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Rush Limbaugh is paying the price for his latest misogynistic comment. In today's social-media world, where everything is on immediate public display, advertisers are fleeing his show.
Limbaugh has made racist, homophobic and anti-women comments before without major repercussions. But this time, after he called Georgetown University student Sandra Fluke a "slut" and a "prostitute" for advocating for women's reproductive rights, the public outcry has been immediate and intense, thanks to Facebook and Twitter. He apologized, but the damage has been done, as eight major advertisers have pulled the plug. These include: Quicken Loans, Sleep Train, Sleep Number, Citrix Systems, Carbonite, LegalZoom, ProFlowers and, most recently, AOL.
Social Media: Viral & Unforgiving
Similar to our recent news analysis of Lowe's Muslim publicity gaffe, Limbaugh's repercussions all too clearly showcase the unforgiving nature of social media. Social media has evolved in the last few years from an online networking tool to a powerful medium for the viral spread of information, especially corporate and political publicity gaffes.
Social-media users were quick to lobby Limbaugh's advertisers to pull advertising from the show. A real-time Twitter report shows that Quicken loans received approximately 1,500 tweets and LegalZoom received more than 1,200 tweets within 24 hours, while Facebook had two anti-Limbaugh pages by Saturday with more than 18,000 and 6,000 likes. Additionally, the petition posted on Left Action website's Boycott Rush page had almost 50,000 signatures within 24 hours.
What's essential these days is speed of reaction. If someone offends or states something not in line with corporate values, a response must be immediate. Limbaugh's delayed apology on Saturday (three days after the incident and two days after Fluke's response on Thursday) did little to quell the viral backlash. ProFlowers said Sunday on its Facebook page that Limbaugh's remarks "went beyond political discourse to a personal attack and do not reflect our values as a company."
The radio host has a long history of inappropriate and controversial comments, which can easily be found with a simple Google search. But this is the first time advertisers have deserted him in droves. Here's a short example of some of his past remarks:
- [Secretary of State Hillary Clinton] once tried to join the Marines … They didn't have uniforms or boots big enough to fit that butt and those ankles. (Sept. 23, 2009)
- Obama's got a healthcare logo that's right out of Adolf Hitler's playbook ... Adolf Hitler, like Barack Obama, also ruled by dictate. (Aug. 6, 2009)
- Feminism was established to allow unattractive women easier access to the mainstream. (April 10, 2009)
- Look, let me put it to you this way: the NFL all too often looks like a game between the Bloods and the Crips without any weapons. There, I said it. (Jan. 19, 2007)
A Lesson in Corporate Values
Limbaugh is neither the first nor the last to experience the repercussions of today's instant-feedback social media. Here are some of our related examples:
Asian basketball star Jeremy Lin has become the subject of jokes and racist comments. What can you do to prevent stereotyping in your organization?
The nonprofit organization's board of directors is mostly Texan, homogeneous and wealthy. Here's how the lack of diversity fueled its misstep over funding to Planned Parenthood.
Dr. Claude Steele, educator and expert on stereotypes, gives advice on the dangers of these kinds of misstatements, their impact on the workplace and how to handle them.
ABC's comedy "Work It" has offended Latinos, LGBT people, TV critics and viewers. How can a company use its employee-resource groups, diversity councils and clarity of values to prevent multicultural missteps?
Are you violating your values? If you are, you can't hide from the repercussions.
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