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The Nike Email Exchange (NEE)

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Year: 2001

Type: culture jam (email correspondence made public)

Authors: Jonah Peretti and NikeID

Availability: original email correspondence first collated and published on shey.net

Page Reference: Jennings, E., Hargreaves, A., Goddard, M., Joslin, A., Whittington, M. & Bell, C. (2017) The Nike Email Exchange (NEE). followthethings.com (www.followthethings.com/nikeemailexchange.shtml (last accessed <insert date here>)

LEGO re-creation

2001: 'Contagious Media was the reason I was sitting on [the Today Show] couch with Katie Couric...' (part 2 of 3).

Descriptions

‘Just do it' becomes ‘just blew it' for Nike (Source: Carlton 2001 28).

… why Nike wouldn’t just do it (Source: Bryden-Brown 2001 5)

… a comedy of back and forth emails (Source: Foley 2012 np link).

It reads like an urban or even a biblical myth. David versus Goliath in cyberspace. A postgraduate student asks Nike to personalise a pair of shoes by stitching the word ‘sweatshop’ on to them. He sends a copy of a highly amusing e-mail exchange with Nike to a few friends. They e-mail it on and, eventually, it reaches millions of Internet users (Source: Byrne 2001 13).

The story begins when Nike gave its customers the online opportunity to order a pair of customised shoes (Source: Peretti & Micheletti 2006 128).

Nike’s revolutionary shoe-design service, which was introduced with great fanfare in 1999, allowed customers to create their own shoes complete with accent colors and a personalized ID printed on the side (Source: Broadhead 2001 36).

Nike’s Web site invites sneaker zealots to ‘build your own shoe,’ …  ‘It’s about freedom to choose, and freedom to express who you are,’ the site says (Source: Brad & Tomberry 2015 np link).

Nike’s offer backfired embarrassingly (Source: Kelly 2001 27).

The entire Nike email exchange began on January 17, 2001, when Jonah Peretti, a master’s student at the prestigious MIT media lab, decided to order a pair of customised Nike shoes from Nike iD (Source: Stolle & Micheletti 2013 179).

The service was heralded by Nike as a new form of customer empowerment, but Jonah felt that the service completely obscured the truth (Source: Broadhead 2001 36).

For his iD, Peretti selected ‘sweatshop’ (Source: xxmaryjane, 2007 np link).

But after Peretti had filled out the form and paid his $50, his freedom of expression was denied (Source: Edwards 2002 np link).

From: ‘Personalize, NIKE iD’ nikeid_personalize@nike.com 
To: ‘Jonah H. Peretti’ peretti@media.mit.edu
Subject: RE: Your NIKE iD order o16468000
Your NIKE iD order was cancelled for one or more of the following reasons.
1) Your Personal iD contains another party's trademark or other intellectual property.
2) Your Personal iD contains the name of an athlete or team we do not have the legal right to use.
3) Your Personal iD was left blank. Did you not want any personalization?
4) Your Personal iD contains profanity or inappropriate slang, and besides, your mother would slap us.
If you wish to reorder your NIKE iD product with a new personalization Please visit us again at www.nike.com. Thank you, NIKE iD (Source: Anon 2001a np link).

Nike cancelled his order, which resulted in a series of six emails back and forth between Peretti and an unknown Nike representative (Source: Brad & Tomberry 2015 np link).

Nike customer service wrote in its automated reply that its refusal could have to do with the fact that my personal iD contained another party’s trademark or their intellectual property, the name of an athlete or team they do not have legal right to use, profanity or inappropriate slang, or that I had left the box blank. They encouraged me to submit a new order. It was clear from my request that I was making a statement about Nike’s labour practices, but the automated responses avoided addressing this issue directly (Source: Peretti in Peretti & Micheletti 2006 129).

Despite persistent questions on Peretti’s part, the company hid behind policy statements and did not provide a logical rationale for the cancelled order (Source: Knobel & Lankshear 2007 211).

I pushed the issue further by explaining in an email response that my personal iD did not violate any of the criteria outlined in their message, that ‘I chose the iD because I wanted to remember the toil and labour of the children that made my shoes’ (Source: Peretti & Micheletti 2006 129).

Continuing to avoid the use at hand, Nike responded that my order contained inappropriate slang. They encouraged me again to submit a new order, but I continued to argue my case, explaining that Webster’s Dictionary dated the word ‘sweatshop’ to the 1890s, so it could not possibly be considered ‘inappropriate slang’. I also continued to press the labour issue … sarcastically (Source: Peretti & Micheletti 2006 129).

Your web site advertises that the NIKE iD program is ‘about freedom to choose and freedom to express who you are.’ I share Nike’s love of freedom and personal expression. The site also says that ‘If you want it done right … build it yourself.’ I was thrilled to be able to build me own shoes, and my personal iD was offered as a small token of appreciation for the sweatshop workers poised to help me realise my vision. (Source: Peretti in Anon 2001a np link).

But Nike clearly did not want to address this issue (Source: Peretti & Micheletti 2006 129).
 
They refused three times, listing a new excuse every time (Source: fraying 2001 np  link).

They stated that the company reserves the right to cancel any order they deem as containing ‘material that we consider inappropriate or simply do not want to place on our products’ (Source: Brad & Tomberry 2015 np link).

In addition it further explains: ‘While we honor most personal iDs, we cannot honor every one’ (Source: Anon 2001a np link).

Peretti gave up and closed the email exchange with a joke (Source: DeWinter-Schmitt 2007 390 link).

It was clear that I would never get my Nike ‘sweatshop’ shoes, but I delivered a parting shot (Source: Peretti & Micheletti 2006 129).

From: ‘Jonah H. Peretti’ peretti@media.mit.edu
To: ‘Personalize, NIKE iD’ nikeid_personalize@nike.com 
Subject: RE: Your NIKE iD order o16468000
Dear NIKE iD, Thank you for the time and energy you have spent on my request. I have decided to order the shoes with a different iD, but I would like to make one small request. Could you please send me a color snapshot of the ten-year-old Vietnamese girl who makes my shoes? Thanks, Jonah Peretti  (Source: Anon 2001a np link).

{no response} (Souce: Anon 2001b np link).

Jonah decided to make the emails public (Source: Brad & Tomberry 2015 np link).

Peretti gathered these exchanges together in a single email and sent it off to a few friends (Source: Knobel & Lankshear 2007 211).

This was in January 2001. Before YouTube, before Facebook, before Twitter, before people thought about things going viral. But if you remember into those dark days of social media there were these things called ‘email forwards’. So I pasted this thing together and sent it to a few friends and it became an early email forward and ended up being passed on from person to person (Source: Peretti in Suster 2017 np link).

