PepsiCo is the the latest major corporation targeted by online boycotts as a result of election comments. But in this case, the boycott was inspired by false reports—incendiary, anti-Trump comments that Pepsi CEO Indra Nooyi never actually said.
After Nooyi appeared at a New York Times conference last week, online boycotts began to float around alleging she said she “loathed” President-elect Donald Trump and “hated” his supporters. As those boycotts began to circulate on social media channels, thousands on Twitter began to circulate a #BoycottPepsi hashtag.
The problem? Nooyi never said any of that—not even close.
When Nooyi walked out onto the Times‘ DealBook conference stage, some of her first comments were about the election. Here’s what she said exactly:
“First of all, I want to congratulate President-elect Donald Trump because the election is over. We should mourn for those of us who supported the other side. But we have to come together and life has to go on.” Nooyi went on to explain that she also found herself answering questions from her daughters, employees—in particular employees of color, women and members of the LGBT community—who were asking ‘Are we safe?’
“I never thought I’d have to answer those questions,” Nooyi said. “The first thing we all have to do is to assure everybody in the United States that they are safe. Nothing has changed because of this election.”
The full video can be seen here.
Even an internal PepsiCo memo obtained by Fortune echoes the tone of her comments at the Times conference. In that memo to employees, Nooyi wrote: “Yesterday, across this country, Americans turned out in record numbers to make their voices heard. I want to congratulate President-elect Donald Trump on his victory, and I wish him all the best as he begins the work of stewarding this country in the months and years ahead.”
For what’s it is worth, Nooyi never publicly backed a presidential candidate and never personally gave money to either campaign. She did vote, but hasn’t disclosed how she voted.
Still, right-leaning websites are spreading false statements, and users on Twitter and Facebook, including the actor James Woods, are recirculating the falsehoods. One web boycott claimed “Far Left CEO Says “Employees Are Scared for Their Safety” After Trump’s Victory.” Another boycott, from Angry Patriot, said “Pepsi CEO’s SHAMEFUL Statement About Trump Proves It’s TIME FOR A BOYCOTT!”
PepsiCo’s most recent Facebook page post is the target of numerous boycott calls. It is also finding itself the target of tweets like the ones below.
In the days following election, numerous boycotts are floating around on both sides of the aisles as comments made by a number of executives win praise or condemnation taking some sort of stance as it relates to the election.
The most high-profile of all those cases has been the reaction to comments attributed to an executive at New Balance Shoe Company that were supportive of a Donald Trump presidency as it relates to trade. Both sides of the aisle weighed in on New Balance’s Facebook page.
Critics have pointed to social media companies like Facebook for spreading misinformation, but Facebook says false news makes up a very slim percentage of posts on their websites. What Facebook doesn’t seem to take into account is that when misinformation is spread, it can spill over into news stories and generate another wave of coverage and attention. Even mainstream news outlets that are writing quick takes about the PepsiCo boycott are spreading falsehoods.
For example, this Forbes story and headline: “Pepsico CEO Indra Nooyi After Trump Election: How Dare You Talk About Women That Way” has been used by right-leaning blogs that have called for the boycott. The article misquoted her, alleging she was commenting about Trump’s language toward women. But Nooyi was speaking more broadly in a response to a question about coarseness in society (not Trump or any other elected official) and how it relates to marketing brands. Her direct quote: “Forget the brand. Forget the Pepsi brand. How dare we talk about women that way.”
The question she was asked by Times moderator Andrew Ross Sorkin was also in reference to a conversation that the Times had earlier at the conference with NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, relating to issues involving domestic violence. Nooyi’s comments were also contextually in response to the NFL’s role in society. “I don’t think there’s a place for that kind of language in any part of society, not in locker rooms, not in football players’ homes, not in anyplace. And if we don’t nip it in the bud, Andrew, this is going to be a lethal force that’s going to take over society,” she said.
PepsiCo declined to comment on the boycotts themselves. However, PepsiCo did say that Nooyi “misspoke” at one point during the Times conference last week, when she characterized employees’ response to Trump’s surprise victory. She had said, “They were all in mourning. Our employees are all crying.”
The beverage and snacking giant says that’s not accurate. A spokesman told Fortune the following:
“Mrs. Nooyi misspoke. She was referring to the reaction of a group of employees she spoke to who were apprehensive about the outcome of the election. She never intended to imply that all employees feel the same way. We are incredibly proud of the diverse views and backgrounds across our workforce, and we are united in our desire for a brighter future.”