Matt Rivitz barely tweeted at all until one day when he was waiting for customer service at Ikea for two hours. The angry tweet he sent to the corporate Twitter handle changed everything.
“Someone’s back there,” he said on the latest episode of Recode Decode, hosted by Kara Swisher. “You can call somebody and talk to them about it, but Twitter’s a pretty public medium and if you ask a brand about something then they’re likely to get back because they want to address it. If you call someone or email, you might not hear back.”
Applying this lesson to something more important than cheap furniture, Rivitz started an account called Sleeping Giants, aimed at alerting advertisers whose ads were appearing on Breitbart. Today, the account has nearly 200,000 followers and has convinced more than 4,000 companies to take their ads off that site; it has also led campaigns aimed at Fox News, Laura Ingraham and Robert Mercer, but Rivitz says it’s not about politics — it’s about bigotry and hate speech.
“A lot of the Breitbarts of the world, they can claim that they’re being silenced because they’re on the right,” he said. “But they’re being thrown off a lot of these platforms because they’re being super racist. To me, if they want to conflate those two things, then let them do that.”
You can listen to Recode Decode wherever you get your podcasts, including Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Podcasts, Pocket Casts and Overcast. Below, we’ve shared a lightly edited transcript of Kara’s full conversation with Matt.
Kara Swisher: Today in the red chair is Matt Rivitz, the founder of Sleeping Giants. For a long time he was one of the anonymous writers behind a very popular Twitter account that urged boycotts of Breitbart advertisers, but since July, he’s been out in the open and he’s here talking to us. Matt, welcome to Recode Decode.
Matt Rivitz: It’s great to be here.
I am so excited. You know, I follow you on Twitter. It’s so interesting how many relationships I have on Twitter that aren’t real. Now to see you, it’s great.
But I want to go through the history of this, because I’ve been really interested in people using Twitter or other mediums. We recently had Jen Gunter on talking about what she did to Goop. She’s a doctor and had real impact, has had real impact speaking from her thing. Twitter has been used many times to do this but you guys have definitely used the medium to do something. Give the background. Tell what you do and what Sleeping Giants is.
Sleeping Giants started just after the 2016 election. It really started because of my white-hot hatred for Steve Bannon.
Mm-hmm. Okay. Where did that come from? I mean, I get it. Please, you don’t have to explain it to me.
I grew up learning from my parents and learning from the community that I was in ... that hatred is bad. Certainly, I grew up learning a lot about the Holocaust and I learned about slavery. My parents gave me a good, healthy dose of that growing up. It wasn’t super-light dinner discussion but it was enough that it seeped in to my ...
Yeah, it was enough. Where did you grow up?
In Baltimore, Maryland.
In Baltimore, Maryland. Okay.
I couldn’t believe that Steve Bannon had elevated to this position. I hadn’t heard about him before and I was reading about him. I couldn’t believe that someone that was whipping up people into a frenzy about ethnic groups could achieve this high level of notoriety or profiling as having ...
Right next to the president.
And what were you doing? What was your job? You’re just a citizen.
I’m a copywriter.
Copywriter for? At?
I’ve been writing ads. I’m a freelance copywriter. I’ve been writing ads for 25 years. Being in the business, you learn ... with your ad dollars, you support different things. It used to be that you would buy a TV spot and I would go make it and it would end up on air on a certain show. That’s all it was.
So you were using your copy to persuade, to sell things or whatever.
Yeah. I’m more on the sort of the brand side. I do ...
What’s your best line in copy?
Oh, God, I can’t even remember. I’ve done so much.
Like what? Give me an example.
Yeah, but I’ll do campaigns for, I did a campaign for Dodge. I’ve worked on so many different ones.
What about political ones? Had you worked on those?
Zero, that’s amazing.
None. Yeah, I’m not interested in that stuff, to be honest. That part is a totally different business than I’ve been in.
And you’ve been living in San Francisco?
Yeah, doing this. So you start reading up on Bannon. You’re disgusted by him.
Right. And I hadn’t heard about Breitbart at all. I think that’s part of the issue. I’d heard a little bit about it coming into the election, but I didn’t know what they were all about. I’m a curious guy so I went on to look at Breitbart and there’s a “black crime” section that I’m staring at and there’s a “birth control makes women unattractive” article. “There’s no hiring bias against women in tech, they just suck at interviews.” These are real headlines.
That blew my mind. I couldn’t believe that this was on a website that was being read by all these people. The comment sections below it were even worse. Some of the stuff was really violent and really terrible and it was all new to me.
So you plunge right in there. You plunged right into that cesspool.
Right. And being in the business, I just didn’t know, I couldn’t believe that any advertisers would support this kind of stuff because you send your money off to the New York Times or Washington Post or whatever and they run your ad and they take your money. That’s how they go into business.
Yeah. Right, right. And you want to place it somewhere.
My next logical step was, being in advertising, who is supporting it? Who is sending ads over to Breitbart? Who’s trafficking their ads at Breitbart? It turns out that Google and Facebook and a lot of programmatic companies were running ads on there.
The first advertiser that I saw was SoFi, which is a mortgage lending company in San Francisco and they’re pretty well-known. They were pretty progressive. I just couldn’t believe that they were supporting that. So I set up this anonymous Twitter handle. I got an anonymous ...
Why? Explain what was the idea behind the name? People really want to understand.
