Should Lowe's need a crowbar to pull its head out of the sand, it can find one in its own aisles. On Saturday, the home-improvement company posted a note to Facebook explaining its decision to capitulate to an email campaign by the Florida Family Association and pull its ads from the TLC reality show All-American Muslim. As of this writing, the post has drawn more than 22,000 comments, a significant portion of which are racist and contain anti-Muslim/anti-Islamic hate speech. (Scroll down to see some of them.) So, why isn't Lowe's moderating its Facebook wall?
"If Lowe's was concerned about spreading hate speech, you would think that they would filter and delete the worst [comments]," says Ibrahim Hooper, communications director for the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR). "It's hard to tell if leaving them up is intentional or not." CAIR sent Lowe's CEO Robert Niblock a letter on Monday requesting a meeting to discuss the pulling of ads from the TLC show but has received no response so far. Late Tuesday, CAIR plans to release a statement condemning Lowe's for allowing the bigoted speech to remain on its Facebook wall.
Josh Bernoff, senior vp of idea development at Forrester Research and co-author of Groundswell and Empowered, says Lowe's has made several strategic errors throughout this ordeal. First was the decision to pull the ads. Now, he says, it's compounding the problem by responding only to press questions and remaining mute in social media. Its most recent tweet, from Saturday, directs people to the Facebook post. Since then, the discussion has only gotten more heated as national news media have picked up the original story. "Hoping this will die down if you don't participate never works," says Bernoff. "It doesn't tamp down anything." He adds: "The first thing they need to do is decide what they believe. It's not clear at this point." After that, he says, they need to put that message out in every online medium possible.
In its Facebook post, Lowe's writes, "We strongly support and respect the right of our customers, the community at large, and our employees to have different views." Yet bigotry isn't a "different view" that does much good for a brand. Lowe's must think that if it stays above the fray, it can't be held accountable. But the ballooning number of racist comments on its Facebook wall is an accounting all its own.
On Tuesday, hip-hop mogul Russell Simmons said he had bought up all remaining ad space on All-American Muslim to protest Lowe's decision. On Sunday, Sen. Ted Lieu (D-Calif.) told the Associated Press that he was considering calling for a boycott against Lowe's and weighing possible legislative action. It's not inconceivable that a presidential candidate might weigh in. The less Lowe's says, the more others do the talking for them.
Not everyone is against Lowe's. "Thank You!!! On may [sic] way to Lowe's to do some CHRISTmas shopping!" reads one Facebook comment. "Y'all got any tools down there at Lowe's I can use to seal my house up night and tight-like?" reads another. "I'd be fixin' to cut me a hickory switch if a minority ever got in there!" Seems Lowe's is attracting another breed of shopper this week. It remains to be seen whether those who aren't tolerant of Muslims buy more home-improvement supplies than those who are.
Lowe's did not respond to email and phone requests seeking comment.
UPDATE: Around 2 p.m. Wednesday, Lowe's deleted the Facebook post swamped by hateful messages, and added a new one, explaining why it left the old one up without monitoring comments—and promising to do better this time. It reads in part: "Some of the comments have been sharp and disrespectful in tone, but out of respect for the transparency of social media, we let the debate continue. However, we have seen a large volume of comments become more pointed and hateful. As a result, we have taken the step of removing all previous posts and will more tightly filter future comments on this topic." Also, fans can't start their own posts anymore—they can only comment on the Lowe's posts.