Because of its antibranding prankishness, and a bit of Peretti’s own legwork, it soon entered the global public sphere(Source: Stolle & Micheletti 2013 179).

The satiric humour and social commentary contained in this set of email correspondence caught popular attention and soon reached thousands of people via email networks (Source: Knobel & Lankshear 2007 211).

… immediately it began racing around the world like a virus (Source: Peretti nd np link).

I never heard of Jonah Peretti before this week … but his exchange of emails with sportswear giant Nike has apparently been going around the world this week via cyberspace (Source: Fitzsimons 2001 74).

The exchange is also posted in its entirety on shey.net along with information about Nike's labor history, and begins to get forwarded around the internet in two variants: one with a link to shey.net, another without. Thousands of people worldwide will eventually receive the e-mail (Source: Anon 2001a np link).

This in turn sparked mainstream broadcast attention, and Peretti’s meme was the subject of a range of news and magazine reports, including Time magazine, and Peretti himself was interviewed on the Today Show, a popular news events talk show in the U.S. (Source: Knobel & Lankshear 2007 211).

San Francisco cartoonist, animator, and playwright Dan McHale does a great cartoon about the whole phenomenon (Source: Anon 2001a np link).

The rest, as they say, is viral history. By rough estimate, the email transcript circled the world approximately three zillion times (Source: Mckinnon 2001 np link).

Inspiration / Process / Technique / Methodology

The case is evidence that companies are operating in a new environment. People communicate instantly via the internet, so the way multinationals behave in far-flung destinations can no longer be hidden. Once activists have identified human rights abuses, they can spread the word worldwide in a matter of hours (Source: Murray 2005 22).

… the NEE represents a form of political activism differing considerably from those of conventional social movements (Source: Micheletti, Stolle, Nishikawa & Wright 2005 27).

Jonah Peretti turned Nike's corporate creativity against itself in a stand against third-world exploitation labor (Source: Das 2001 np link).

… Nike has been accused of using sweatshop labor to produce their merchandise since as early as the 1970s (Source: Brad & Tomberry 2015 np link).

Nike is … sensitive over anything to do with sweatshops as it had been accused of using cheap sweatshop labour in developing countries in order to reduce costs and increase profits (Source: Balnaves, Donald & Shoesmith 2009 160).

Political consumerist activists have been especially provoked by Nike’s dealings in Third World countries. Nike is seen as a high profile example of a company that cares more about its brand image than the human rights of its workers in the Third World (Source: Peretti & Micheletti 2006 127).

… the Nike Corporation has been a particular favorite of anti-sweatshop political consumerism. Antisweatshop activists are careful to point out that Nike is not the only global garment company with questionable labor practices, but they argue that there are several rational reasons for choosing it as a favorite strategic vehicle for the struggle. For one, Nike’s logotype has image power. Its name recognition in consumer society - the stickiness of its logo ensures that critical voices will be attention-getters. Nike has also boasted publicly about its progress in labor practices in the Third World. Thus, not only can Nike be held accountable for its ambitions, it provides a good rhetorical target for criticism. Furthermore, Nike has supported several progressive campaigns ... This meant that Nike was held in high esteem in progressive circles, which had high expectations of the corporation on social issues …  Another important reason is the character of corporations like Nike that are highly dependent on publicity, which makes them very vulnerable to counterpublicity (Source: Micheletti, Stolle, Nishikawa & Wright 2005 8).

Nike has been the target of a number of hacks on the ubiquity of their logo, especially when their branded image is juxtaposed against the abysmal labour conditions their shoes are made in. Here we see … Peretti’s effort to contrast Nike’s corporate image with their corporate reality (Source: Coyer, Dowmunt, Fountain & Curran 2007 np).

Jonah Peretti himself is the mad scientist of social media, a tinkerer and a thinker who had his first 15 minutes of fame in 2001 after a snarky exchange with Nike’s customer service department became an online hit (Source: Foley 2012 np link).
 
Peretti (born January 1, 1974) is an American Internet entrepreneur, a co-founder of BuzzFeed and The Huffington Post … he became known for an email exchange with Nike over a request to print ‘sweatshop’ on custom order shoes that went viral (Source: Anon 2017a np link).

So before Huffington Post I was making viral things on the internet … when I was at grad school at the MIT Media Lab I was procrastinating and writing my master’s thesis (Source: Suster 2017 np link).

Procrastinating is what students do when they have to write a long paper (Source: Anon 2017b np link).

Jonah decided to order a pair of customised Nike shoes from Nike iD. Normally, this would not have been difficult (Source: Stolle & Micheletti 2013 179).

However, Peretti, who was sympathetic with the antisweatshop cause and who had experience with antibranding, wanted them customised with the word ‘sweatshop’. He placed his order at a time when the word sweatshop was peak news and Global Exchange had publically identified Nike as the poster child of the new age sweatshop company (Source: Stolle & Micheletti 2013 179).

Someone told me Nike had launched a service where you can customise your shoes which was a new novel thing. I went and first tried a four letter word and it rejected it and so I was trying to figure out how the system worked. So you could get anything you wanted onto the side of a pair of Nikes but they had blacklisted a bunch of words so I was trying to figure out which words they had blacklisted  and then I put the word ‘sweatshop’ in and it went through (Source: Anon 2017b np link).

Nike’s customer service repeatedly sent Peretti canned-response-emailed that explained why his request and queries about it were denied (Source: Stolle and Michelettti 2013 179).

Peretti persisted in his request and evoked Nike’s brand imagery (Source: Stolle & Micheletti 2013 179).

Then they wrote back another excuse so then we were having this back and forth and if you’re procrastinating writing a paper, this is perfect right (Source: Peretti in Anon 2017b np link)?!

[He was n]eedling a hapless customer services rep (Source: Foley 2012 np link).

Peretti gave up and closed the email exchange with a joke, ‘Could you please send me a color snapshot of the ten-year-old Vietnamese girl who makes my shoes?’ (Source: DeWinter-Schmitt 2007 390 link).

He never got the shoes (Source: Foley 2012 np link).

I wasn’t an activist. I had read news articles about sweatshops but I wasn’t an expert about it (Source: Peretti in Anon 2017b np link).
 
Peretti has explained his actions in different ways. He has stated that his interests were only professional, that he wanted to test the electronic filter mechanisms used by the Nike corporation. He has also acknowledged in interviews and conversations that he was part of the anti-sweatshop movement and had, in his younger years, been involved in billboard liberation or modification, which is a form of culture jamming. His familiarity with the anti-sweatshop cause and its campaign against Nike are very clear in his argumentation for his name choice (Source: Micheletti, Stolle, Nishikawa & Wright 2005 12).