I literally, I have no idea. It sounded kind of badass to me or something.
You didn’t go, “Who’s sleeping?” It sounds like a band.
It sounds like a ...
I’m a writer so this stuff comes out of my head somewhere.
Come on, where did it come from? You just said, “Sleeping Giants it is.”
Yeah, it just sounded like ... to me I just wanted it to be ...
I mean why wasn’t it like Angry Persimmons, I don’t know.
I don’t know. I don’t have an answer other than I thought it sounded cool. It sounded like there are a bunch of people ... It was just me at first, so I wanted to seem bigger.
Right, okay bigger. Okay bigger.
I had a vision.
And why sleeping? Come on.
Well, because you awaken sleeping giants and they want to do something about it.
Oh right, okay. Got it, okay, “don’t awaken sleeping giants.” Got it, okay.
Yeah, exactly. So that’s where it came from. That thing just came out. Usually it takes me a really long time to think of stuff. That thing was burst very quickly. I just put the name out there. I wanted to seem sort of bigger ...
You’re a group.
Because I was going be talking to big advertisers. I wanted to seem significant even though there was two followers.
Right, right, big. So why Twitter?
Well, and we’ll get to this later, I’m sure. I had heard from a friend that if you ever have a problem with an airline and you’re waiting ...
Yeah, they respond.
... on the ground then there’s someone behind the Twitter handle that’s going to answer you. I happened to be at Ikea with my wife waiting for a dresser to come out or something. It took two hours and no one was back behind the counter for me to talk to, so I hit them up on Twitter. And it was one of 10 tweets I sent in my entire life. They got back right away. “How can we help?” And I said, “Well, maybe you can tell the people behind the counter to bring out my dresser. I just want to get out of here.”
So you didn’t partake of the Swedish meatballs. That’s what they were trying to get you to do.
I was not. Those Daims, those chocolate Daims are pretty good. But the meatballs, I don’t do any of that.
They were trying to do that. You know that’s the goal, is the Swedish meatballs, lingonberry sauce.
Yeah. It didn’t totally help us get the thing in time.
But you felt better.
But I felt better because I could yell at somebody.
I don’t want to even get into why you want a dresser from Ikea, but let’s move on.
Yeah, it’s a long story. Anyway, I tweeted that out. They got back. Then so I just remembered that ...
You went, “Aha!”
Someone’s back there. You can call somebody and talk to them about it, but Twitter’s a pretty public medium and if you ask a brand about something then they’re likely to get back because they want to address it. If you call someone or email, you might not hear back.
So I took a screenshot of SoFi’s ad and tweeted it to the CEO and tweeted it to their corporate handle.
Mm-hmm. And what did you say?
I said, “Hey, do you know that your ad is running on Breitbart News next to this article?” And at the time, I had found some terrible stock art to put on there and something that kind of resembled the logo and it really bothered me because I like design, but it was there.
Yeah. So it was your Sleeping Giant’s thing, which now is quite lovely.
It just had ... We have a great designer doing it who’s been incredible, but that’s a story for another time. They got back half an hour later and the CEO said, “I had no idea we were even on there.”
It was on Twitter. “I had no idea I was on there.” I couldn’t believe that he didn’t know he was on there.
I do not come from the world of tech at all. I’ve worked on tech brands occasionally but I didn’t understand it. I called a couple friends. I was like, “How does he not know?” It was explained to me it’s the programmatic advertising and that you just send your, you traffic ...
What you want. The people you want and you go for it. Right.
Right. You traffic your ads. It’s not like TV where you buy up a time where your TV spot’s gonna run. You just send it off and it’s trafficked through Google and Facebook and a couple other companies and they run it wherever there’s space and wherever their market is.
That made zero sense to me because I spent my life in research and crafting every single word of a TV spot to make sure that nothing was mistaken for something else. I was really careful. To me, I couldn’t believe that they would take those executions that we’d worked on, those ads, and send it off to a place where they could run next to a terrible article like that.
That’s how it started. Now we’re sitting on over 4,000 advertisers that have removed themselves from Breitbart.
From Breitbart. So you went individually to each of them? You were doing this by yourself?
I was doing this by myself for a couple weeks.
So you had one success. Your first thing is a kill and very quickly.
Couple weeks. Yeah. It was really satisfying, right? I had signed so many petitions leading up to the ...
Mm-hmm. So you did something.
... to the election feeling like I had to do something and nothing ever happened, of course. Not to say that those are bad. I’m a results-driven person.
SoFi came off of Breitbart.
Yeah. That ad came down and then another one popped up. I think it was for Warby Parker which also didn’t make any sense at all.
Yeah, those guys. Man.
So, tweeted at them.
Couldn’t be more hipster. Brooklyn.
Yeah and right away, they hit the panic button. They were like, “Wow. We’re gonna blacklist that. We know how to do that.” Okay. So a week goes by ...
So you’re doing the low-hanging hipster fruit first.
Yeah, that’s easy. Those are easy, yeah.
They’re like, “Oh no.”
Yeah. Then I found an article. There are people that were hitting me up a little bit and then I had sent, after five or 10 advertisers, I sent it to a couple people I knew that had a decent following and then they sent people over. All of a sudden I had 100 people, 200 people.
Then I read an article by this woman Nandini Jammi. She is also a writer. She was talking about the same kind of things that I was and so I reached out to her and I said, “Hey, do you want to join forces? Do you want come and do this with me?” And she said, “Yes,” which was really lucky. So she’s been helping for a long time. Not even just helping but really helping craft the ...
