Sad Reacts Only! Corporate Activism and The Curious Case of The Rare Pride Reaction

corporate activism

A fact little-known to the headquarters of Facebook, studies show that people who are gay during Pride Month are actually gay for the other 11 months of the year as well. However, Facebook’s limited-release rainbow Pride reaction was only openly available to those in “major markets” for Pride celebrations during the month of June.

In the eyes of many, both the restricted availability of the Pride reaction and the symbolic erasure of the LGBT+ community that rolled around July 1 ultimately made the Pride react an empty gesture of corporate activism.

Thumbing through the Snapchat geofilters available at my local mall in June, it felt like every major company was rushing to show their support for gay rights: the latest trendy-yet-safe cause. (The same way they also make geofilters for International Women’s Day or Black History Month.) Everyone from Starbursts to Chase Bank wanted to cater to the Youthz ™ through rainbow filters ranging from tasteful to garish, because the true sign of an activist is a frame reading “Love is Love” with a little “Sponsored by W Hotels” in the corner.

Comedian Anthony Jeselnik has a bit about what people’s tweets, Snapchat filters, their “thoughts and prayers” mean for victims. For those victimized, these gestures likely mean very little. You know why? “Because victims are not on Twitter the day of a tragedy. Victims have have victim things to do.”

Is it bad to send your “thoughts and prayers?” Of course not, but writing about how sad you are about a tragedy isn’t particularly meaningful. Jeselnik posits that this is just another way of making a national tragedy about yourself. “Lots of crazy distractions in the news right now, but don’t forget how sadz I am ☹.”

It’s fine and generally benign to change your profile picture to the one with a rainbow overlay, and in some places an admirable political statement if backed up by concrete action. But if someone is a straight liberal in a blue state with lots of woke Facebook friends and family, it’s not particularly brave or noble act to click a couple buttons to put a banner underneath a profile picture.

On the flip side, it shouldn’t be a source of shame if someone didn’t change their Facebook profile picture after a recent terrorist attack because displays of solidarity shouldn’t have to be public.

Demonstrating a sustained backing for a cause most definitely isn’t proven by a rainbow icon that disappears after a month.

A statement of support towards the LGBT+ community from one of the largest companies in the world seems nice. The rainbow flag pride reaction is cute. But one can’t help but be suspicious. Facebook’s data collection has always served the purpose of perpetuating what in practice becomes an echo chamber. “Irrelevant” (see: unclickable) suggested posts are filtered out, leaving a user with a newsfeed that aligns precisely with all their personal beliefs, with links existing to be clicked, generate ad revenue, and support the user’s confirmation bias.

Sure, it isn’t Facebook’s fault that this person only gets their news from conspiracy theory or Occupy Democrats Facebook posts and the purpose of a corporation is to make money, no matter how much connectifying-the-world-together-as-one-kumbaya-prayer-circle-speak companies advertise on their mission statements.

However, if Facebook is going to advocate for the LGBT+ community, they can’t cower behind the “major Pride markets.” Demonstrating a sustained backing for a cause most definitely isn’t proven by a rainbow icon that disappears after a month, as though the support never existed in the first place.

We didn’t “stop being thankful” when the purple flower reaction disappeared after Mother’s Day, but at least the purple flower was available in most locations where Mother’s Day existed.

It’s understandable that Facebook would want to limit the pride reaction to nations in which being a supporter is generally safe, like the US and Canada. But by limiting the reaction to blue metropolitan areas such as New York and San Francisco and those who “like” the LGBT@Facebook page, they receive positive press from those whose who have availability while avoiding conflict from dissenters. How convenient.

If the Pride reaction is their big public show of solidarity, it’s certainly a bit strange that they’re not willing to show off their new cause to everyone. By sheltering most users from the Pride reaction, Facebook legitimizes the notion that the cause is niche and that the support is worth hiding from your neighbors. In the practical sense, the Facebook Pride reaction was likely only used in political bubbles among people who have been using RuPaul gifs for years now.

If a company chooses to make a public statement in the first place, wouldn’t the logical extension to be to use their influence to normalize that stance, or to at least take the responsibility or backlash for that decision?

No, it isn’t entirely unreasonable that corporations want in on the righteous sense of moral purity millennials are so keen to embrace. The interest in social impact extends to their financial choices as well, favoring brands like Warby Parker and Patagonia that make their one-for-one model and environmental-friendliness, respectively, part of the branding. The key for corporations is how to make a statement without really making a statement.

Though many somehow believe that climate change is a myth, if asked whether they believe in helping the environment (as opposed to destroying it), I’m sure that they’d say that they believe in preserving the Earth. Despite the fact that certain people do not believe in something called a “livable wage,” if asked whether a poor child deserves a pair of free glasses so they can see properly, they wouldn’t call that child as a lazy welfare moocher.

A company doesn’t have to make employees wear Black Lives Matter t-shirts to corporate outings; those in the know will understand that a company’s ACLU donations speak louder than a tweet about the Islamophobia. Civil liberties are the ideological backbone of American democracy. No one who believes in the Constitution can contest that. While the ideology of spreading the wealth, unalienable rights, and saving the planet are not inherently political, they do directly violate the plans of those in power who apparently choose to ignore the cognitive dissonance they carry.

An ad doesn’t have to make a controversial statement to be meaningful or buzzworthy.

A perfect ad has enough plausible deniability as to not alienate the right-wing consumers, but enough of a message to make Buzzfeed and go cuckoo bananas over how “En Justin Trudeau Fleek Shut Down The Patriarchy #SquadGoals” the ad is. However, this plausible deniability needs to not make it difficult for the company to discredit unseemly folk such as neo-Nazis and the people who appropriated Pepe from the meme community.

An ad doesn’t have to make a controversial statement to be meaningful or buzzworthy. The Cheerios ad featuring an interracial family was an inherently apolitical, objectively insignificant ad that was radicalized by bigots who saw a completely normal scene as an atrocity, and Cheerios rightfully did nothing to validate their views. It’s only been 50 years since interracial marriage was deemed legal. In less diverse areas, seeing those fresh faces could simply remind people that mixed-race families are wholesome and all-American just like Cheerios and any other family.

Axe’s new commercials are focused on self-empowerment and tackling toxic masculinity. Simply put, “Old Axe guy would probably call new Axe guy a cuck.” Body positivity and self-love aren’t new concepts, but this ad was so wholesome and pure that it even made one Youtube commenter’s “cold commie heart” grow ten sizes. I personally got the shivers; it was so encouraging to see what once represented the hyper-masculine ideal embraced by stinky middle school boys pivot into a company that would tell those same middle school boys that it’s okay and even cool to be their imperfect selves (as long as they buy Axe body spray).

Maybe a good ad is that which simply offers a new perspective to those who otherwise wouldn’t think of one. #WowReactsOnly

Cover image via NewRepublic


Also published on Medium.