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United Is the Latest Company to Fly Into a Social Media Storm

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04/11/2017 | 08:33pm CET
By Anne Steele and Imani Moise 

Consumers erupted on social media this week after United Airlines forcibly removed a passenger from a flight Sunday night.

Videos of the incident were captured by other passengers and posted on social media, where they were shared hundreds of thousands of times. The anger also spread to China as the passenger was identified in news reports as ethnically Chinese. By Tuesday, the incident was the No. 1 trending topic on Weibo, China's Twitter-like microblog. Many comments on the site urged boycotting the airline or canceling its credit cards.

The United incident this week joins a growing list of instances where consumers have used social media en masse to amplify their grievances against a company and demand a response. Here are few other recent examples:

Target's Bathroom Policy

In April 2016, Target Corp. published a blog post welcoming transgender employees and shoppers to use its restrooms and fitting rooms corresponding with their gender identities. The retailer made public its existing policy as the issue of bathroom choice was heating up after North Carolina passed a law that required transgender people to use bathrooms in government buildings according to the sex on their birth certificates. Although other retailers have similar policies, Target's public posting sparked an outcry from socially conservative groups, and people began clogging its Facebook, Twitter and Instagram pages. An internal review found the negative publicity -- which didn't die down quickly -- was the tipping point for some stores, especially in the South, that were struggling.

Nordstrom Pulls Ivanka Trump Label

Nordstrom Inc.'s announcement earlier this year that it decided to stop carrying Ivanka Trump's label, citing poor sales, created a firestorm on social media, prompting President Donald Trump and senior White House counselor Kellyanne Conway to publicly rush to Ms. Trump's defense. The Wall Street Journal reported sales of the line at Nordstrom tumbled 32% last fiscal year, with declines deepening in the run-up to the U.S. presidential election. G-III Apparel Group Ltd., however, which makes women's apparel under the Ivanka Trump brand, reported a $17.9 million increase in net sales of Ivanka Trump licensed products to $29.4 million last fiscal year.

Nivea's "White Is Purity" Ad

Nivea, owned by German skin-care company Beiersdorf AG, deleted an ad last week that featured the phrase "White is Purity" after facing backlash from people who considered it to be a racist message, and after some white supremacist groups apparently cheered it. The ad, for the company's "Invisible for Black and White" deodorant, was a picture of the back of a woman clothed in all white, with the slogan "White is purity" in all caps on top.

Pepsi Protest Ad

PepsiCo Inc. pulled an advertisement that debuted online last week after swift outcries from both liberals and conservatives. The The 2 1/2 -minute spot featured celebrity model Kendall Jenner, who defuses a standoff between a group of racially diverse protesters and a stone-faced line of policemen by handing one of the officers a can of Pepsi. Some critics called it a tone-deaf depiction of the Black Lives Matter movement while others accused it of being slanted against law enforcement. One day after the online release, Pepsi apologized, removed the content and halted further rollout.

Uber and Trump's Travel Ban

After some critics accused Uber Technologies Inc. of changing its pricing policy to profit off of a taxi strike in response to President Donald Trump's travel ban, customers took to social media to urge others to delete their Uber accounts. The hashtag #deleteUber was a top trending topic over the weekend of the incident. On Jan. 29, two days after the executive order was signed, Chief Executive Travis Kalanick announced the company was setting aside $3 million in legal aid to help drivers who were affected by the ban. Days later, he resigned from the president's advisory board. The hashtag urging people to eschew the ride-hailing app made a comeback after an former employee's allegations of rampant sexism at the company. Mr. Kalanick condemned the behavior described by the employee and ordered an internal investigation, hiring former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder to help review the charges.

Starbucks's Refugee Hiring Pledge

Starbucks Corp. met fierce social-media backlash as it pledged to hire 10,000 refugees in response to President Donald Trump's executive order banning refugees from seven Muslim-majority countries, which the administration said was due to terrorism concerns. #BoycottStarbucks was one of the top trending topics at the time of the news. However, the company said it didn't see any disruption at its stores. The coffee chain has been criticized -- and praised -- before for taking stands on such issues as gun control and race relations.

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