Corral, right, because you have to start to get organized.
And with all decisions and everything, she’s been an integral part of things. Then the following just kept growing. Then I was like, “Man, I’m tired of doing this by myself. This is like throwing pebbles into the ocean.”
So how many advertisers did you get off of Breitbart? Did you say 400?
4,000 now. Yeah.
But where the gasoline got poured on, I realized if I’ve got all these people following, why aren’t they doing something, too? So I put a set of instructions on the pinned tweet. I didn’t even know there was a “pin tweet” at the time. Someone had to explain it to me. I put it up at the top of the page.
It was a pinned tweet.
Yeah. And then all of a sudden — and I’d put in real clear instructions. You can still see it.
Is it still pinned?
Because I think I did it on the Notes app so you still see that under the Twitter handle where I asked to tag Sleeping Giants. It’s S-L-P-N-G and it has a little, “you’ve got to correct that.” It’s not spelled correctly. So it’s still there.
Yeah. So you put in instructions to get everyone else to do it, right?
And that lit a huge fire. Everyone felt that same ...
“I can do something.”
“I can do something and I see a result at the end.” I would do these confirmed tweets and then ...
Confirmed, what do you mean? Explain that.
Confirmed that a company —
I know what you mean, but, okay.
Yeah, so I would say, “Okay. Confirmed, SoFi has removed themselves from Breitbart.”
Right. And they would tell you. These companies would tell you?
Yeah. They would tell you very publicly because they don’t want to be associated with it at all, or the majority of them. The vast majority of them, other than maybe three of them.
I want to hear about that in a little bit.
So you get all these people to do it and then you and so on and so forth.
And then they started coming off by the tens and then hundreds and then thousands. Breitbart is really the test case, right? It’s a much bigger problem than Breitbart. These companies are helping monetize sites like that. It encourages them to get more clicks.
They sure are. Right.
And to get more outrage and to whip everyone into a frenzy. So they get more clicks and more eyeballs and more dollars. That is not a good cycle to be in.
So you got more writers to participate in it, correct?
There are other people doing more ancillary jobs on it and then there are people that are doing other projects on it. That’s what’s been ...
We’re going to get into that in a little bit, but so you have all these ... Breitbart was your first aim, essentially.
So how many followers do you have now?
On Twitter, we’re aiming for almost at 200,000. On Facebook I think we’ve got 70 or maybe even 80,000.
So you’re doing the same. It’s going on to Facebook.
Yeah, and Facebook is run, it sort of follows ... we follow each other. The same messages that are going on on Facebook are on Twitter.
Are doing the same thing. You’re like the Russians but for ...
Yeah, I guess.
You’re essentially doing what the Russians did, but not fake ads. So what was the reaction from Breitbart?
We didn’t really get a reaction for a long time. I don’t think they wanted anyone to really know about it.
And I don’t blame them. What really happened, though, is the biggest moment I think when we knew that we were on to something much bigger was when Kellogg’s decided to back out of Breitbart and they did it very publicly. They said, “We don’t want to support this stuff.” They’re a company like any other. They need to appeal to as many people as possible, so to sponsor a website that denigrates women and minorities and immigrants, they weren’t down with that.
They weren’t down with that. So who wouldn’t do it? Who didn’t respond?
There are only a handful. There have been a couple big brands that didn’t publicly tell anyone but they kind of disappeared, and you can tell.
I see. Yeah. They’re not on it.
I think initially, there were a couple big brands that said, “Hey, we’re not going to fall victim to some internet mob.”
Right. I want to get into internet mobs in the next session.
Yeah. There are positive ways to do that and negative ways to do that. This thing now is as big as it is, it’s got some power to it unexpectedly. You need to use that in a good way rather than a bad way.
All right. Matt, we’re gonna talk more about that because I do want hear about internet mobs because people have different opinions. I’m of the mind that some of them are great. Some of them fine and and people don’t.
Yeah, okay. Hopefully ours.
And some of them aren’t, but to focus on the ones that aren’t are too heavy.
What I like about it is you’re sort of unapologetic in how you do your messages. They’re pretty clear. I want to talk about the mobs in a second, but how much pushback do you get from ... because there are mobs, people on the other side who are quite good, and many bots, many angry people. Talk about that a little bit. What was the reaction from that side when you went after Breitbart, which is in the right-wing sector.
Right. It certainly is, but it was never about politics.
Right, well, explain that, because most people think you’re liberal.
Which you are, I think.
Yeah. I’ve voted Democratic before, but I’ve also not been really that politically active in the past at all. Again, I have a massive bone to pick with anyone that’s going to espouse bigotry, so that’s where this started.
Right. You’re not going to get any argument from me on Steve Bannon, but go ahead. What was the pushback? What kind of pushback? From the right.
Yeah. From the right, too.
Well, initially Breitbart.
And their supporters and people who don’t like us.
Initially, when the big brands started coming down from Breitbart, that’s when they didn’t like when Kellogg’s decided not to run ads with them. And they weren’t probably making a whole lot of money off of it. But just the point of it, I think they didn’t like.
No. It’s a bad trend line.
It is. And it was ... They did us a massive favor by then, doing a counter-boycott on Kellogg’s, which, of course, doesn’t last for more than a day. But they were advertising Breitbart as an advertising solution right over an ad saying, “Boycott Kellogg’s.”