The Nike email exchange shows how an individual consumer found a way to use an internet business platform to ‘jam’ corporate brand imagery(Source: Stolle & Micheletti 2013 179).

Culture jamming is a strategy that turns corporate power against itself by hacking, mocking and re-contextualizing meanings (Source: Brennan & Nakafuj nd np link).

Culture jamming promotes change by making citizens aware of the contradictions in corporate policy and practice, as well as the contradictions in their own consumer choices. It does so in a humorous way, with the aim of provoking a positive, reflective response rather than a hostile negative reaction. It targets market actors on their own turf – the market – and uses their own language – logos, corporate image-making, and marketing – to do it. When successful, culture jamming creates a new spin on things or spectacular events that alter the information, perceptions, and priorities that powerful actors use to make decisions… In the case of the global garment industry, culture jamming encourages both producers and consumers to make clothing take on a new meaning (Source: Peretti & Micheletti 2006 137).

Media-oriented political consumerist activism that uses culture jamming is not just fun. It is not just a way to blow of steam. This kind of activism has had some strategic successes, and it can be seen as one of the important agents of change that is forcing consumers in industrialised nations to reflection on their relationship with brand name consumer goods (Source: Peretti & Micheletti 2006 141).

Humour, satire and irony are very important and powerful features of culture jam-like tactics (Source: Van Laer & Van Aelst 2010 243).

Culture jamming even provides a new type of free speech tailored to a media-saturated environment. It allows citizens to reach millions of people without spending millions of dollars producing and purchasing advertisements. Nike pays close to a billion dollars a year to promote its brand image. This makes it difficult for an individual activist or citizen to challenge Nike’s view of the world. But culture jamming and tactical media campaigns provide a new alternative, an alternative that broadens the impact and relevance of free speech ... Culture jamming should also be seen as part of a larger movement to protect the public sphere from being dominated by corporate advertising and commercial speech (Source: Peretti & Micheletti 2006 137).

For people accustomed to traditional politics, Culture Jamming can seem confusing or even counter-productive … I agree that the Nike Sweatshop action is immature, in the sense that the intervention is antithetical to the old ideological rallying cries of the political movements of the 1960s and 70s. Culture Jamming is a younger movement that celebrates the possibility of ironic, humorous and contradictory political actions (Source: Peretti nd np link).

[But] How can a student with no contacts in the media reach millions of people about an issue he knows very little about (Source: @HowIBuiltthis 2017 np link)?

This was in 2001 … when Facebook - the primary driver of viral content today - did not exist and Google was in its infancy. [Peretti:] ‘It was before anyone thought of making things go viral. I was just trying to figure out, 'How did that happen? How did it even work?' It used to be that to reach big audiences you needed a newspaper or a broadcast pipe. How could it be that a student with no connections in media could reach millions of people? What's that about?’ (Source: McDuling 2017 link).

Peretti took a polite email correspondence he had with a Nike employee to the editors of Harpers (Source: Pasternack 2010 np link).

The emails were originally intended to be published in Harpers magazine, but they chose not to run them at the last minute (Source: Brad & Tomberry 2015 np link).

So Jonah sent the emails to ten of his friends. This wasn't just any old email forward. With their combination of social commentary, moral conscience and sheer hilarity, the Nike Sweatshop Emails was the first link to spread via ‘six degrees,’ pass the internet tipping point, and go truly viral (Source: Pasternack 2010 np link).

… it … raced around the Internet, reaching millions of people, even though I did not participate at all in its further proliferation (Source: Peretti 2001 np link).

My Nike media adventure was mostly an accident - I never expected the dispute to generate so much attention (Source: Peretti nd np link).

Sometimes I felt like I was just along for the ride, … my email correspondence with Nike began to take on a life of its own (Source: Peretti in Peretti & Micheletti 2006 133).

Without really trying, I had released what biologist Richard Dawkins calls a meme. Dawkins describes the meme as a ‘unit of cultural transmission’, such as ‘tunes, ideas, catch- phrases, clothes fashions, ways of making pots or of building arches.’ The most important thing about memes is that they replicate themselves, ‘spreading from brain to brain.’ … the Nike Sweatshop email spread from Inbox to Inbox (Source: Peretti nd np link).

Although the personal touch has its charm, it is also unreliable. It is difficult to predict and impossible to control what friends will want to share with each other (Source: Peretti nd np link).

… the Nike Sweatshop email is an example of a meme spreading to a much larger audience through personal communication channels. As people forwarded the meme to their friends, they often prefaced it by adding a personal note such as, ‘John, I thought you would appreciate this,’ or ‘Check this out, Sarah.’ Even though the meme went to millions of people, the personal quality of the communication remained intact (Source: Peretti nd np link).

… the Nike e-mails jumped haphazardly around a network defined by personal relationships (Source: Peretti 2001 np link).

… the message first circulated on the Internet among sweatshop activists, culture-jammers and their broader networks of friends through the micromedia of E-mail (Source: Bennett 2004 16 link).

At some point the meme jumped from my social network (left leaning individuals interested in technology), to union organizers, Culture Jammers, and religious groups (Source: Peretti nd np link).

… I started getting emails from strangers and then it hit the activist community and the people who really knew and cared about the issue (Source: Peretti in Anon 2017b np link).

… well connected social hubs are the reason that people far removed from my own social network (e.g. religious groups, members of the US military, anti-globalization protestors) received the Nike Sweatshop meme (Source: Peretti nd np link).

I began receiving 500 messages a day sent from Australia, Asia, Africa and South America (Peretti in Macken 2001 np).

My e-mail arrived on March 22. It came from a friend - Julia - who lives in the same city [in Australia] and who says she sent the e-mail to three others. My friend received the e-mail from one of her friends, Adriana, a woman I had met once or twice but possibly wouldn't recognise in the street. A friend of a friend. However, Adriana had received the e-mail on February 28 from a friend in Mexico, Lai. And it was Lai who had inadvertently revealed her mailing list of 20 friends when she passed on the Nike e-mail that would arrive in my mailbox. In the net's friendship networks, few bother with the BCC button - perhaps they're happy to be seen with their friends. As Lai said in a brief note, it is ‘interesting having connections on both sides of the globe as I often get e-mails from here or over there, don't send them on but still receive them from the other end months or a year later’ … Lai had received the e-mail from someone called Rami on February 26 - about the same time the story was being picked up by the US mass media. Rami - quick as a click - says he sent the e-mail to 36 friends on his mailing list (one of whom was Lai) and he had received the e-mail from a friend in Australia called Scott. Scott was the sixth degree of separation. … Could Nike track us down? Or were we risking the wrath of our employer? (Source: Macken 2001 np).

