breitbart advertisers. An astounding 1,736 advertisers have dropped Breitbart as of this writing, according to a public list the Sleeping Giants group maintains. The list includes major companies like Visa, Chase, BMW, and Audi.

"[Programmatic ads] can end up anywhere on the Internet," the Giants' creators tell Bustle. "So when we let them know they're on a site next to an article proclaiming the "glorious heritage" of the Confederate flag, they're more than happy to be able to remove themselves from that situation."

The Sleeping Giants network now also includes a European Union affiliate, a Canadian affiliate, and other international allies. The American team doesn't run the other accounts, but tells Bustle, "we talk often."

Despite its success persuading advertisers to move their dollars elsewhere, Sleeping Giants does not believe it will be able to bring down Breitbart alone. "We think that most [advertisers], if they haven't already, will choose not to advertise next to content that denigrates others," they tell Bustle. "That said, we think [Breitbart will] be able to function without advertising." This is because Breitbart is, at least in part, privately funded by billionaire hedge fund manager Robert Mercer and his daughter Rebekah.

But the ultimate downfall of Breitbart isn't exactly what the Sleeping Giants are aiming for, anyway. Instead, they want to fight back against a programmatic advertising structure that causes brands to unknowingly advertise on controversial websites. "[Breitbart] can and should be able to print whatever they want," the Sleeping Giants creators tell Bustle. "We just don't think companies should unwittingly have to pay for it."