So, if you’re an advertiser, you don’t want to be anywhere near that. So, they did us a big favor with that.
Right. And so, you went from Breitbart, and then where did you go next? Talk to me about your day. How do you manage it now?
My day is bananas. I don’t. I am so ADD that I just ... I’ll tweet. I’ll post some stuff. I’ll talk to some people on the phone. I got to do my job. I’m really determined not to take any money to do this other than from the people that support it, and unless they are very down the middle. I just don’t. I don’t want it to look like we’re favoring one thing over another. And so, and we don’t.
So, what have you supported that’s on there like if you’re in middle, that kind of thing?
I mean, what else have you gone after? What happened after that?
Well, we really follow the community and what people ask us to do, and we take it. We don’t do everything. We’re pretty picky, and we don’t want to just continue to feed the outrage. It’s dangerous to do that, and we want to be smart about how we do it. But the Bill O’Reilly thing came up, and that was really clear.
Oh, so explain that for people who don’t know.
So, Bill O’Reilly. A New York Times article came out that he had settled sexual harassment suits, and Fox News had settled sexual harassment suits for millions and millions and millions of dollars. And they kept him on the air.
Right. Because he “didn’t really do it” but go ahead.
Yeah. Of course, he still maintains that that didn’t happen.
But it’s hard to argue with that, and there are a lot of people in our community, and we were fairly big at that point, maybe under 100,000, but still a lot of people that were clamoring. They said, “Hey, there’s no greater example of bigotry than sexual harassment in the workplace.”
That’s why this stuff exists. And so, we put a poll out, “Does everyone think this is on message, and something that we should do, or should we just hang with what we’ve been doing?” And it was an overwhelming, like 94 percent of people that responded said, “This is bad news, and it’s really bad for a network to support this stuff, especially when they’re running ads for female-centered products and services.”
Right. They are.
And so, that just didn’t make any sense, and again, I’m in advertising. I think maybe part of this thing is like penance for being in advertising for so long. I wanted them to support good things rather than people like that ...
That are obviously causing havoc in their workplace and limiting the prospects for women in that network and others.
So, we started. We made some facts about Bill O’Reilly. We did some banners and sent them out to these brands and said, “Hey. Here’s the millions of dollars you settled for. These are the things that he said in the past about women. How do you feel about supporting this?” And the vast majority, over time, said they didn’t, and they just needed the information. I mean, we really view this as like ...
They may have had the information. They just didn’t care about the information.
Yeah. Right. But it’s like, they need to know that people care about it, too. I mean, I think they know that ultimately, unless someone brings it up with them, they’re just going to probably kick the can down the road a little bit.
Keep on going. Right, right. So, you want to call attention to it. Like these big kind of things because it’ll start trickling down, presumably.
Right. Yeah. And you just want everyone to know what the line is, you know?
For a lot of people, that seems beyond the pale, and just to keep someone on the air like that, just while he limited the prospects of females that worked on his staff there.
So, how is using online tools different? I mean, there’s been so many boycotts and things like that on the other side. I remember Anita Bryant, if you remember, with the orange juice thing when she was ...
I don’t really remember that that much.
Well, you’re too young. But Anita Bryant was a spokesperson for orange juice or essentially all of orange juice, and she ... It was, “Drink some Florida sunshine.” I have this memory in my head. She would have this happy family, and they’d be drinking Florida sunshine. She started to say some really anti-gay things in the, oh, God, it must be the ’70s or the ’80s. And really terrible anti-gay things. And the gay community, it’s the first time they actually rose up publicly and started boycotting orange juice and would pour it out at bars and stuff like that.
It wasn’t an online thing, but it certainly was viral, in really interesting ways. And then, they ultimately parted ways with her, so it’d removed someone in that way. And these things have been going on, these efforts, these grassroots efforts.
Yeah, yeah. And it can sway. It can be in good faith or bad faith, for sure.
Right. How does that change from your perspective? Because here you are on Twitter with one handle, and you’ve got people that do it. How do you look at the mediums?
Well, first off, we’ve never called for any boycotts. I just think companies need to know how people feel, but it’s a personal decision whether you decide to buy something or not. There are great efforts online that deal with that, and we just don’t.
So, I think they can be really dangerous. I do. I think unless you do it the right way, and unless it’s in good faith and you’re asking someone to do the right thing, at least in my opinion.
Well, explain how you can do it badly because … So, there are good mobs and bad mobs, right? A lot of people who, a lot of pundits, they get attacked, and some of them they’re attacked terribly by these roving mobs, some of them violent, which nobody wants. Nobody, and it’s wrong. Other times, people write and say stupid things, and they get deservedly decried for it. And people move in mobs.
There was actually a really great article recently about good mobs and bad mobs. But in general, this obsession with — worries about — mobs is growing. So, talk about that because people could see you as a mob.
Yeah, for sure, and the one thing that we’ve been really clear with from the beginning is keep it polite. We’re asking people to do something. Let’s not demand that they do something, unless it’s pretty egregious. We save the super outrage for the big companies like Facebook and Google when they do ...
Yeah, you’re tough on them.
Yeah, yeah, and Twitter.
So, “keep it polite.” What does that mean?
