How gay is Tofu? Gay social media engagement and its consequences on public discourse

March 30, 2012

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Hi all,

Last time I wrote about the positive impacts of the internet in general for the LGBT community. With this post I want to go one step further and discuss what social media as one part of the internet specifically mean for communication. Social media actually enable everybody to participate directly in the public discourse. Therefore, we have to consider them separately.  

I came up with this argument as I read about this internet protest against “gay meat”. In March 2012 a commercial of the German steakhouse chain Maredo appeared on the internet that shows the slogan “Tofu is gay meat”. Immediately, when the ad became public it provoked a big online controversy. With the hash tag #tofuschwuchtel (“tofu fag”) lots of people complained that this ad would offend (besides vegan or the vegetarian community) especially gays by reinforcing the prejudice that gays are no “real” men.  Popular supporter of this protest was the gay politician Volker Beck from the Green Party, who demanded that the responsible should apologize and donate to “MAGNUS-HIRSCHFELD-STIFTUNG” a scientific sumanitarian committee, which advocates LGBT rights.

As a result of the internet protest, Maredo publicly distanced itself from this ad on its homepage. In their statement they shifted the responsibility to the ad agency Scholz & Friends which created this ad as a proposal during an agency pitch. Maredo insists that they already rejected this proposal in 2008 and forbid to publish it. On the German Facebook page of Scholz & Friends lots of users expressed their disgust concerning this ad. The ad agency apologized for insulting gay people with a statement on its communication channels. Nevertheless, even classic online media quoted out of the users' comments especially from Twitter and discussed this issue and the consequences for the agency's or steakhouse's image. This example demonstrates the impact of social sedia on the media agenda.

To underline my argument I want to point out another example that demonstrate how social media can initiate public debates.  A few months ago when German rap singer “Bushido” was announced to win the special “Bambi”-award (annual German media award of the Burda publishing house) for integration (especially for his positive impact on migrants in Germany), a big wave of protest rose on Facebook with the foundation of the Facebook group “Kein Bambi für Bushido” (engl.: “No Bambi for Bushido) which still has more than 15,000 supporters. This online protest swapped from online channels to classic media and had a big impact on press coverage about the Bambi awards. A lot of people, mostly belonging to the LGBT community, revolted against this announcement because Bushido published lots of offensive lyrics, in which he insulted gay people and condescended women. The debate took its climax when the singer of the German pop band Rosenstolz, who is openly gay, condemned the decision of the jury on stage at the award show. The controversy around Bushido became the most important news around the awards and consequently the “Bambi” suffered a big damage to its public image because the jury just ignored the online and offline campaigns against it.

As you can see from these examples, there are main differences between classic online communication that sticks to a linear communication model on the one hand and social media communication on the other hand. These new platforms are dialogue-orientated and offer the chance to send direct feedback from the users to the entities or a diffuse audience so that these channels blur the boundaries between broadcaster and receiver. In principle, every member of the society has the opportunity to participate actively in public discussions, though it is a convenience if an important multiplier like Volker Beck supports this campaign (because he already has a good online reputation). These cases are good examples to reinforce my argument, because the public debate didn't focus on the fact that a protests arose on the internet as they often do, but the media discourse turned around the content of the accusations, especially regarding the Bushido case (Is it adequate to honor this man with an award for immigration when he stays for a condescending attitude towards gay men and women?).

Another point that comes up regarding these examples is that communication strategists should consider the interests of certain well-organized groups on the social web. Otherwise they might be targeted by online protests and criticism which could affect negatively on the entity's reputation. Before web 2.0 when people didn't have the chance to express their opinion that easily in public, these protests would not have reached this big awareness, but nowadays people who are sharing the same interests can easily form online communities to express their point of view so that public gets aware of it.  

Therefore, I want to discuss with you, whether social media impacted positively on the chances of participation or not. Did these channels facilitate promoting LGBT interest in public discussion or are these channels overrated? Or do you think that the main public awareness referred to the online protest itself and not focus to the issue? Regarding these examples: What do you think about? I am looking forward to your point of views.