Last Wednesday, the National Organization for [straight] Marriage sent several people to the Starbucks shareholders’ meeting to challenge chairman and CEO Howard Shultz about the company’s views on civil marriage, namely that it shouldn’t be restricted to straight people only. As expected, Mr. Shultz handled the publicity stunt wonderfully, reaffirming the company’s commitment to treat their gay employees and customers fairly.
Also as expected, NOM immediately began a petition campaign against Starbucks. It’s not going very well. Really, really, not very well. At all.
In the five days since NOM’s petition at DumpStarbucks.com went live, they’ve managed to amass nearly 19,000 signatures for their petition. That’s not horrific, though pretty not-great in terms of heavily pushed international social media campaigns. On Sunday evening, NOM crowed through their DumpStarbucks twitter account about a new signature count.
I challenge their reporting. See, I’ve been checking in on NOM’s signature updates over the weekend, and they don’t pass the smell test. Something…fishy happened around noon on Saturday. At 11:57, their automated tweeting application announced 8,048 signatures.
A mere 23 minutes later, the automated tweeting application announced 15,157 signatures.
So NOM claims that they trucked along at a steady pace of about 2,500 – 3,500 signatures per day from Wednesday through Saturday morning, had a burst of 7,100 signatures in a half hour, then abruptly returned to their previous rate. In 23 minutes, according to NOM, they got almost as many signatures as they had in the previous three days combined.
That kind of sudden increase and identically sudden reversal are, to be polite, unlikely. Factoring in that the burst of support supposedly happened on one of the slowest internet traffic days of the week, it becomes even less likely. But for the sake of argument, let’s assume for a moment that the claimed sudden burst of support happened. Why would it happen?
NOM has been pushing their DumpStarbucks Twitter account pretty hard, so it’s reasonable to figure it’s coming from there. The problem with that is that their Twitter campaign has been, in a word, horrible. They currently have a grand total of 137 followers. Even worse, a Topsy search for the auto-filled DumpStarbucks tweet you’re given after signing the petition turns up only 63 tweets so far (Monday 3:00 AM), and that includes people deriding the campaign. Saturday morning before NOM’s magic half hour? A whopping two tweets. The burst, if it were true, simply couldn’t have come from there.
There’s surely some traffic from Facebook, and Maggie Gallagher’s NOM post on Friday afternoon was shared on Facebook over a thousand times by Saturday morning (Thanks to Jeremy at GoodAsYou for the Saturday morning screencap.) But are those thousand shares enough to explain 7,100 new signatures in a magic half hour? I don’t think so. If they did, how would you explain the precipitous drop at the end of the half hour? It just doesn’t add up.
What happened? It’s worth noting that the Saturday tweets during the magic half hour were automated and Sunday’s were manually tweeted. (See the notation under the tweets.) In fact, the 15,157 tweet was the last from the automated application. It’s not unreasonable to consider that NOM’s automated system may have malfunctioned in its reporting before it was caught and shut down. Come to think of it, we know it malfunctioned on Friday; in two separate tweets it reported zero signatures.
Another possibility is that the system under-reported for three days, corrected itself during the magic half hour, then started under-reporting again. (Remember, the sudden drop is as suspect as the sudden increase.) That seems even less likely.
Then there’s the third option. Someone saw that NOM’s campaign was a dismal failure, knew they’d need something to brag about at the start of the week, and thought doubling the count over the weekend would do the trick.
And make no mistake, NOM’s campaign is a failure. By comparison, the PumpStarbucks petition at SumOfUs, which thanks Starbucks for supporting civil rights, has 12.5 times more signatures than NOM’s corporate-backed petition. At 3:00 am on Monday (I should really be in bed, you guys), their independently tallied signature count is sitting at 222,043 to NOM’s 18,725.