Just again, it really came from the fact that in the beginning, we’re asking a company that doesn’t know where they are advertising to stop advertising there. And we’re just letting them know and hoping that they do that. And so, it went from, “Get your ads off Breitbart!” to, “Wait. You don’t know you’re there.”
“Here. We’re here to inform you.”
“We’re here to inform you, to let you know.” And so, it really sprang from that. And also, we’re kind of polite people. We’re not that angry, and ...
Right. Because outrage has sort of really gone out of control.
I think some of it’s manufactured.
It for sure is, and it also, again, it’s a negative feedback loop, that you get more outrage and more clicks and more money, and then you can sell more expired vitamins if that’s what you do. If you’re Alex Jones or someone like that.
So, you try to be polite but clever and pointed, presumably.
Yeah, yeah. And again, you want to be smart. You don’t want to have to go after everything. Some things are really done in bad faith. They’ll dig up something that someone said 3,000 years ago and when they were maybe a different person and really go after them. And go after their job. And in some respects, I understand that if someone holds some views about things that don’t seem right that you want to express your opinion on that, and that’s fine. But it does feel sometimes like things are incredibly coordinated, that on the same minute that everyone goes after something. Our things are a real slow burn, and we’ve only had three or four real, official actions.
So, O’Reilly, Breitbart ...
Yeah. Then, we kind of helped out with Laura Ingraham a bit because … in our estimation, she says really racist stuff.
She does indeed.
And going after a high school student is not something that we should maybe have in our media environment, and so that seemed kind of right. But that wasn’t really an official thing. That was kind of helping out.
And then, Robert Mercer. The thing that no one has really talked about, which I’m actually I’m most proud of this is that ... And who knows what the real-world implications were, but Robert Mercer has funded some incredibly racist things. And there were ... It came out in an article that there were 12, I think, well-known institutions that were investing in Renaissance Technologies, where he’s the co-CEO and chairman of the board. And so, we got the public — very public, we never publish anyone’s private stuff ever — but the public emails of the people on the board to ask them why they were invested. If you’re Columbia University or Michigan State, and your stated goal is to be inclusive of all races and creeds and religions ...
Why are you ...
Why are you supporting a man that is trying to tear that stuff down? And so, I mean, it was really surprising. It was three weeks later he stepped down from his co-CEO position, and he divested Breitbart to his daughter. But he had divested himself from Breitbart, and that was a big thing because it’s just responsibility.
Right. You’re linking people. You’re giving people information of the consequences of their actions.
Yeah, and walking it up the chain. If you speak with your money, don’t just say that you’re for equality and put that on your website. See it all the way through. See it through in your investments. See it through in your advertising. See it through in everything.
So, you have been aimed at the right, though. How do you escape that idea that you’re a liberal? A bunch of liberal rabble-rousers?
I mean, you can’t escape how people are going to feel about it. To me, if there’s a really super-bigoted thing that a website that’s on the left goes after, I’m really critical of — not to say it’s liberal or it’s right or left — but I’m really critical of what CBS is doing with Les Moonves right now. That article came out, and it’s very clear that he was sexually harassing women.
There’s some trouble, yeah.
Why is it taking so long? What’s the deal? And so, to me, it’s like all that stuff all comes back to the same place. There, I think, that a lot of the Breitbarts of the world, they can claim that they’re being silenced because they’re on the right. But they’re being thrown off a lot of these platforms because they’re being super racist.
Right. Yeah, yeah, yeah.
To me, if they want to conflate those two things ...
Yeah. They do want to conflate them.
... then let them do that.
Yeah. It is really interesting. I actually wrote a column in the New York Times, and this one line came out what I said. “The people who complain most about having their First Amendment rights violated never shut up it,” it seems to me. Right?
There’s so many places for them to do it.
Yeah, and it’s a slippery slope, right?
You don’t want people to silence voices that are challenging the government or that ...
Right. But I think it’s ... You’re conflating also companies with the state, and I think Facebook can do whatever it wants, so can Twitter, too.
The free speech argument is a bad faith argument.
No, it’s, yeah.
These are private and publicly traded businesses. It has nothing to do with them.
We can get into it further, but they have terms of service that they should be following.
They should be or make them clear.
And they haven’t been doing that, and so that’s why we’re in where we are now.
So, talking about those attacks on Facebook and Twitter and others.
Yeah. So, you’ve recently been doing that.
Yeah. Well, I mean, it comes back to the original stated mission, right? They’ve left Breitbart on their ad network despite the fact that a lot of those articles and the comments below those articles that they leave up and don’t moderate break the terms of service of Google and Facebook. And so, they’re not only allowing it to happen, but they’re monetizing this. We all agree to those terms when we sign onto it, whether we’re going to run ads on our sites or we sign on to just post pictures of family and friends, we sign up for a set of rules.
An experience. And an experience.
And an experience, and we’re all expected to follow those things, and there are plenty of us that want to follow those every day and that want to use it in good faith. But they’ve been ignoring this for too long, and they’ve let ... for the sake of who knows?
For the sake of money, or for the sake of their ideals where they believe that a town square where everyone gets a voice is a good thing even if the voices that are harassing people are actually shutting down free speech. They have been ignoring it, and that’s my biggest beef.
So, explain your strategy of doing this, like just pointing it out, pointing it out.
Yeah. It’s pointing it out.
What do you expect to get? Because I don’t think they’ll do anything.
Are they the hardest? And tell me what your strategy is.
They’re starting to take some responsibility, but I don’t think they would take responsibility without ...
