Last week I wrote a piece for Crikey saying that “calling out” men’s rights activist (MRA) Bettina Arndt on social media was ineffective, because inciting outrage and attracting media attention was the core of her business.
This wasn’t an endorsement of Arndt. If there is, in the words of former US secretary of state Madeleine Albright, “a special place in hell for women who don’t help other women”, Bettina has well and truly earned her spot in it.
The best way to deal with the 70-year-old author of #MenToo and What Men Want in Bed, in my opinion, is to simply ignore her. Here’s why.
For the past few years I’ve been analysing the business models of various right-wing commentators. I’ve attended events starring Mark Latham, David Leyonhjelm, Alan Jones and others, and studied how they leverage their profiles for attention and profit.
Standard operating procedure for these commentators et al is to write or say something objectionable — about women, gay people, immigrants, climate change, take your pick — in a television or radio interview. Cue enormous outrage. That piece of content goes onto Twitter and Facebook, where it is retweeted and reposted by people who are upset by it. This amplifies the content to the point where is becomes a social media storm, as intended.
Bettina Arndt currently has 17,000 followers on Twitter, which is a lot. To put it in context, only 2.12% of people on Twitter have more than 1000 followers, and only 0.06% have more than 20,000.
But — as always — size isn’t everything; it’s how your Twitter followers engage with you that counts.
In Twitter world, the most important metric is engagement rate — the number of likes, replies, clicks, follows, retweets, etc, divided by the number of impressions (which is the number of times your tweet turns up in someone’s Twitter feed).
Most tweets only have a half-life of 24 minutes and “high engagement” would be between .09% to .33%. Thanks to the outrage surrounding virtually every single one of Bettina’s remarks, her Twitter engagement would be sky high.
My own column, because it mentioned her and got retweeted a lot — mainly by people who wanted me publicly flogged — had an engagement rate of 4.2%. Facebook works in slightly different ways but the principle is the same: engagement is the key.
For the mature-aged “sexpert”, a social media storm drives people to her website, where she has prominent links to her PayPal, Patreon and SubscribeStar pages. She also lists her bank account details.
So Arndt’s business model is: say something outrageous, trigger Twitter storm and then sit back and watch the money roll into her various financial channels. And if you think there aren’t many MRAs in Australia, all I can say is: never confuse your Twitter feed for the country.
So, if you are very upset by something you’ve read or heard, what can you do about it? Rather than tweet about it, you’d be far better off following the consumer boycott model used by an organisation like Mad Fucking Witches (MFW).
The group is named after a famous text sent by Peter Dutton in which he complained about journalist Samantha Maiden, calling her a “mad fucking witch”. Unfortunately for Dutton, he accidentally sent it to Maiden herself rather than a colleague — and so it passed into political infamy.
MFW has been around for a few years, but it was their campaign against 2GB’s Alan Jones last August, after he said that Scott Morrison should “shove a sock” down the throat of NZ PM Jacinda Ardern, that really put the group on the map.
MFW founder Jennie Hill told me this week that after Jones’ remarks were aired in August, she sat down with her six collaborators and plotted a response.
Firstly, they put a call out on the MFW Facebook page for volunteers to monitor Alan Jones’s radio show. About 30 people responded; they were rostered on to listen and note down the names of the advertisers.
Then the main “Witches” compiled a joint list of advertisers, including the contact details of the key people to whom complaints should be sent.
The MFW Facebook page has 75,000 followers, many of whom sprang into action, telling the advertisers that they wouldn’t buy their products if they continued to place ads on Jones’ show.
As well as calling, emailing, writing letters and making social media posts, they also visited retail outlets of companies like Harvey Norman, telling the managers that they would no longer shop there because of Jones’ remarks. One woman took in an invoice for $10,000 worth of goods bought from a rival retailer, telling the store manager that she had originally intended to spend her money at Harvey Norman.
Hill said that many senior executives contacted them in confidence, passing on contact details for key people within their own organisation, right up to the board level. In addition, lawyers offered advice on how to structure an effective complaint to the Advertising Standards Council.
According to Hill, 473 companies, including the likes of Commonwealth Bank and Coles, stopped advertising on Jones’ show and have stayed away.
Soon after the campaign started, The Sydney Morning Herald reported that advertisers were leaving in droves. Three months later, the paper reported that revenue for Jones’ show, which normally accounted for just under 10% of the network’s total revenue, had fallen by half.
If you want to effect change in the world, one of the best ways to do that is to join groups like the Witches, Sleeping Giants Oz, GetUp! or Market Forces — all of which use tried and true methods of communicating consumer messages to organisations in a way that actually works. Alan Jones is proof of that.