This jump can be explained by the popular concept of ‘six degrees of separation’, which was discovered in the 1960s by Harvard psychologist Stanley Milgram (Source: Peretti nd np link).

Consider this hypothetical scenario. You send an email to ten friends, each friend forwards the email to ten of his/her friends. If this process continues just six steps the message will reach a million people. After ten steps the message would hypothetically reach more people than the total population of the earth. This dynamic explains how the Nike email could spread to so many people in so little time (Source: Peretti & Micheletti 2006 132).

Email, personal web sites, and blogs enable the digital equivalent of word of mouth. The Internet is revolutionary because it provides a technical distribution network that overlays social networks. This makes memes spread faster and social networks more powerful. The concept of six degrees of separation becomes more relevant when a distribution technology exists with the potential to actually connect people that are six social steps away from each other. Dawkins describes memes as self-replicating ideas that spread on their own, but it is clear that effective distribution technologies are as important as the meme itself (Source: Peretti nd np link).

Although the email exchange was translated into several languages, the dominance of English as a second language made the story more accessible globally (Source: Peretti & Micheletti 2006 136).

[But] a successful Internet campaign can result in free mass media coverage in the form of news stories (Source: Peretti nd np link).

… something interesting happened. The micromedia message began to work its way into the mass media. This transformation was helped along by postings on media startups Plastic.com and Slashdot.org, two sites that use an innovative publishing technique somewhere between micro- and mass media (Source: Peretti 2001 np link).

[After] it was posted on a Blog site called Shey.net ... [a] growing number of other blogs began post the Nike Sweatshop emails or link to the Shey.net Nike post (Source: Peretti nd np link).

… it was investigated and confirmed by Shey.Net, a website which assesses the validity of stories (urban legends) sent via email (Source: Micheletti, Stolle, Nishikawa & Wright 2005 14).

Not surprisingly, people began then to wonder whether the story was a hoax, spam and an urban legend. The led Snopes, a website that tracks down urban legends, to contact me to confirm that the Nike emails did, in fact, take place (Source: Peretti in Peretti & Micheletti 2006 133).

They then add a ‘true urban legend’ listing to their site (Source: Anon 2001a np link).

Adbusters finally picks up on a story that was made for them … going into more detail than any outlet yet (Source: Anon 2001a np link).

As the Nike Sweatshop email spread, I gained new insight into the structure of the contemporary media ecology, leading me to recognize three classes of distribution technologies: micromedia, middle media, and mass media (Source: Peretti nd np link).

Middle media describes emerging publishing technologies that help communities filter and aggregate the messy jumble of content produced by micromedia … to identify web pages that are most interesting … middle media sites provide opportunities for a large community of people to engage in discussion about the posted links. Links to the Nike Sweatshop dialogue were posted on Plastic, Metafilter, and Slashdot. Within minutes of each post, visitors engaged in discussions about ways to circumvent Nike's censors, the economics of shoe production, and the politics of the anti-sweatshop movement. In email form, the Nike Sweatshop meme only elicited a brief moment of individual reflection. Middle media transforms this moment into a globally accessible public forum ... This democratic structure is highly effective at identifying issues that matter to the public …  Middle media helped a humorous email forward become a topic of public debate by transforming micromedia buzz into a newsworthy social issue (Source: Peretti nd np link).

The difficulty is to break into the Mass media (Source: Brennan & Nakafuj nd np link).

It is important to understand that the public spheres created by the Internet and the Web are more than just parallel information universes that exist independently of the traditional mass media (Source: Bennett 2004 16 link).

… when the story hit prominent (middle media) weblogs such as Slashdot and Plastic it reached the attention of web-based journalists at more prominent middle media sites such as Salon, a U.S. on-line magazine that also published the story. Many mass media journalists look to sites such as Salon and other trend-setting web locations for new ideas. From there it was a short journalistic step to publish Peretti’s Nike sweatshop message in USA Today, The Wall Street Journal, NBC’s Today Show, The Times of London, and other mainstream news outlets (Source: Bennett 2004 16 link).

At first articles appeared in technology-focused and left-leaning publications like the San Jose Mercury News, Shey.net, Salon.com, the Village Voice and In These Times. But soon mainstays like Time, the BBC, the Los Angeles Times, USA Today, the Wall Street Journal and Business Week were covering the story (Source: Peretti 2001 np link).

By the end of March [2001] … the emails would have appeared on UK ‘The Independent’ … and The Guardian, French ‘Liberation’ …, American The San Francisco Chronicle, Italian La Repubblica and German ‘Jungle World’ … newspapers (Source: Brad & Tomberry 2015 link).

I was shocked by the mass media coverage that the Nike Sweatshop story received. For a few weeks, I was interrupted several times each day by phone calls from reporters soliciting interviews and producers requesting radio or TV appearances. It is still somewhat astonishing to me that the Nike Sweatshop meme transformed itself so quickly from an email forward to spots on live national and international television (Source: Peretti nd np link).

‘It felt like a parlour trick,’ [Peretti] says. ‘I'm like, how is it that a student who doesn't know anyone in the media industry is able to reach millions of people? Like, how does that happen? It seemed new to me. It used to be you needed to have a printing press or a broadcast tower in order to reach a large audience, and all of a sudden I was reaching a large audience without that. Something was new and different and I wanted to understand it. I tried to explore it’ (Source: Pavia 2014 np).

How did a meme transmitted through micromedia and debated on middle media sites suddenly become a mass media story? … many journalists find themselves covering carefully scripted press conferences … The Internet provides these disgruntled journalists with an opportunity to discover authentic stories. Reporter after reporter ‘discovered’ the Nike Sweatshop meme, either as an email forward or on a site like Plastic.com, and it was clear from the tone of their voices that they were excited by this process of discovery. I encouraged this journalistic enthusiasm by saying things like, ‘it would be awesome if you did a story’ or ‘it is so cool you found the Nike email on the Internet.’ A few days later the Nike Sweatshop meme would be covered by another mass media outlet (Source: Peretti nd np link).

The story continued to have a snowball effect on media actors. The NBC Today Show invited me to discuss on national television corporate social responsibility with a representative from Nike (Source: Peretti in Peretti & Micheletti 2006 136).

Within six weeks of hitting the Send button, Peretti was in New York being interviewed on NBC's Today program (Source: Macken 2001 np).

