Random spotting: Restaurant boycotts

A controversy involving a McDonald’s in Logan, W.Va., led locals there to embrace social media as a means of punishing the restaurant for a perceived slight. That prompted us to look closer at what many restaurants regard as a Level 5 catastrophe: Outraged consumers using Twitter and Facebook to mount a boycott.

After all, social media have brought down governments, sparked riots and spread rumors as if they were syrup on a short stack. What happens when that power is targeted squarely at a restaurant brand?

Turns out there’s usually far more flash than pow. The Logan situation is a case in point.

EMS personnel from out of town had parked their cars in the McDonald’s lot while covering for colleagues attending the funeral of a popular former co-worker. According to local media reports, several of the out-of-towners exchanged words with the manager of the restaurant, who apparently didn’t appreciate spaces being taken by non-customers.

Although allegations of a social-media-fueled boycott were widely reported, we couldn’t find any actual mentions of the snub in the Twitterverse or Facebook domain. A local bulletin board carried 16 posts on the topic, and not all of those were pro-boycott.

The only other thing we found was a re-post of one of the news reports, on a blog aimed at EMS personnel.

What we did discover, however, is how often social media users call for a boycott of restaurant chains.  Consider how frequently just McDonald’s is targeted. There are more than a dozen pages on Facebook devoted to boycotts of the chain by various groups, ranging from Muslims to fundamentalist Christians to customers who are irate that a chocolate-vanilla combo soft-serve cone was dropped from the menu.

Another page calls for giving the chain a cold shoulder because it raised the price of the Double Cheeseburger, which had been on the Dollar Menu.

Seemingly, the chain just can’t win. Several of the calls to in-action accuse the chain of being pro-gay; others blast the brand for being anti-gay.

But the most fans any page could claim was 180, for one of the Christian groups that believe McDonald’s is not sufficiently anti-gay.

Just to put it in perspective: A search on Facebook found 51 pages calling for a boycott of Burger King or one of its units. The alleged offenses by the chain ranged from running the infamous “square butts” commercials to discontinuing the Angry Whopper and refusing to force a pay hike for the migrant workers who pick BK’s chain’s tomatoes.

We found one boycott rallying page for Chick-fil-A.

How did the chains react to those calls for killing their businesses? Benign neglect.


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