50 years ago, groups took to the streets to decry discrimination from companies and government institutions at the 1963 March on Washington. Today, however, the accessibility and amplifying power of social media has made digital mechanisms the go-to platform for modern protests.
Some say social media is the perfect way to fight back by “shaming” brands and entities into addressing complaints. A recent story exemplifies this trend.
Was it racism?
A South Carolina restaurant came under fire this week when news began to spread about an alleged incident of discrimination involving its staff. Michael Brown was a part of a party of 25 that visited a Charleston restaurant called Wild Wings Café nearly a month ago. Brown says at some point during a two hour wait, a member of his party got into a dispute with another patron. Then things took a turn for the worse.
When Brown asked a manager about an empty section and asked to be seated, according to Brown, he was told that his party would not be seated there because the patron from the earlier dispute felt threatened.
Brown and his party were all black. The complaining patron was white. The scene soon escalated when a member of Brown’s party began recording their conversation with the manager. All 25 were subsequently asked to leave.
Denial of service, no reasons given
“Without having a discussion about what happened, the manager made a clear decision to not service us over the other party,” says Brown. “She kept us waiting and wouldn’t have said anything had I not asked.”
He called the Wild Wings corporate office and got no response, so Brown took to his Facebook page and wrote to his more than 1,000 friends. “This type of racial discrimination is unacceptable and we have to put a STOP TO IT,” Brown wrote. “The manager looked me dead in the face and said she was refusing us service because she had a right to and simply she felt like it. DO NOT SUPPORT THIS ESTABLISHMENT…PLEASE SHARE THIS POST.”
Today, the post has received nearly 4,000 shares on Facebook and over 2,000 comments.
Brand shaming: Modern activism
Nearly a month after the incident at Wild Wings Café, the complaints on Facebook started to garner considerable attention and the company took notice, promising to investigate and seek a resolution with Brown and his party.
Eventually, the company issued an apology.
“We are incredibly disappointed and sorry that any guest felt disrespected or discriminated against,” said Debra Stokes, chief marketing officer for Wild Wing Café, in a statement to theGrio. “The customers have a right to be upset with our lack of timely responsiveness. However, the color of their skin did not play a part in this situation. It was a breakdown in our own internal communication. I can assure you that we have zero tolerance for discrimination of any kind and that there is a full and ongoing review of the entire incident…The incident that occurred in the restaurant is under investigation. The manager involved is on leave while we continue the investigation.”
“Brand shaming,” as it’s called, is a rising trend and tactic for consumers to air grievances with products and services, including perceived discrimination. With so many companies active on social media, it is fast becoming a quick way to share one’s dissatisfaction and get a response.
The political power of social media
According to a 2011 Maritz Research and evolve24 study of Twitter trends, nearly 30 percent of complaints made directly to companies on Twitter garner replies. As with Brown’s case, the likelihood of receiving redress increases significantly when users have a large following or the complaint goes viral.
Brown says he’s pleased that the restaurant has taken the complaint seriously and hopes to see that earnestness reflected in the resolution. He doesn’t want the manager fired, Brown says, but his party would like an apology from the woman. He has also asked for company-wide sensitivity training and an outreach event, sponsored by Wild Wings Café, to promote unity in Charleston.
Ultimately, however, Brown says none of this would have happened without social media.
“It took over 20 days for a response,” he says. “The only reason they responded was because of the Facebook posts. Social media is definitely powerful. It’s something we should take full advantage of. I’m not an advocate for putting private issues into the public space, but discrimination on any level isn’t private and should be shared.”
Follow Donovan X. Ramsey at @iDXR