If they weren’t shamed.
... people bringing it up.
Yeah. No, I agree.
And I don’t like to think of us as a shaming organization. People have printed that before.
Yeah. I like to shame people.
And, yeah. I’m not down with that.
I just think, but you need to point it out, or nothing’s ever going to get done.
I don’t know about that. I think shame is actually a useful tool.
I use it a lot.
Well, maybe we’ll use that more.
I’ve written a lot of columns about it saying, “No. You can’t do this. No. You can’t do it. You’re doing it. You can’t do it.” And I think they pay attention, so that’s it. As long as they pay attention, and they hear you, and they’re slightly ashamed, I think it’s ... I don’t mean ... It’s not a shame in the way that you would, “Oh, you’re dressed like that. You’re a slut,” or something like that. It’s not the same thing. There’s a role for, “How are you, why are you doing this? And what are you doing?”
Right. Well, they can’t escape their business model, right?
Right. They cannot. They cannot.
It’s their business model to provide their stockholders with the maximum money they could possibly get and the highest stock price, is to get more eyeballs and more clicks and more people on their platforms. And to do that, outrage works, and racism works, and sexism works. It all works in their favor.
So you have to call them out on that. “You’re making money on the backs of immigrants that are trying to do their best in this country, and women that are trying to get ahead despite being kept down by the system. And the black community that are just trying to survive in the streets sometimes and don’t feel like they have the respect from the government.” And so, they’re making money off that, and that feels really wrong to me.
So, what is your goal with Facebook and Google?
I think continuing to point out the fact that they have rules, and they have terms of service that explicitly state that this kind of language should not be allowed on their site. And they’ve been doing backflips to avoid having to do anything.
Yes, they have.
My point and our whole point in this campaign is, be responsible. Be across the board. Don’t give special commutations for people that do bad things because you don’t feel like you want to look like you’re slanted.
Or not cleaning it up. Cleaning up.
Just have the rules. Give us all 10 strikes if you want, so we know what to expect, but be really clear and enforce them very clearly. If someone flags something ...
They try to hide those strikes. I know exactly how many strikes it is, but then they have a weird moving target thing.
They have a moving target.
I think they should just have ...
Just tell us all what it is.
It’s so confusing.
Tell us all what it is.
Even when it was explained to me, I was like, “That is confusing. Why don’t you just publicly say why you did it?” “We took it down for this reason.” Let everybody see it. But they’re like, “Well, they’ll try to game it,” and I’m like, “Well, so what?”
Yeah. It doesn’t matter.
It doesn’t. Then maybe they’ll behave if they know they’re close to being ...
And also, we’re ignoring the fact that they don’t really need to be held to any of this stuff. If Alex Jones, who harasses Sandy Hook parents, is on their platform, just like if he was doing that in an Arby’s, Arby’s is going to call the cops and get him out of there.
Right, right, right.
Just because ...
I was arguing this with someone last night, where I said they were like, “Alex Jones should be able to be on there.” I said, “Is Alex Jones in the New York Times?” And they’re like, “No.” And I said, “Why?”
“Well, they don’t want him there.” And I was like, “Yeah. They don’t want him there. He doesn’t get to be in the New York Times.”
He doesn’t get to be on Facebook.
It’s not the same. It’s not a free speech argument.
New York Times has made the decision as a product, “We don’t want him here. He’s a nasty prick, essentially. Let’s not.” They were like, “Well, it’s not the same.” I’m like, “Why?”
I think look, this is all part of a much bigger discussion on what’s appropriate and what’s not and what is to be allowed on these platforms and what they think should be allowed on their platforms. If free speech applies to them, which it doesn’t, it’s not a legit argument, they are a business.
It sounds good.
They are in it to make money.
It sounds good, it sounds good.
It sounds good, and it’s also been pushed on them, too.
We had people on our platform. We took out comments years ago.
Good for you.
Because I was sick of the vile stuff, ’cause I didn’t have the people to moderate.
It wasn’t adding to the experience.
It was detracting from our site.
I got so many emails, “My free speech, you’re violating my free speech.” I said, “Get your own fucking website if you want to.”
Yeah, start your own site.
I don’t care.
Yeah, no doubt.
I don’t care.
I don’t have to listen to you. Go to Twitter and yell at me.
Discuss… Disqus? Disqus.
We reserve a lot of vitriol for them. They have terms of service that they absolutely are supposed to prevent.
Yeah, well, I just got rid of it. I didn’t even care.
Talk about this idea of where it’s going. What are you going to do with it? You created this, and sometimes these things, like you look at the Pod Save America guys, I don’t think they thought it was going to be as big as it was. Where do you go from here with this?
I’m super surprised that it is where it is. I certainly didn’t think it was going to be any more than a two-week project.
Here I am, almost two years.
Right, now it’s a yoke around your neck.
Yeah, it is, it is. I can’t wait till the day I’m not on Twitter anymore. That’s going to be a great day.
You’ll write a big essay about it, “I am leaving Twitter!”
Kick that phone.
I can’t stand those pieces anymore. Stop it.
Yeah, I get it, but it’s a terrible place sometimes.
And especially the stuff that we see all day.
I think Instagram’s worse. I think Instagram’s performative and makes you feel bad.
Yeah, there might be some of that.
I don’t know. Some days ...
I like Instagram.
