Case Study: Target’s Celebration of Pride Month Has Put Them at The Center of Far-Right, Anti-LGBTQ+ Rhetoric

October 16, 2023
5 min

The far-right’s ongoing anti-LGBTQ agenda has claimed its latest victim—retail giant Target. In late May, amalicious, disinformation campaign exploded across social media accusing Target of promoting narcotics, violence, demonic practices, and gender dysphoria. The impact has already led to physical, reputational,and financial fallout that we judge will continue (at a minimum) throughout Pride Month.

This is the latest salvo from far-right and anti-LGBTQ+ groups who increasingly use social media toboycott retailers or organizations that promote Pride merchandise, including Anheuser-Busch, who facedbacklash after partnering with transgender social media influencer, Dylan Mulvaney, in April.

The role of alt-social media in these campaigns is integral. These sites are at the heart of the far-rightmovement, with users actively seeking new avenues to voice their selective outrage, and eagerly joiningrally cries to boycott companies that promote ‘gender fluidity’, ‘pedophilia’, and a ‘woke agenda’.

  • In late May, users on alt and mainstream social media began pushing a disinformation campaign alleging Target was selling clothing produced by a British transgender designer promoting the use of drugs, violence, Satanic rituals, and gender dysphoria. The thread began after anti-LGBTQ+ activists associated the designer's independent website (that sells merchandise using Satanic imagery to mock transphobia) to Target. The same designer was contracted earlier in 2023 to develop a line of pro-LGBTQ+ clothing and accessories for Target's promotion of Pride Month. The theory was furthered after activists publicly called out Target for allegedly selling
clothing —specifically to children — that promotes gender fluidity.
  • The disinformation campaign has led to Target receiving numerous threats of violence and, in some instances, patrons attacking store areas promoting their Pride collection. As a result, the company issued a statement on 24 May noting they would "make adjustments" by removing unspecified items that have been at the center of the disinformation campaign. Similar sentiment exists on alt-social sites, with some users calling for the attack or execution of homosexual or transgender persons.
  • Conservative lawmakers and online personalities have joined the anti-LGBTQ+ rhetoric calling
for a nation-wide boycott of Target over their "perverted" merchandise. 1 One conservativecommentator on 23 May tweeted that, "...all people with a moral conscience should never shop 1 at target again." 2 A review of Pyrra data over the past week indicates the hashtag #boycotttaret
was among the most popular hashtag across alt-social including Truth Social, Gab, Telegram, Gettr, and Mastodon. Moreover, the spread of the #boycotttarget peaked on 24 May—at almost 500 posts—the same day nationally syndicated press outlets such as the Washington Post picked up on the backlash against Target, suggesting the spike was in response to the press releases.
  • The backlash is also hitting Target financially, with company stocks plummeting over 13% in just
nine days from mid- to late-May.3 Some conservative media outlets have suggested this fall has cost the
retailer over $900 billion in market value,45 although, Pyrra cannot confirm thisestimate.

Alt-social will continue to propagate the disinformation campaign surrounding Target—and others—aswell as calls to boycott the retailer because of minimal censorship. As of 21 May, the top five alternativesocial media outlets involved in spreading misinformation or calls to boycott Target were 4chan, Disqus, Gab, Truth Social, and Mastodon, which accounted for over 81% of the overall online activity, judgingfrom a review of Pyrra data (see Appendix A)..

  • An October 2022 report authored by the Pew Research Center showedthat seven of the top alternative
social media outlets—Gettr, Parler, Bitchute, Rumble, Gab,Truth Social, Telegram—identify as mediums of 
free speech and opposition to censorship.6 Thesame report noted that while these same sites maintained
some level of content moderation, user privacy and strong anti-technology ideology suggests identifying
users involved in nefarious activities could be extremely difficult.
  • Alternative platforms such as Gab and 4chan advertise themselves as being unmoderatedmediums for
free, unmoderated speech. As a result, users on these forums are encouraged topush conspiracy theories, hateful rhetoric, and misinformation with little to no impunity. In someinstances, these online threats result in real world harm—via doxxing and swatting tactics thattarget outspoken / high profile individuals or encourage random attacks.
  • The recent controversy surrounding Target illustrates the importance of monitoring messaging
campaigns on not just mainstream social media but those on alternative forums, as well..

Appendix A: Sentiment Analysis of Target Across Alt-Social Media

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