In mid-April, the retail giant Target announced that transgender customers would be allowed to visit restrooms and fitting rooms that matched their gender identity. Exactly a day later there was a spike in transphobic hate speech on Twitter after a conservative Christian group launched a boycott campaign against Target.
According to social media tracking websites, millions of people have seen The American Family Association’s Twitter campaign #BoycottTarget. But now all of those anti-trans tweets are quickly becoming a cash cow to fight transphobia thanks to an international LGBT rights group and an Austin, Texas, tech startup.
“We knew the backlash was coming, but we had no idea it would be so fast,” read an email gay rights group All Out sent to its members in the U.S. The American Family Association says more than a million people have pledged to boycott Target if the retail company doesn’t change its LGBT-friendly bathroom and fitting room policy.
The email went on to ask members: “Imagine if every time someone spreads lies about transgender people being ‘perverts’ and ‘pedophiles,’ a dollar goes towards campaigns for love and equality?”
All Out partnered with tech company, iKeedo, which is devoted to helping progressive groups raise money by turning tweets from the opposition into donations for good causes. Donors can visit the iKeedo website and select the total amount they ultimately wish to donate and select anywhere from 10¢ to $100 to contribute each time the selected hashtag is used. iKeedo keeps 5% of each donation for operating costs.
In its first week the LGBT rights group’s campaign has raised close to $4,000, becoming the startup’s most successful campaign.
"It was a way to turn hateful anti-LGBT lies that are being spread on social media into fuel for campaigns for love and equality," said Sarah Mitchell, a director at the New York City-based All Out.
"We got really excited when we first heard about [the technology] because it was something we dreamt we could do one day," Mitchell said in a telephone interview.
All Out sent a mass email to its U.S. members asking if they were willing to make a donation of as little as 10¢ each time someone used the hashtag #BoycottTarget. So far 85 supporters have raised $3,859.
All Out has been the most successful campaign for the startup iKeedo, which takes its name from the martial art Aikido that’s based on using your enemy’s strength against them. The company was founded by a team of three men who have worked in branding and business development for Fortune 500 companies including Motorola, Nike and American Airlines.
“The heavy usage of the #BoycottTarget hashtag definitely played to our favor,” said Mitchell. According to hashtag tracking website Ritetag, an average of 33 tweets use the hashtag every hour.
iKeedo is currently hosting a handful of company-vetted fundraisers including one launched by Everytown for Gun Safety, a group that advocates for stronger gun laws. The group has raised $1,712 in donations from supporters that give a pre-set amount each time The National Rifle Association of America tweets anything. The political group MoveOn.org has also raised close to $2,000 in donations thanks to tweets from Donald Trump.
“A lot of what fueled the boycott Target campaign has been based on a misunderstanding of what it means to be transgender, and we hope to be able to use [the donations] to educate people through stories from transgender people,” Mitchell said.