... I just want to hang out on the island of Instagram and see beautiful pictures of nature and friends and family.
The island of Instagram.
Twitter is like the opposite.
There’s some ugly stuff on there.
It’s not well curated, that’s for sure.
No, it’s the big city versus the suburb, for sure.
Again, this has morphed and changed. It started on a whim as a tactic and is something to inform advertisers. All of a sudden, there are a lot of people following it, and we have a voice.
Right, and they care about what you say, right.
Well, not about, I think what we all say. It’s a very open community, and people have a lot of ideas and they share ideas on there. That’s something that was unintended. Additionally, it’s grown across the world.
It just kind of, through happenstance, people want to do Sleeping Giants feeds. It’s become kind of a brand.
People take that.
Is there Sleeping Giants France or something?
There’s Sleeping Giants France.
But who does that, people there?
Sleeping Giants Australia is just making massive waves right now.
How do they decide what to do?
They just have a similar thing to Breitbart, or like Australia, they’re dealing with Sky News right now.
Who monitors? Do you?
There are people dropping the N-word, over and over again on their network.
Yeah, they do.
People don’t feel like that’s fair. They have made major inroads over in Australia.
Who’s doing that, you?
No. Who do you assign?
We don’t know each other’s names.
Okay. All right, so wait, they just take the Sleeping Giants? How do they get on there?
It would be ... people would approach in the early days, they would approach through DMs or through our Facebook account and say, “Hey, I’m really interested in taking on a similar thing in my country.” Then we’re pretty careful. I went through, made sure they’d been on our feed for a while and doing the right things and had the right tone and that kind of stuff. Then it was if someone had been doing it for a while and it made sense, we’re not really adding anymore right now ...
... unless it’s really, you know.
It’s like, “you do Sleeping Giants Australia.”
Yeah, you do it. We’ll send you a logo, and we’ll get you going, and we’ll support you as you grow.
That’s been wild, for sure. Again, for someone that started this on a whim, I didn’t think we’d have an international network of people.
How many do you have?
I think there are 11 countries and territories. We got an EU ... The EU was really the first big one.
Is it a single person running that there?
Someone opened the EU, Sleeping Giants EU. We said, “Wait, you can’t do that.” He said, “Well, I’m actually this guy that’s been on your feed for a long time, and I’d like to help out.”
We’re like, “Oh, yeah, you’ve been here from the beginning. OK, why don’t you do it?” That’s the way it’s been going.
EU has been great and has coordinated a lot of stuff.
Haven’t they copied, some people copied your t-shirts?
Yeah, I think it was one of those t-shirt sites, and that got shut down in like 12 hours. That was over.
Do you make money selling ...?
We’re all determined not to take any money for this. We’ve made a decent amount of money on merch ...
... but we’re going to pour it back into other things we’ve done. We did a billboard, a mobile billboard outside of Amazon because Amazon’s the last remaining big advertiser on Breitbart.
We asked them to do it. That didn’t work, of course.
You bought one of those driving-by things at their headquarters?
Yeah, so we raised that money in 24 hours. People threw money at that.
What did it say?
It said, “Amazon, please stop supporting hate on Breitbart,” or something like that.
And drive it around Seattle?
They drove it around Seattle. It was awesome. It was cool, but nothing happened. Those guys are a locked box.
They will not. They don’t care.
They don’t care.
They don’t care.
That’s a story for another time.
You get them, that’ll be a giant that you felled.
I mean, look, yeah, they have bigger problems than just Breitbart, but we’ll leave it there.
Go ahead, so go.
Then we did one outside of Facebook. Nothing happened with that either, but it was a try, and we took a big cut at it and spent eight grand.
Another mobile thing driving around that weird neighborhood?
I think we’d raised six grand, and I think we put in $2,000 in merch money. We’re sitting on a couple, we got like maybe 10 grand in merch money, but we’re going to plug it into whatever we do next.
Whatever you think, actions.
We’re not going to pay ourselves.
These actions that are effective. Yeah, Facebook’s not going to pay attention to you.
As long as we can continue.
Also, that campus is so weird there. It’s hard.
I haven’t been out there.
It’s like a terrarium. I don’t know how to explain it.
It’s just a terrarium. There’s a roof of grass. There’s a football roof of grass.
Maybe we’ll airlift the billboard in next time.
No, ’cause I’m sure they have machine guns somewhere. They’ll just (makes machine gun noises).
Definitely not going to do that.
No, don’t do that. Don’t drone them. Don’t drone them! That’ll be bad.
No, no, no, we would never do that.
You know he’s got a drone army, and he’ll come back.
We would never do that. Everything, hopefully, is in good faith.
It’ll be like “Star Wars” and the Death Star. All those little things will pop out. Have you been in touch with any of these company people?
Yeah, actually, I’m not going to mention his name, but one of our early supporters was retweeting a lot of stuff we were doing, ended up going to work there and doesn’t really ... kind of erased all evidence that we had talked before.
Oh, man. It’s ’cause he got the chip.
He’s actually been good lately. We’re trying to meet at some point to discuss things.
Just in general terms, not in specific terms.
They should. What are they scared of? You got unmasked. Explain that. You weren’t known, who you were. You were this person, Zorro.
Yeah, and also there was some story that had been built up. Of course, they’re going to drop the George Soros thing on you ...
Oh, right, George Soros.
... and that “you’re really a Media Matters person” and all that stuff.
