Intolerance Goes Viral

The tendency to disregard tolerance as a cultural jewel of American culture is disturbing, especially because the US is a society of societies, of different ethnicities, religions, races, etc.—with tolerance being the most essential value of government by representation. Today, however, when certain individuals at the top of the country are fanning the flames of viral intolerance exploiting the sensitive topics to fire their bases, what can we expect of the rank-and-file? Led by example, as well as tweets, they throw the scruples aside and take no prisoners when something goes against their grain, be it the minor cases of the media personalities who leaned left-or-right and used the wording not to their liking – or the bigger topics of anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim, and anti-establishment attitudes.

Think: Is political rudeness the only alternative to the brought-to-the-extreme political correctness?  It looks like being politically correct has gone with the wind, and political weather forecast points to more viral intolerance—while we as society seem not to care. Or do we?

A Brand Maker Speaks Out

In a conversation with Dan Granger (pictured), CEO of Oxford Road, the ad agency that launched Hulu, Lyft, and Dollar Shave Club, I heard his heart-felt arguments about sponsorship that does not equal support; about the need for companies to show leadership and loyalty because only then they will stand out in the crowd; about our politically-charged environment and divisions in our culture hurting not only customers and sponsors alike, but also the public psyche. He is genuinely worried about the fast-spreading flu of boycotts that go viral in social media where the masses let hysteria take the wheel—which results in people joining in just for the sake of joining in. This is a dangerous phenomenon on all accounts, and Granger, a knowledgeable public relations professional, indicated the cases in point:

  1. The Soul Cycle Case

In August of 2019, it was reported that billionaire Stephen Ross, the chairman of The Related Companies, which owns Equinox and SoulCycle, came under fire for plans to host a high-dollar Trump fundraiser.  Of course, people didn’t want even part of their money to be paid to political campaigning, so this caused a big uproar on social media and caused many people to boycott the high-end gyms.  Many people who work for the gyms were also offended that their company would be associated with the Trump campaign. In the end, the event did happen, and people did give up their memberships.  The real impact of events like this is a big splash on social media – and subsequently in the mainstream media – and then everyone moves on to the next “outrage” of the day. The practical result of events like this should be a law prohibiting companies contribute to politicians—which is kind of an advance bribery.

  • The Chick-fil-A Case

For the last few years, Chik-fil-A has seen itself embroiled into numerous different protests, from gay rights activists to transgender and LGBT allies, Chik-fil-A first came under fire in 2012, when the CEO admitted to donation to various groups that either downplayed or even rallied against, gay and other LGBT-related rights. Understandably, “Cancel Chik-fil-A” found its way into everyone’s twitter feed, Facebook walls, and Instagram captions. Chik-fil-A would go on to endure lots of protests that continue into 2019; ultimately, though, the momentum is nowhere on the level it used to be. Chik-Fil-A has slightly changed their tune – but their fast-food outfit has been not welcomed in the UK – because of LGBT protests – plus in the US at some University campuses. While they still have firm beliefs rooted in traditional Christian values, Chik-fil-A has started to fund more mutually accepting campaigns, like young persons’ athletics and education (although some, like the Christian Youth League, while not ostensibly against gay or transgender persons, doesn’t exactly like them either). Either way, just like SoulCycle, Bayer, or Nike, these are mostly short-lived protests in the hype of the moment, which die down when the next big thing takes its place.

  • The “Got Weed?” Case

The boycott hype is certainly real today. Sometimes, in fact, it is so real that people end up boycotting companies that don’t even have anything to do with the issue. Take for example the story of Randy Fox, the owner of Integrity Car Care. Randy’s auto shop saw lots of cars in and out of it, and everything was fine until Bud Commander, a cannabis shop in a completely different town, put up a billboard stating, “Got Weed?”. Next, Randy received a letter, petitioning to boycott his car shop, because of the billboard. An evident mistake! What ensued was residents calling for closing of the shop, and to take their cars anywhere but there – leaving Randy confused, as the billboard had nothing to do with his business; it was erratic and ridiculous to accuse him. We need to keep in mind that although it is important to work with others toward a cause that is important for us, the boycott culture has now gotten so extreme that a mere mention of something is enough to set it off – without any research or investigating. So, we need to be careful and do research before joining in, not to add to unreasonable hysteria.