On February 28th, 2001, Peretti made an appearance on NBC’s Today Show, facing Nike’s spokeperson and Director of Global Issues Management Vada Manager in a debate moderated by Katie Couric (Source: Brad & Tomberry 2015 np link).

[He was invited] to discuss the sweatshop problem in the globalised garment industry and the personalisation of his order of Nike shoes (Source: Stolle & Micheletti 2013 193).

The Today Show and other mainstream media sources picked up the story, even though they tend to ignore the activists who dedicate their lives to fighting sweatshop labor and human rights abuses. Contagious Media was the reason I was sitting on the couch with Katie Couric instead of someone who actually knows something about sweatshop labor (Source: Peretti in Chung 2005 np link).

Peretti … had done his research and was well-armed with data on Nike’s labour practices when speaking to the press (Source: Coyer, Dowmunt, Fountain & Curran 2007 np).

I really didn’t know that much about the sweatshop issue but I still ended up on the Today Show with Nike’s Head of Global PR debating sweatshop labour that, you know, I wasn’t even really that qualified to even talk about (Source: Peretti 2016 np link).

The Nike Sweatshop email …[became] an ‘object-to-think-with’, a phrase … to describe artefacts that help us understand complex cultural trends (Source: Peretti nd np link).

It is a classic example of the kind of problem that big-name companies can face in the world of high-speed communications. Whether or not the sweatshop allegations are true, the suggestion that they might be has been rapidly implanted in the minds of countless potential customers (Source: Edwards 2002 np link).

Discussion / Responses

A Nike spokesman, refuting the sweatshop allegation, said last night: ‘We care deeply about our workers and their living conditions.’ At company HQ, a source said of Mr Peretti: ‘This guy's trying to be clever and make a name for himself. We've raised our game and any talk of sweatshops is just phooey’ (Source: Kelly 2001 27).

An Australian representative of Nike said the company was disappointed by the emails and did not wish the issue of exploitation to be trivialised (Source: Bryden-Brown 2001 5).

Several responders believe that Peretti presents no ‘concrete’ facts or statistics in his NEE, does not ‘[take] the trouble to present a balanced argument backed by objective information’ and cannot offer personal experience for his claims (Source: Micheletti, Stolle, Nishikawa & Wright 2005 24).

Other critical messages include attacks about Peretti’s middle-class, MIT-educated view of international production conditions that lose track of the actual benefits of inexpensive labor and foreign investment in developing countries, or are hate messages against liberal values (Source: Micheletti, Stolle, Nishikawa & Wright 2005 14).

The NEE also reflects a sense of consumer power … The emails are, however, split between those that posit consumers as victims of evil corporations and those in which consumers ultimately control corporations (Source: Micheletti, Stolle, Nishikawa & Wright 2005 22).

This guy isn't some social crusader seeking to remedy evils. He's an MIT student hacking a system … He tested the bounds of the alleged freedom of expression Nike is selling, and found an interesting data point (Source: Crucini 2001 np link).

In Nike's world 'Sweatshop' *IS* an innapropriate slang term.. They prefer '3rd world employment opportunity'.. try fitting *THAT* on the side of your shoe (Source: PopeAlien 2001 np link).

… umm, no thanks. If they were to decide to go ahead and make them, I really don't want some nike sneakers with the word ‘sweatshop’ on them (Source:  howa2396 2001 np link). :)

still funny. i'd wear em. in fact, i'll go give it a shot right now. only one problem: sweatshop has nine letters ... the shoes only accept 8 (Source: o2b 2001 np link).

I find it intriguing, that moments after this story was posted, the html ‘wizard’ that allows consumers to build their own Nikes was suddenly changed ever so slightly, and I mean ever so slightly - suddenly the textbox to enter your ‘id’ was limited in size to 8 charachters. Just one shy of the 9 chars in the word ‘sweatshop’ ... Fascinating (Source: Dougman 2001 np link).
 
seeing as they've shortened the allowed letters from 9 to 8, why not try ‘swetshop’ instead. it's harder for them to object to something that's not even a word, and it gets the same message across (Source: titboy 2001 np link).

Nike apparently add[ed] more words to its automatic filters (designed to immediately reject profanity and ‘gang terms’), including: Sweatshop, Sweat, Shop, Child, Labor, ChildLabor, Exploit, and Swetshop (Source: Anon 2001a np link).

He should have ordered a pair that said ‘Sweat’ and another that said ‘Shop’. Mix and Match and boom you're done (Source: Wolf 2001 np link).
 
… sent to different addresses of course. Surely they won't object to an athletic shoe that embraces the idea of perspiration, or consumption. Then mix the pairs so one shoe has each word. That has the added advantage of getting those poor exploited workers another two cents or so (Source: kindall 2001 np link).

Just because someone will work for one dollar a week doesn't mean it's right. Nike could … provide a living wage, and fair conditions for its workers, but it doesn't. (I'm not saying Nike is the only one to blame here, it's just the corporate entity in the post) (Source: gramcracker 2001 np link).

Yes, they don't provide American-quality wages, but they are providing jobs that are better than what was there before. No matter how greedy and evil the companies themselves are, this is a Good Thing. Bad jobs is better than no jobs (Source: binarybits 2001 np link).

Oh please. Alright then, what if you were an ‘unskilled’ American laborer, not a ‘lazy’ cube-sitter, who wanted an assembly-line job with this stable, reputable American company? Oh, sorry, you can't, because there aren't any Nike factories in the US. Because the workers there would demand a decent wage, medical benefits, the whole nine yards. They might even - gasp! - organize into unions to demand these concessions. So, thanks Nike for taking these jobs out of the US (Source: rkent 2001 np link).

You know, I lived in Korea for two years, while in the Army. I saw the people who worked in these factories, every day. I saw the 6 x 6 rooms that entire families lived in. I saw them freeze in the cold months. I saw them having to turn to Army relief efforts for food. I saw hundreds and hundreds of children with dead parents, dead in their 20's from overwork and hazardous working conditions. Unless you've seen it, you can't quite imagine how people can live like that. It's a not a good life and you can't even begin to imagine how it must be since then (1986-88), I've never bought a product from Nike, Reebok, LA Gear and many more. Never will either. Ooops ... I just re-read that. Sounds kind of preachy. Sorry about the guilt trip (Source: Dean_Paxton 2001 np link).

I don't have a problem with companies paying the prevailing local wages. I do have a problem with them employing children and working people for ridiculously long hours. Both of those went away in this country a century ago (Source: dhartung 2001 np link).

