‘Diet Madison Avenue’ Goes Dark on Instagram as Female Agency Veterans Publish Oppositional Letter

Social platform says it did not shut down whistleblower account

Black and red script reading Diet Madison Avenue.
The anonymous account started in late 2017. Diet Madison Avenue
Headshot of Patrick Coffee

Instagram appeared to have shut down Diet Madison Avenue, an account that had 18,000 followers as of Sunday and was dedicated to “exposing sexual harassment and discrimination” in the ad agency world.

The news comes on the same day a group of female agency veterans released a letter calling out the group for making serious accusations anonymously. The reasons behind Instagram’s decision are not clear, and there is no indication the two events are related.

Update: Just over an hour after this story published, the account returned to Instagram. A spokesperson for the Facebook-owned platform wrote, “Instagram did not disable the account.”

For the past several months, Diet Madison Avenue has been the 10-ton elephant filling nearly every office in the ad industry. The group describes itself as “17 ad junkies exposing Madison Ave sexual harassment & discrimination since Oct 2017, cuz HR won’t.” It became a topic of conversation around the world as industry insiders debated the importance of addressing advertising’s entrenched sexism and the anonymous account’s method of calling out alleged offenders.

The letter, which uses the hashtag #TimeOutDMA on Facebook, reflects some of those criticisms.

“It should go without saying that sexual harassment is unacceptable behavior under any circumstances. None of us believe otherwise,” reads the letter veteran producer Veronica Beach posted on Facebook this morning. “However, sexual harassment is an incredibly sensitive subject that requires accusations be handled with procedures outlined by companies. It is not acceptable to use an anonymous social media account to accuse people, pass judgment and use other bullying techniques to help the victims.”

The letter, signed by Beach and 13 other women, goes on to say that the DMA account “has created a toxic environment of fear.” While the letter expresses apparent sympathies with DMA’s organizers—”we understand that you felt you needed to be provocative in order to get attention for women who felt unheard”—it urges them to “dramatically change your tactics” or shut the account down entirely. “You are undermining yourselves and the powerful groundswell of changes that was and is currently underway,” it reads.

The women who signed the letter did not identify their employers to avoid involving them in the debate, Beach said.

Beach also told Adweek she is no stranger to bad behavior by men in the advertising industry.

“I had my first assault when I was in my later 20s,” she said. “I [experienced] abuse of power and harassment in my early 30s and had countless instances of inappropriate behavior and comments from all facets of the industry [including production agencies and postproduction houses]. But I don’t consider myself a victim; I consider myself a survivor.”

An undeniably disruptive force

Beach said she followed Diet Madison Avenue closely at first but stopped in January after it “started to make me a little uncomfortable.”

“I started to think, ‘Who are these people?'” she said. “When I walk into a room tomorrow with 17 other individuals [at work], I know their names and faces, even if we don’t agree.”

Beach continued: “[DMA] did something interesting and disruptive that shook a lot of people—and someone had to do it—but when you point at someone and make accusations, your face had better be there. That’s what #MeToo is all about: men and women putting their faces out there … and inspiring others.”

According to Beach, the letter stemmed in part from a recent dinner involving her and some of her former colleagues in the Los Angeles area.

Adweek reached out to Diet Madison Avenue via Twitter, and the account responded with the following:

“We have said this from day one. When you challenge the status quo, the status quo pushed back. What you’re seeing [now] is a very sad and completely tone deaf display of internalized misogyny from individuals who have had years and even decades to do something about this issue but have not. And we know it’s only occurring because they are protecting and defending their friends. We even know that some [have] been directly asked to do so by the men we have called out. Internalized misogyny is a bitch.”

The account later posted on Twitter, attributing the same “internalized misogyny” to “angry ladies whose friends were called out for predatory behavior” and tying the letter to the Instagram shutdown.

@PatrickCoffee patrick.coffee@adweek.com Patrick Coffee is a senior editor for Adweek.