Walking the Thin Political Line

By Samuel Greengard  |  Posted 2015-10-06 Email Print this article Print
Politics and Companies

It isn't wise to hide behind political correctness, but it's risky to insert a company into a political issue because the CEO can't keep his or her mouth shut.

It's apparent that politics and business increasingly intersect. Although consumers have long used organized campaigns and boycotts to push for change, the power of the Internet and social media has transformed the concept.

Over the last several years, companies such as BP, Target, GoDaddy and Chick-fil-A have found themselves in the crosshairs for one reason or another. These include bad business practices, allowing weapons in stores, insensitive views toward animals and gay rights issues.

Of course, these days, just about everything winds up politicized. There are even apps that help consumers sort through the politics of a particular company so they can spend their dollars, Euros and Yen just how they like. For instance, the Buy Partisan app for iOS and Android lets an individual scan a barcode and discover a company's political spending patterns.

The latest entry in the political derby: Hinder, an app developed by The Daily Show co-creator Lizz Winstead as part of Lady Parts Justice. The app allows users to see where elected officials stand on birth control, abortion access, LGBT issues and sex education—albeit in a satirical way that spoofs dating app Tinder.

Apple initially banned Hinder from its App Store. However, within hours, nearly 30,000 members of UltraViolet—a group that fights sexism and works to expand women’s rights—registered protests with Apple and demanded that access be granted. In addition, more than 1,000 of them tweeted Apple directly. Within 24 hours, Apple changed course and allowed the app to go live.

Regardless of how you feel about this particular issue—or any others ranging from rainbow-colored Doritos to the owner of sandwich chain Jimmy John's posing with big game trophies in exotic lands—we have clearly entered a new era.

The Citizen's United ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2010, which essentially stated that corporations have the same first amendment rights as individuals, simply added more fuel to the fire.

There's no telling where all of this will end. But one thing is perfectly clear: Companies—and their business and IT leaders—should think very carefully about decisions that affect political or social issues, including policies, marketing campaigns and mobile apps. While it isn't wise to hide behind political correctness, it's also risky to insert a company into a political issue for no reason other than a CEO who can't keep his or her mouth shut.

As the Hinder example eloquently illustrates, within the political realm, it's usually better to let people make their own decisions.

Samuel Greengard writes about business and technology for Baseline, CIO Insight and other publications. His most recent book is The Internet of Things (MIT Press, 2015).

Submit a Comment

Loading Comments...
Manage your Newsletters: Login   Register My Newsletters