UHMM.. Don't know if I'm a minority opinion here or not, but I'll give this a try. The problem with criticizing sweatshops is people work there because its the best job they can get. If better jobs existed in the area, then that's where the workers would go. If Nike is providing jobs of any kind that people are willing to do, then they are probably improving the standard of living for those who would otherwise be agricultural workers (Source: citizensolider 2001 np link).

Is it moral to say that working in harsh conditions such as sweatshops is third world peoples ‘choice’, when in reality, there is no choice? If I have to choose between a sweatshop and starvation, that really isn't much of a choice, now, is it (Source: jayhawk88 2001 np link)?

Nobody chooses to work in a sweatshop if they have a reasonable and humane alternative. They don't (Source: Lucien 2001 np link).  

I grew up in a third-world country so I believe I'm qualified to comment on this … the reality of the situation is that in several third-world countries there is rampant poverty ... From the perspective of the children being employed, this is many times the best thing that could have happened to them. None of this defends child labor practices where the children are unfairly exploited - that is not what I'm defending here. Outside of those situations, child labor is not bad, per se because it is often times better than the alternatives (Source: donutello 2001 np link).

Sure, these folks work in sweatshops. What would their alternative be? We silly Americans seem to think everyone in the world should have our standard of living … It's nice to be PC and not wear Nikes, but it's a little like protesting animal testing by not buying Mary Kay Cosmetics. It's totally impossible to not be effected by this. I'm sure you drive around in a car that has some part built in Korea by a kid, or something on your bike is manufactured in Thailand. Right now, you're probably posting on Meta-Filter using a computer built with the blood and sweat of a nine-year old girl. I hope you're happy. Besides, if these ten-year-old kids don't stitch up my Nikes, who will? A bunch of kids I don't know working 20-hour shifts is a small price to pay for my personal comfort (Source: bondcliff 2001 np link).

I completely agree and I completely disagree at the same time. I think it is almost completely unavoidable that we'll buy things made in sweatshops. Especially clothing. But that doesn't mean we can't be aware of this, and choose to buy less of it (Source: gramcracker 2001 np link).

Is it moral to casually dismiss the exploitations of workers in another country simply because it doesn't affect your life? … Why don't you step away from the keyboard for a little bit, look around you, and realize that whatever job you currently hold, whatever eductation you currently have, and whatever possesions you currently own, would not in any way have been possible had it not been for the sacrifices of these men and women who came before you … Is it moral to expect a child to work long, grueling hours for little pay or benefits, simply because they were born in the wrong country? A job that, incidentally, prevents them from gaining any sort of education, severly decreasing their chances of getting a better job in the future (Source: jayhawk88 2001 np link).

But what you have to keep firmly in mind is: what's good for those workers? The fact that their wages seem pitifully low to us doesn't necessarily mean that those workers are being treated unfairly. It might be that if forced to raise wages, corporations would be unable to turn a profit and would leave those countries. Don't let your moral revulsion cloud your judgement (Source: binarybits 2001 np link).

If you're going to come back with ‘well, Americans should work as cheap as the East Asians,’ then tell me: why? When the executives of the company are making millions per year, why should ANYONE be satisfied with a few hundred (or less!) per week? These are the laborers who are physically MAKING the fortune that Nike executives live on. The fact that they receive such a miserably small portion of the compensation is unforgivable, no matter what side of the Pacific they're on. The difference is that here, they'd make some noise about it (Source: rkent 2001 np link).

You can’t let theory run roughshod over reality in situations like this. Those sweatshops are wretched places where no one should have to work or live - regardless of how poor the rest of their country is - and regardless of what economists tell us about rational choice and how those workers wouldn't work there unless they wanted to. Things are more complicated than that … it's possible to be pro-capitalist and pro-globalization and still feel that sweatshops are bad. Companies like Nike don't have to turn commie - they just have to compromise a little efficiency and be a little more humane (Source: 2001 np link).

The problem is the conditions of the job. Workers (children) are not given breaks for lunch, let alone the bathroom. Their pay is poor, their living conditions are awful, and they work in a hot, dangerous environment (Source: gramcracker 2001 np link).

Nike is responsible for using illegal tactics to withhold pay, to enforced overtime over the legal maximum, and to pay below minimum wage pay. Nike knows about and allows physical and sexual abuse. Nike is breaking the law in these countries. But apparently because these things happen far away, because the governments is question have problems enforcing their laws, because these workers are desperate for the work, this is acceptable. After all, it ‘helps keep Nike running shoes affordable for all of us.’ Apparently the end justifies the means. All hail Nike for abusing human rights in name of cheap sneakers (Source: ChaosDiscord 2001 np link).

In as much as corporations are ‘natural persons’ under Federal law, Nike must be held to the same standards that other individuals are held to: Nike must receive the death penalty for its crimes against humanity … Nike must receive the corporate death penalty (having its charter of incorporation burnt and its board members tried for criminal activities) not because they've harmed other corporations but because Nike has harmed actual living and breathing human beings. Corporations like Nike have no place in any modern civil society. They are as good as dead (Source: Flynn 2001 np link).

… an able, educated, well-nourished, well-treated work-force with adequate breaks and adequate housing will ALWAYS out-produce a crippled, uneducated, malnourished, abused one, with no breaks and poor housing, by MORE than the difference in cost between them. Nike is foolish. Not for moving to a 3rd-world country, but for making the same errors that post-medieval industrialists did … Nike could double their profits, by raising the standards of living & working. This might sound a bit strange, but it's a truth large corporations ignore at their peril. NOBODY works better than their conditions (Source: jd 2001 np link).

I just don't feel comfortable about buying Nikes anymore. That said, I live a typical human life, full of flaws, inconsistencies, and contradictions, and don’t claim to do otherwise (Source: Lucien 2001 np link).

I'm just curious what this exercise was intended to prove - that Nike is too stupid to review the requested slogans and so will print anything, even criticism of itself? That Nike is a big, bad corporation that won't print something bad about themselves on their own products? Or, is this just a prank (Source: m.polo 2001 np link)?

Some responders consider Peretti’s actions as irrational, inconsistent, and insubstantial. They maintain that boycotts are the preferred way to solve sweatshop problems (Source: Micheletti, Stolle, Nishikawa & Wright 2005 25).

Peretti is chastised for criticizing Nike but wanting to buy its shoes. Many responders feel that no matter how much publicity the NEE receives, no matter how many people stop buying Nike products because of it, the (mistaken) fact that Peretti bought the shoes discredits his entire argument. Thus, he is criticized for being inconsistent: his ideological words are not represented in his consumer deeds (Source: Micheletti, Stolle, Nishikawa & Wright 2005 23).
 
