Facebook Group Highlighting Michael Savage/Rockstar Connection Censored
Right-wing shock-jock Michael Savage, best known for his abusive tirades against minorities, liberals and, recently, entire countries, has a family connection to the popular energy drink Rockstar. Savage's son, Russell Weiner, is the founder and CEO of Rockstar. Savage's wife serves as director of energy drink company, and Savage Productions shares an address with Rockstar. The energy-drink company recently signed a distribution deal with PepsiCo.
Rockstar's lawyers have been hard at work trying to tamp down publicity about Savage's relationship to the energy drink. The firm -- which, incidentally, includes Robert Shapiro of OJ Simpson-trial fame -- is threatening Web sites and groups that have drawn attention to the connection with defamation suits. AlterNet got such a letter in response to an article highlighting a Facebook campaign that called for a boycott of Rockstar.
Apparently, Rockstar has found an ally in Facebook. Soon after lawyers sent letters to various publications asking for a retraction and apology over allegations that Savage is a co-founder, the social networking site took down the Facebook page organizing the boycott. The account of the founder of the campaign, Charles Tsai, was disabled without warning or explanation.
Tsai had created the Facebook group, "Don't Drink Hate. BOYCOTT ROCKSTAR," in late April, after reading an article filled with quotes from Savage and Weiner. Tsai, who wrote in a statement published later, "I was utterly disgusted" by their statements, decided to boycott Rockstar products and alert others to the company's right-wing associations.
According to a statement published on Tsai's Web site, the group soon grew to more than 12,000 people.
On May 27 (the same day AlterNet received a letter from Rockstar's lawyers), Tsai found that his account had been disabled and "Don't Drink Hate" had been deleted by Facebook administrators. The next day, he received a letter from Rockstar's lawyers.
The letter demanded that Tsai apologize. In response, Tsai started another Facebook group called "Don't Drink Hate. BOYCOTT ROCKSTAR* my apology" on June 2.
Once again, Facebook suspended Tsai's account. Tsai writes on his blog, "I come home from dinner on June 8th to find my new Facebook account disabled, and because I created the group from it, I am no longer an admin of the 'Don't Drink Hate. BOYCOTT ROCKSTAR* my apology' group."
Later on the same day, Tsai found that the account had been hijacked by what appeared to be fans of Savage or Rockstar. The group's name was changed to "LEGALIZE CHILD LABOR!" and then changed to "ROCKSTAR ENERGY DRINK FANCLUB!"
The site's message boards featured the following:
"Yes, this is a cave-in. It was decided it was not worth any legal repercussions to we now FULLY endorse Rockstar Energy Drink in every way! GO ROCKSTAR! YAY!" and "Please let's all focus on the AWESOMENESS that is ROCKSTAR ENERGY DRINK (as ordered by lawyers). Any past negative comments concerning ROCKSTAR ENERGY DRINK originatin from this group were WRONG, LIES and SLANDER! GO ROCKSTAR!" and "Once again, we APOLOGIZE publicly for any slander towards ROCKSTAR ENERGY DRINK and salute them as the world's most powerful energy drink! Go Rockstar!"
Since then, the hijacked site appears to have been taken down.
In the meantime, another Facebook user reposted "Don't Drink Hate: Boycott Rockstar." The page features the following:
REPOST BY ANOTHER USER BECAUSE THE ORIGINAL WAS HIJACKED: I AM NOT THE ORIGINAL ADMIN/CREATOR OF THIS GROUP, BUT I FEEL IT DESERVES TO BE PUT BACK.
NOTE: INVITE ALL THE ORIGINAL MEMBERS YOU CAN! WE NEED TO GET THIS BACK TO THE NUMBERS THE ORIGINAL HAD.
IF THIS ONE GETS HACKED/REMOVED, THEN SOMEONE PLEASE CREATE ANOTHER, AND SO ON."
The page also adds:
I AM NOT CLAIMING MICHAEL WEINER IS INVOLVED WITH ROCKSTAR PERSONALLY. I DON'T CARE IF HE IS/WAS INVOLVED WITH ROCKSTAR OR NOT. HIS WIFE AND SON ARE, AND THAT IS ENOUGH FOR ME TO WANT TO BOYCOTT THE PRODUCT.
YEAH, GUILT BY ASSOCIATION. MY CHOICE, MY OPINION.
Hideki Tojo, who started the site, says that this is Tsai's cause and doesn't want to speak for him, but that he nevertheless felt compelled to fight Facebook censorship by starting the new group: "I only picked up his banner and ran with it (call it a knee-jerk reaction)," says Tojo.
Tojo thinks that Facebook was cowed by the legal threat. "I thought Facebook was in the wrong, obviously, but I understood the process behind it happening. It was the Rockstar legal threat, and Charles' brilliant 'apology,' which got me rooting him."
He says, " 'When you can't run, you crawl, and when you can't crawl -- when you can't do that ...You find someone to carry you.' That's all I'm doing for Charles. You can't stop the signal."
Jackie Sheeler, who joined the group upon finding about the the Rockstar/Michael Savage connection and subsequent efforts to censor information about their relationship, says: "This kind of bullying makes me furious. And I am very disappointed in Facebook, which I really like as a social online neighborhood."
Sheeler points out that blocking content can have a chilling effect: "If people have to start being afraid of what groups they join or start or promote, it's going to change the whole atmosphere of the place."
Controversy has flared up before over Facebook's blocking practices. In 2007, Michael Carrington wrote about how a search of then-presidential candidate Ron Paul yielded zero results. Facebook claimed the problem stemmed from a technical bug.
Later in the year, MoveOn.org started a campaign protesting a new Facebook policy that allegedly shared user information with advertisers, without users' explicit consent. At the time, MoveOn contended that the group, which had 12,000 members, could not be located via search on Facebook.
Facebook also caught flak for flagging and deleting photos of women breastfeeding.
Facebook could not be reached for comment.