On November 19, 2019, Ms. Nandini Jammi—a digital marketing specialist and cofounder of Sleeping Giants, a social media activism initiative—spoke to students in the Leon Hess Business School (Prof. Aslanbeigui’s graduate class in Corporate Governance and Organizational Ethics) and Political Science (Prof. Crohheim’s undergraduate class in Media Law). Launched in 2016, Sleeping Giants campaign against the unethical consequences of programmatic advertising, an automated process that markets products on websites and apps. Operating from a Twitter account in the United States—similar accounts have been established in other countries, including Australia, Brazil, Germany, Norway, and United Kingdom—hundreds of thousands of Sleeping Giants followers alert advertisers that their programmatic ads appear on websites that support, implicitly or explicitly, unethical practices such as hate speech and bigotry, sexual harassment, or inhumane treatment of immigrants.
In her lecture, Jammi shed light on the fact that well-known product brands employ technology platforms such as Google to place digital ads, seldom knowing where they would appear. As a result, reputable brands fund the operations, and tacitly support the views, of websites that peddle hate speech and practice bigotry. Politely but tenaciously, Sleeping Giants activists act as corporate watchdogs, pursuing a simple but effective model: utilize social media to increase awareness of unethical practices—screen-shots of unintentional ads are often juxtaposed with publicized mission statements of socially-responsible corporations. Highlighting the inconsistency of values professed and values practiced, Sleeping Giants offer ways in which corporations could eliminate the resulting value conflicts. Jammi expressed satisfaction that in most cases, such corporations are grateful for the information and quick in implementing change.
Jammi and her fellow Sleeping Giants are far from freeing the digital world from unethical practices. However, they work assiduously to shift public perceptions of business and technology platforms through consumer activism and offer strategies that keep business brands morally defensible.