Don't you think it's a bit ironic that this guy was ordering a pair of supposedly sweatshop manufactured shoes, for the purpose of calling attention to the fact that they were manufactured in a sweatshop? It's sorta like wearing a leather jacket with stitched on letters that say ‘a cow was killed so I could wear this’ (Source: Infonaut 2001 np link). ;-)

What I find ironic is the fact that he ended up ordering a pair of shoes with another ID anyway. This guy's dediction to the ideal he was bringing attention to obviously was not important enough to prevent him from buying from the supplier he targeted. Sometimes the only real protest is not doing business with the company whos practices you oppose (Source: Desade 2001 np link).

You are assuming he actually EXPECTED his order to be filled. A foolish assumption … The article called it a culture jam, and thats just what it was. A way to get Nike to do just what it did and expose their hypocrisy for the (internet) world (Source: KahunaBurger 2001 np link).

I never quite got the idea of culture jamming that required purchasing a product from the same company you're trying to jam (Source: bondcliff 2001 np link).

… the point wasn't to actually get the shoes, but to get Nike to embarrass themselves while refusing to make them. I don't think anybody thought Nike would actually print them - the company's been the target of sweatshop protests for years now (Source: josh 2001 np link).

Nike made a tactical error by refusing this guy's request. When they said no, he gets a juicy e-mail exchange where he gets to needle them over this issue, and everyone's reading it. Now, if Nike had made the shoes, he'd have some shoes that said ‘sweatshop’. Big F***ing Deal. He could show them to his friends. Ooh. Or he could put pictures on a webpage, which would leave us saying ‘photoshop’. Instead, they played right into his hands. By Just Doing It (tm), Nike would win on several fronts. They'd deprive this guy of ammo. They'd appear hip and postmodern. Their personalization scheme would feel more ‘free’. All while selling sweatshop-produced shoes for $100+/pair. I just hope their marketing idiots don't figure this out (Source: Anal Surprise 2001 np link).

You were the first internet troll (Source: Anon 2017b np link).

stupid pointless meme (Source: Hardy 2017 np  link).

This was funny for about a day - and, true to the rule, once it reached meme status, it was pretty much dead (Source: delfuego 2001 np link).

The famous email exchange between Peretti & Nike made history (Source: @mar_lam np link).

My suggestion? Let's all go do the same [as Peretti]. (Source: fraying 2001 np link).

Outcomes / Impacts

‘Every Joke is a Tiny Revolution’ (Source: Stolle & Micheletti 2013 193).

It may be argued that these campaigns are not effective because the outcomes of corporate activity have not changed much (Source: Peretti & Micheletti 2006 141).

Jonah Peretti created a culture jam that revealed the politics behind Nike’s brand name sports’ apparel. It reached millions of people around the world (Source: Micheletti, Stolle, Nishikawa & Wright 2005 25).

… doing untold damage to [Nike’s] brand image (Source: Edwards 2002 np link)

Peretti[‘s] … emails - completely independent of his control or encouragement - went from inbox to inbox and reached an estimated 11.4 million people around the globe (Source: Micheletti, Stolle, Nishikawa & Wright 2005 12).

Various news stories tried to estimate that this probably reached 9 million people but back then email forwards and things like that, it was really hard to measure, really hard to understand what was going on (Source: @HowIBuiltthis 2017 np link).

Of course, there is no real way to successfully estimate the full impact of the Nike email exchange on the people who received and discussed it (Source: Stolle & Micheletti 2013 190).

Most likely, millions of people forwarded and perhaps continue to forward the prank emails without leaving a footprint (Source: Stolle & Micheletti 2013 182).

As the Nike Sweatshop meme circulated, I received thousands of email messages giving me some idea of the number of people who received the meme. I assume that most people did not go to the trouble of sending me email. We can only guess how many people received the meme (Source: Peretti nd np link).

Over a four month period [Peretti] received 3,655 emails from people who decided to contact him and offer various responses to it (Source: Micheletti, Stolle, Nishikawa & Wright 2005 12).

Generally, the email responses show a desire to hold corporations accountable for their practices. Nike is commonly described as tyrannical, unaccountable, anonymous, hypocritical, arbitrary, untruthful, inhuman, gutless and amoral … They condemn Nike for failing to meet these expectations and feel that Nike let them down by not living up to the image it creates of itself, which consists of a portrayal of itself as a socially responsible actor that promotes the rights and freedoms of women and minorities (Source: Micheletti, Stolle, Nishikawa & Wright 2005 18).

… individual responders had no knowledge of other people sending Peretti emails and their responses. A typical email begins with ‘I hope you opened this email even though you don't know me and possibly fear that I have sent you a virus’ … fully unaware that Peretti received thousands of similar messages (Source: Micheletti, Stolle, Nishikawa & Wright 2005 21).

The inquiries contained a variety of responses … Some were from old friends, long lost classmates, or former professional colleagues. It is not surprising the Nike email would reach these people – we have mutual friends and share an extended social network (Source: Peretti & Micheletti 2006 133).

An Old Friend:  Hey Jonah! I received the entire Nike/Jonah correspondence via a forward from a friend of mine who graduated from UC Santa Cruz a couple years after you. Ironic, huh? I think I could have guessed it was you without seeing the name on the text. I could almost hear you as I read it. I hope you are doing well … Much love, X (Source: in Peretti & Micheletti 2006 134).

Professional Colleague: Jonah - The reason for this mail is that a very funny thing happened today. I’m reading my email, when some spam/joke/chain thing comes in, but it’ from a friend, so I read it. Very interesting but about some guy’s back-and-forth with Nike about some customised shoes. It wasn’t ‘til later that I noticed the domain, and said ‘ah, those boys at the Media Lab, right on!’ and then got curious about the name to the left of the @. Checked it against your biz card, and marvelled at the small worldness of it all … Best regards, X (Source: in Peretti & Micheletti 2006 134).

One sender wrote: ‘[I]f one email, slightly humorous in its irony but memorable for it’s [sic] ingenuity catches people’s attention and leaves them primed to bother to watch the next late night documentary on such a subject or take 15 minutes out of their day to read the next newspaper article on exploitation, then that email has done some good!’ (Source: Stolle & Micheletti 2013 185).

One woman thanks him for ‘voicing what myself and I am sure many others feel’: another corresponder remarks that ‘now I know that I’m not the only one who questions Nike’s methods’ (Source: Stolle & Micheletti 2013 189).

Most of them contained positive evaluation of Peretti’s action; only about 10 percent are critical (Source: Stolle & Micheletti 2013 185).

They reflect the importance of the discursive turn in political action when commenting about ‘a link in a chain of CHANGE which will lead to ACTION … It’s about US creating the communities that we wish to live in’ (Source: Stolle & Micheletti 2013 189).

