A tale of Coca Cola, racism, Twitter and the media

Fact. The number of people who rant and get pissed off on the Internet is not a reflection of how many people actually care in real life. Despite how much the press sometimes magnifies and exaggerates the reaction.

This week I was asked by Variety to weigh in on the backlash against Coca Cola’s Super Bowl commercial. The all American soft drink maker ran a spot with people singing God Bless America in the wrong languages. And, according to USA Today, Buzzfeed, and dozens of other blogs, news dailies and so-called institutions of journalism, this was big news. We got headlines (America the Ugly), headlines declaring online meltdowns, and, of course, lots of references to the offended tweeters whose racist posts suggested they confused Twitter with the YouTube comment stream.

Now, I am not a researcher. Or a journalist. But I do know that if someone who has 43 followers tweets a racist comment it’s likely no one sees it. If someone sees it and is following the moron they probably already share the sentiment. And even though you or I can search for it and find it, given the permanence of web content, chances are if we left well enough alone, it would disappear into oblivion.

This was a story because the press made it a story. Sure there were big name racists like Fox’s Todd Starnes suggesting that Coke was the official soft drink of illegals crossing the border. But even that tweet topped off at a mere 168 RTs.

The problem is that with tools like Storify, which lets any reporter instantly grab real time content from the web it’s too easy to make a few dozen, or even thousand tweets, appear to be the next front page story.

A quick check on Buzzfeed’s piece showed that the tweeters referenced had 43, 12 and 700 followers. If a tweeter tweets in the woods…..

USA Today managed to find someone with 4000 followers, but only one.

The Daily Mail was guilty enough not to enable live links to its references. Just screen shots.

OK, I expect this kind of stuff to be fodder for Colbert or Stewart. But I’m not sure it’s really news. Surprise! Prejudice in America migrates from YouTube comment stream to Twitter!

Here were my responses to Variety, in case they don’t get used.

“Part of this backlash has been magnified and exaggerated by the press, some of whom is a little bit lazy. Take a look at some of the Twitter accounts referenced. These are people with 10, 20, 200 followers. They have little or no influence or followers and they are talking primarily to themselves. A very small club. But the press, using Twitter as a search engine, can easily grab the content and distribute it to many more readers.”

“Twitter is simply the new YouTube comment stream. We all know how nasty comments on YouTube have become. But for some reason the press picks up on that far less often. Since Twitter is a free soapbox for anyone with an opinion, you can find anything there.”

“I call your attention to the attached New Yorker cartoon. Or my interpretation. “The number of people being pissed off on the Internet has no actual relationship to the number of people pissed off in the real world.”

“This is not a new story. When Oreo made a “gay” cookie, the rainbow cookie, to celebrate Gay Pride, the Internet also went crazy. For Coke or anyone to suggest they didn’t expect this isn’t paying attention.”

“Long term this is the best thing that can happen to a brand. The excessive outrage on the Internet calls more attention to the message and the purpose, points out the virtues of brands with corporate social responsibility, and increases appeal to those who favor progressive brand thinking.”

My attitude was totally different. Wow, Coke believes in Equal Opportunity Obesity. They’ll sell sugar laden soft drinks to anyone.

What do you think? A real story. Or a manufactured one.

NPR Weighs in:   It’s amusing to listen to this stuff get over-analyzed. Coke beliefs in happiness and coming together. It always has. All the way back to “I want to teach the world to sing,” and evident still in its connect the world via Coke machines. Not sure this was anything more than a sweet, modern, even patriotic way to say what Coke stand for. Unity through sugar.


 "… the press made it a story." I'm no journalist or news analyst either, but with a case like this and many others, the bloggers and other "so-called institutions of journalism" (great description) hijack the issue and make it "news" because of its ability to polarize. That in turn raises their traffic or ratings or whatever other metric they believe proves they're delivering valuable content to their followers.

I have no problem with a soft drink from time to time, so I didn't interpret the Coke spot as encouraging me to necessarily drink their beverage around the clock. Lots of advertised products can be misused or abused, right?

Good, thought-provoking post, as usual!

edwardboches moderator

@SteveWellmeier1  Agree. And I suppose I was just being a little snarky on the sugar front. In moderation, it's a good product. But thanks for commenting. And you are dead right. It's the desire for page views. There are so many stories that appear at the same time on every news blog that look as if they are simply re-printing the press release or worse, repeating what the other guy just wrote. Can't be left out, I suppose.


@edwardboches Yes, because the www is the dumping ground of all those assholes whose opinions bellow through every bar, only now it's here.


@edwardboches "Equal Opportunity Obesity." Well said my friend. If only happiness were that easy to open...


@edwardboches have you seen the diet coke billboards around Boston? "You're on. [diet coke logo]." Can hardly see the diet copy.


@gstellato25 Have not. But I'm sure they're out there. Coke's happy as long as you buy any of their products.