The Washington Post
Hardly anyone paid attention last November when a strangely named Twitter account, Sleeping Giants, sent its first tweet into the digisphere. “Are you aware that you’re advertising on Breitbart, the alt-right’s biggest champion, today?” read the tweet, aimed at a consumer lending outfit called Social Finance. “Are you supporting them publicly?”
Within 30 minutes, Social Finance replied, tweeting that it would stop running ads on Breitbart.
It was, it turns out, the start of an odd, and oddly effective, social media campaign against Breitbart, the influential conservative news site headed by Stephen K. Bannon, President Trump’s former campaign chairman and ex-chief White House strategist.
Sleeping Giants is a mysterious group that has no address, no organizational structure and no officers. At least none that are publicly known. All of its leaders are anonymous, and much of what it claims is difficult to independently verify. A spokesman for the group wouldn’t identify himself in interviews for this article.
But the group does have a singular purpose, pursued as relentlessly as Ahab chasing a whale: It aims to drive advertisers away from Breitbart. “We’re trying to defund bigotry,” the spokesman says.
Sleeping Giants’ basic approach is to make Breitbart’s advertisers aware that they are, in fact, Breitbart advertisers. Many apparently don’t know this, given that Web ads are often bought through third-party brokers, such as Google and Facebook. The brokers then distribute them to a network of websites according to algorithms that seek a specific target audience (say, young men) or a set number of impressions.
As a result of such “programmatic” buying, advertisers often are in the dark about where their ads end up. Advertisers can opt out of certain sites, of course, but only if they affirmatively place them on a blacklist of sites.
So when an ad appears on Breitbart, Sleeping Giants or one of its 109,000 Twitter followers and 35,000 Facebook followers flag the advertiser, often accompanied by an image of the sponsors’ ad next to a Breitbart story.