Here’s the problem.
Say that I have a problem with the way a company conducts business. Maybe its ethics are misplaced, or it runs a questionable advertising campaign. The remedy is simple - I can stop buying their products and tell others why I’m no longer supporting them.
Now, let’s say that I have a problem with the way an individual - a famous sports personality for example. I can complain to their sponsors, and possibly even boycott their products in protests.
So far, so good.
Now, what happens when you protest against a newspaper or a website that has opinions you disagree with? You can always switch to one you like more, putting market forces into action. There’s also the option of writing to the editor, saying why you’ll no longer be a reader.
But it starts to fall apart when I campaign to firms advertising on the site. Rather than simply take my clicks elsewhere, I’m saying that I disagree with their opinion so strongly that I want to remove any financial backing they have. This is even more problematic when I disagree with one or two contributors, but tar the whole outlet with the same brush.
At first glance, it doesn’t seem like it should be a bad thing - after all, we’re exerting our rights as consumers. But here’s the wrinkle.
I want a free press that can publish what it wants without fear or favour. That means everything is open for criticism - corporations and creators on one side, consumers and culture on the other. Nothing is sacrosanct.
But I can’t campaign for a press that’s free from influence by corporate agendas on one hand, if I’m determined to directly influence what they can or cannot report on.
By campaigning to advertisers that they should withdraw support from opinions I don’t like, I am arguing that those opinions should not be published. I am exerting the exact same pressure on an editorial board as the corporations I am opposed to. I am campaigning for economically induced censorship.
Now, that might be what you’re after - to make outlets so afraid of publishing certain opinions that they would rather kill a story than lose advertisers. Or even - as I’ve seen in some places - to dismantle or destroy outlets that publish those opinions.
But here’s the thing - if I complain about a website being influenced by corporations, it is hypocritical for me to engage in the same. If I complain about my own voice being censored, it is hypocritical for me to campaign to do the same to others. And if I declare that I am for openness and transparency, it is hypocritical for me to induce a chilling effect on the industry.