Which I always found comical because I’m just sitting somewhere.
To be clear, George Soros is not your patron.
I mean, we don’t have any.
We have merch money.
If someone wants to buy a t-shirt, we’ll take your money, but that’s it.
Right. George is not backing you. Media Matters is not backing you.
No. It would be great if they did. I’d love to make a serious paycheck for this, but that’s not happening.
They put that down, and then explain what happened and how you got unmasked.
Just finished lunch with my dad, and I got a text from a reporter from the Daily Caller, and I knew it right away.
Which is a conservative-leaning [publication], to be polite.
Also on the same track as Breitbart.
Yes, they are.
They say a lot of things that are pretty bigoted, but again, we weren’t going after them or anything. We haven’t contacted any advertisers on there and whatever. Yeah, and got a text from this reporter, and I knew right away that something was going to come out.
Then he sent two emails to personal emails that aren’t published, and then he hit my wife up on Facebook.
Oh. Well, he’s doing his job.
Yeah, no, he’s a reporter.
Look, it was a pretty interesting detective work, I’ll say. I’ll admit to that, but it was in bad faith, I think, overall to expose me.
Well, it didn’t matter. It doesn’t matter. Maybe if they wanted to find out if I was being funded by someone.
I think because of that whole, the myth that had built up around that, I think maybe they thought, “Oh, we’re going to nail this person. They’re going to be connected to a global conspiracy.”
A global conspiracy of leftists.
That we’re taking all this money from people, and we’ve got a political thing. I think they were like, “You ready for this? It’s a guy! That’s concerned about hate!” That was it. That happened.
How did you respond? “It’s me.”
Well look you can either run away from it and hide, or you can just run right at it. For better or worse, I just was like, “All right, I’m going to run right at it and just see what happens.” Man, I think that was the right call.
What’s happened in the interim?
Well, so that happened, and then that was a bad four days of relentless harassment.
My wife was getting calls on her phone that’s not published. They published my address and my kids’ names.
Oh. Wow. What?
They published on the Breitbart site, and they left it up for four days, the synagogue where my son was bar mitzvahed and said to go wish him a congratulations on his bar mitzvah.
Those are threats, clearly.
I went right at Joel Pollak, who runs Breitbart, and one of the people that runs it, and I said, “If you’re going to leave this up, why don’t you put your kid’s synagogue on there too?” It came down four days later, but they left it up for a good long time.
Wow. And there’s nothing you can do. That’s appalling.
Yeah, it sucks. Again, it’s all in bad faith. It’s trying to scare someone from doing something, but ultimately, this thing is not about me.
It’s about the community.
If I had stopped running tomorrow, it’s still going to go on without me and without Nandini and the other few people that are doing this.
Right. Now you do it every day for a number of hours, or ...?
Yeah, it’s relentless.
It’s relentless, but you have a team and stuff like that.
Yeah, there are people.
Do you expect to do something more with it the way the Pod guys did?
What do you hope to do?
Look, I think we’ve got a sizable community now, and they’ve all got good ideas, and they want to make their voices heard. We have more of a voice. You get more people, and it’s exponential. You get more people’s opinions out there. If they have a problem with something, then if you have 200,000 people, it’s a lot better than having two people.
I think the next step, I’m in the early stages of thinking about doing a conference and not showing up at one. ’Cause I think we’ve been whacking at the leaves for a long time, and it’s time to work on the roots a little bit.
We need some corporate accountability for how ad dollars are spent and some responsibility on where the investments are going. I think it’s a story to just keep talking about because people don’t hear about it a lot. Everything’s so automated now that people don’t think about it that much.
Even now, where it’s going. A lot of our greatest tragedies are to do with that exactly, automate.
If we can start to become the conscience of the social media communities and of advertisers, that’d be a great place to be.
Right. You’d have a conference to do what?
To talk about these issues and have a discussion. I don’t know if any answers are going to come out. They’re really hard answers to get to, but it starts with a discussion. I think we’d like, overall, to be in the center of that discussion or at least organizing that and have people talking about it.
We’ve been talking to other people about some digital solutions to things, which are really intriguing. We’d like to be the source of some kind of conscience for these industries.
I like that, and I think it sounds like a great idea. This is so fascinating. It all started off with Ikea.
It did, it did with a dresser at Ikea. If that dresser hadn’t come out, if that dresser had come out right away, we would not be sitting here right now.
No, I think we might be. I got to tell you, I recommend it. It’s @sleepinggiants, right?
Yeah, it’s @slpng_giants.
Giants, and it’s really funny too. I’ve had some very funny interactions with you guys.
We’ve had some good interactions.
Yeah, it’s funny. You’re very funny. I do like you slapping on Facebook a lot. I’m always enjoying that, and I know it bugs them, which is good.
It’s good to know that they’re even listening.
Oh, they’re listening. Are you kidding? They monitor everything and they’re very, very hurt.
Oh, well. And they know exactly where I am right now, I guess.
And they’re very hurt by your happenings with them. That’s the worst part when you deal with them. I will get calls sometimes when I write something about any of them, and they’re very hurt by what you wrote. I’m like, “Oh my God, really?”
Well, if they’re hurt, there are a lot of other people that are getting way more hurt than they’re getting hurt.
I just laugh at the whole thing. Anyway, Matt, it was great talking to you.
Great talking to you.
Thanks for coming on the show.
This article originally appeared on Recode.net.