Is Boycott Intolerance Any Good?

These three are great examples of how the tools of social and mass media are being used, and how hysteria can provoke you into boycotts when you are faced with values against your own. And the answer to a question “Are boycotts any good?” is a resounding NO: all boycotts die of natural causes, after showing their futility or ridiculousness or both.

Indeed, do some people join in boycotting just to join? Probably. Do some people eat at Chik-Fil-A and still care about gay and transgender rights? Absolutely. Did every single person at SoulCycle vote for Trump? Of course not. And did all the past customers who trusted Randy with their transmissions return? Hopefully. These are all examples of the boycotts that take place with businesses, and the “lasting” impact they may have. Boycotts with a goal of hurting sales or otherwise derailing a company, rarely work. So, there’s no “death by boycott”, as some might hope. Boycotts aimed at canceling certain brands need to be strategic and calculated, not erratic or, God forbid, mass tweeted. Twitter’s 140 characters are enough to insult somebody or provoke you into a boycott to vent your feelings—but not to have a reasonable conversation to reach anything worthwhile.

And I mean it: social media, invented as a means of uniting people with meaningful conversations, is increasingly turning into the means of disinformation and expression of intolerance if not outright hatred. But there’s no going back—so, let’s make the best of it. Remember: we, the people, need to understand how to separate politics from brands and personal beliefs from brands; also, keep in mind that brands are run by people just like us, those who have opinions just like they do.


Even though intolerance today cannot be stopped in the tracks, it’s possible to use a vaccine against it—like we use the flu shots: no guarantee but we sleep better with it. There are different parts to this vaccine.

  • Dan Granger feels the need to be a peacemaker in the all-American partisan and boycott-prone environment, and he calls for companies who are being protested not to cave to the naysayers but,in turn, show a message of strength and unity in turbulent times. An idea man, Granger is worth following.
  • There is an expressed need for companies and customers to come together—even if they disagree politically. To this end, I’d like to start a movement #AmericansForTolerance. Why? Boycotts and other shows of intolerance often prove to be ineffective destroyers of other-minded people or their companies—or ridiculous enough to hurt innocent people; they are but different diversions of our attention and resources. According to Granger, “The peaceful exchange of opinions enriches everybody and isolates nobody.” As a professional educator and diversiculturalist, I stand with Dan Granger on his message of peaceful coexistence and hope you join us too. So, let’s take care of our own sanity and do research before joining the causes, for the sake of being consistent as well as strategic—and this will vaccinate us against mass tweeted intolerances.


  • Fiona Citkin, Ph.D.

    Host of The Bridge talk-show, author of How They Made It in America and Transformational Diversity, consultant, HuffPost and DyNAMC magazine blogger, helping immigrant women’s cultural integration and success

    An author, talk-show producer and host, professional educator, consultant, and diversiculturalist, Dr. Fiona Citkin came to the US from Ukraine, as a Fulbright Scholar. Her award-winning books "How They Made It in America: Success Stories and Strategies of Immigrant Women, from Isabel Allende to Ivana Trump, to Fashion Designer Josie Natori, Plus More" (Archway Publishing, 2019) and “Transformational Diversity: Why and How Intercultural Competencies Can Help Organizations to Survive and Thrive” (SHRM Publishing, 2011) brought her recognition as NABE Pinnacle Book Achievement award winner in women's interest category and Top 2012 Champion of Diversity, by, a think-tank. Her Huffington Post blogs – along with own website and other publications - explore the issues of multicultural women from multiple perspectives. Fiona’s new book features prominent American immigrant women and explores what helped them to become immense success in the US. With experience as Director of Berlitz, FGI, and a personal consulting portfolio, Fiona Citkin accumulated skills in public speaking, consulting, magazine, radio, and TV interviews, entrepreneurship, and of course, intercultural communication and languages. She speaks English, Russian, and Ukrainian. After living and working in Europe (Ukraine, Russia, Hungary, Austria, Great Britain, and Switzerland), she now resides in Warren, NJ, USA, and can be reached at [email protected]