It shouldn’t have taken anyone by surprise when the Internet practically blew up in response to Nike’s revelation that Colin Kaepernick would be the face of its newest “Just Do It” campaign. The former San Francisco 49ers quarterback has been a controversial political figure since making national headlines for protesting racial inequality by kneeling during the national anthem at football games. While many supported his peaceful and meaningful method of protest, others were quick to denounce what they saw as a sign of disrespect to veterans.
But things escalated to a new level when people actually started to destroy their Nike products and brag about it on social media. Some captioned their posts with declarations of newfound allegiance towards Under Armour or Reebok, others with drawn out rants about their opposition towards Nike’s supposed endorsement of disrespecting America. Users on social media jumped at the the opportunity to make a powerful statement. Had it not been via a ridiculous method, perhaps people would have actually taken it seriously.
Though these so-called pioneers of patriotism thought themselves to be the fearless minority who would bring down Nike’s stocks by burning items that they had already paid for, they ended up becoming a meme that brings into question whether boastful social media protests really accomplish more than getting a few retweets and perhaps stirring up some Twitter-verse controversy. It’s something that we’ve seen plenty of over the last several years, and frankly, it’s exhausting. After a federal judge in Hawaii ruled against Donald Trump’s travel ban, some people tried to spread #BoycottHawaii in order to take down the state’s tourism industry. #BoycottKeurig made its way around the Internet after the coffee machine maker decided to pull ads from Sean Hannity’s show when viewers raised concerns over his coverage of accusations against Senate candidate Roy Moore. Kellogg’s faced a similar situation when it pulled its ads from Breitbart, which later declared “war” on the brand.
Sure, these boycotts are trendy and raise a lot of hell on the Internet. But you don’t have to do much serious thinking to realize that they don’t really accomplish anything. Hawaii is still making money from booming tourism, and Keurig and Kellogg’s seem unfazed. Nike even saw its stocks reach an all-time high following the release of the Kaepernick ad. The reality is that modern social media boycotting doesn’t take much effort, and that’s reflected in the general lack of results that it tends to yield in comparison to organized movements like The Women’s March and The March for Our Lives, which fostered feelings of national solidarity and allowed important issues to dominate the media.
Of course, some might try to argue that mass protests like marches and rallies or even acts of solidarity as simple as kneeling during the national anthem are just as ineffective. But movements like these do more than just get people excited about something. They promise meaningful and reasonable change, and they forge the path to enacting it. The Women’s March didn’t instantly end sexism, but it became a historic moment for women across the country who wanted to ensure that their voices were heard. The five-year international boycott of grapes that began in 1965 was a part of the larger Delano strike against poor wages and working conditions. A major part of the March for Our Lives was to boycott companies that continued to offer discounts to NRA members despite their stance on gun control, and over a dozen businesses ultimately dropped their partnerships with the group.
What sets these situations apart from the modern Twitter boycott is that they are methodical, calculated, and done with the means and intentions to mobilize and inspire others. There’s a plan and a purpose behind them, one that could result in meaningful change. It’s that broader movement that seems to be lacking when people post videos of themselves destroying their expensive running shoes for the sake of appearing patriotic.
But at the end of the day, what makes ultimately useless protests so annoying is that they oftentimes reek of privilege and lack authenticity. Social media has been used in the past for mobilization and trending topics that actually serve to address a larger problem, like #MeToo and #NeverAgain. But at the end of the day, its purpose is expressive and self-serving, and the ultimate goal for most is to get as many likes or retweets as possible by portraying the prevailing opinion as their own, regardless of whether or not they actually believe in it.
While there are approximately 40,000 homeless veterans who are struggling to meet their own basic needs, people are burning their expensive shoes in an attempt to demonstrate their respect as opposed to volunteering for or donating to the Veterans Affairs. While there are around 43.1 million Americans living in poverty, some people are perfectly content to destroy a functioning coffee maker because they’re angry about an advertising decision. When Revolutionary Student Front, a former antifa organization at the University of Texas at Austin, found out that UT did not take disciplinary action against a professor who pled guilty to strangling his former girlfriend, they defaced various buildings on campus in protest. Not once was there any mention of donating to a local shelter for battered women or collaborating with an organization that works to combat domestic violence.
The reality is that the problems of the world don’t get solved by people ranting and raving on social media about something that they may or may not care that much about. Maybe that’s not the case for everyone who participates, but taking incidents that reflect serious social issues and suddenly deciding to jump on the bandwagon simply doesn’t achieve much if that’s all you’re going to do. It’s the same as complaining about how much you despise the president and yet not going out to vote because you just don’t feel like getting out of bed that day.
None of this is to discourage anyone from taking a stand against something that they believe to be wrong. You’re well within your rights to destroy your Nike stuff and post a picture of it along with a passionate declaration of patriotism. But if that’s the only step you take to voice your concerns, then you’re not doing anything to fix whatever it is that’s bothering you. Real change happens when people decide to get up and do something about any number of injustices in the world. They rally, they organize, and they mobilize. When looking back at all of the successful movements of the 21st century, history is going to remember those that were unifying and had a long-term positive impact on whatever facet of society hoped to improve. Unfortunately for those hoping that their online rant will solidify their mark, the legend of #boycott is only going to fade into obscurity.