[They were] mostly letters of support, from people living on all seven continents (Source: Peretti nd np link).

Although the culture jam is assumed to have reached people globally, the NEE corresponders come mostly from the Anglophone world … the Anglophone dominance can perhaps be attributed to language proficiency, the pervasiveness of the Nike brand in these countries, the culture jam’s U.S. origin, and the higher profile of confrontational anti-sweatshop activism in North America (Source: Stolle & Micheletti 2013 184).

This first systematic empirical investigation into the structure of culture jams reveals that the people involved with culture jamming are more male, educated, internet-savvy, and of a younger age than the general population (Source: Stolle & Micheletti 2013 192).

Within the microcosm of this particular culture jam and the circle of email correspondents, it can with certainty be said that they are more likely to be male, educated, and socioeconomically resourceful people than the average population and even other political consumers (Source: Stolle & Micheletti 2013 184).

Eventually, as the email exchange jumped across social networks, I began receiving messages from total strangers and people highly critical to my anti-sweatshop statement. These people were from all walks of life and every demographic group – school-children and retirees, conservatives and liberal, reasonable, and crazy. It was clear that the message had spread far beyond my own network when I began getting hateful email (Source: Peretti & Micheletti 2006 133).

… from enemies (Source: Peretti nd np link).

Listen Buddy, What are you, some kind of damn communist? … Where do you think that little Vietnamese girl was working BEFORE Nike saved her? In a freaking rice paddy, that’s where. You go over to Vietnam and try to take away her means of supporting her family. Go ahead punk, just try it … I really hope Nike sends you some shoes with your true handle: ‘Ingrate’. Grow up, you dimwit (Source: in Peretti & Micheletti 2006 135).

… somebody should burn 'sweatshop' into this foolish c**k-sucking fa**ot's forehead with a cigarette (Source: Anon in Macken 2001 np).

On the other extreme, I also began to receive marriage proposals and correspondence that could be described as fan mail (Source: Peretti 2001 np link).

Fan Mail: I was just forwarded your correspondence with Nike iD Customer Service. (I’m sure you’ve gotten lots of mail on this by now). After reading it, I have only one question: Will you marry me? - X (Source: in Peretti & Micheletti 2006 135).

Those who assumed I was real started to request advice about politics, economics and the kind of shoes they should buy (Source: Peretti 2001 np link).

More than a fourth of the responders asked whether the message was spam (Source: Stolle & Micheletti 2013 187).

… Jonah Peretti became a media celebrity bearer of the antisweatshop cause. Through his publicity on television and radio programs as well as through interviews with newspaper journalists in many countries, Peretti has proved to be an important vehicle for the global anti-sweatshop movement (Source: Micheletti, Stolle, Nishikawa & Wright 2005 13).

Ironically, the publicity led to Nike selling more of the personalized shoes (Source: Anon 2017c np link).

Following the broadcast of the debate, [Nike’s Director of Global Issues Management Vada] Manager released a statement reporting that custom shoe sales on the Nike iD site reached their third-highest in a single day on Wednesday after the ‘Today’ show segment. ‘In retrospect, he probably did us a favour’ (Source: Brad & Tomberry 2015 np link).

Vada Manager … tells The Wall Street Journal that sales of personalized shoes are up, but would not give any numbers. He then gave specific numbers of the increase in traffic to the Nike iD site (it stands to reason that most of this traffic was from protesters and people trying to order shoes that say child labor, etc.). However, Jonah notes that the personalized shoe business is a very small percentage of Nike sales. So even if they sold a few more personalized shoes, their overall sales could have gone down because of the bad publicity. On WNYC radio a few days later, Vada Manager admitted that the Nike emails were not good for business (Source: Anon 2001a np link).

Nike did not admit the need to take direct action because of the culture jam, even though it acknowledged that the corporation should have dealt with Peretti’s request for personalised shoes in a much different way (Source: Stolle & Micheletti 2013 193).

It was this systematic linking of the Nike image with the unpleasant business of sweatshop labour that led Nike CEO Phil Knight to ‘blink’, and admit that the company had some responsibility for its labour standards (Source: Bennett 2006 120).

These emails emphasise that individual responsibility-taking by consumers can form a critical mass to hold corporations accountable and, thus, challenge prevailing structural injustices (Source: Stolle & Micheletti 2013 190).

As witnessed by the high number of emails sent and the estimate that over 11.4 people globally received the NEE shortly after it was released electronically, the Nike culture jam had a considerable impact in the virtual public sphere and shows how sweatshop issues are communicated broadly and globally through Internet email program systems (Source: Micheletti, Stolle, Nishikawa & Wright 2005 3).

… it reveals the enormous negative impact that activist consumers can have on brands ... consumer activism, boycotting and buy-cotting can have significant economic and political ramifications (Source: Crewe 2008 32).

When consumers become politically and economically aware, their power opens up interesting possibilities. As the … [NEE] reveals, gestural marketing politics by big organisations simply won’t work and there are some very real corporate dangers in ceding creative control to unpredictable consumers (Source: Crewe 2008 33)?

Although the press has presented my battle with Nike as a David versus Goliath parable, the real story is the battle between a company like Nike, with access to the mass media, & a network of citizens on the Internet who have only micromedia at their disposal … Unions, church groups, activists, teachers, mothers, school children & members of the US armed forces sent me letters of support. This contradicts Nike’s claim that only fringe groups identify with anti-Nike sentiment (Peretti in Kaur 2008 3, link).

By sharing the Nike email, [people] could participate in a larger movement that is advanced by such networks as Adbusters, who popularized the concept of culture jamming, rtmark and the Billboard Liberation Front.  I believe the campaign thrived because it allowed people to participate in a larger cultural transformation and to do it without the expenditure of much effort … This hunger for participation on the part of the likeminded political consumerist community formed the basis for the first phase of the chain reaction (Source: Peretti in Peretti & Micheletti 2006 133).

[The NEE shows how t]he internet was used to link geographically dispersed, multiidentity groups that formed a singular globalized identity under the label of ‘working group on Nike’ ... The users identified Nike as ‘you’, the oppressed worker as ‘they’ and the consumer as ‘we’ (Source: Hara & Huang 2011 501).

The NEE became a kind of virtual imagined community for likeminded people. Although forwarding the message took minimum effort, many of the emails allude to a sense of empowerment afforded by this form of Internet activism and by the culture jam in particular (Source: Micheletti, Stolle, Nishikawa & Wright 2005 21).

[It] made several responders feel connected and part of a collective movement. Contrary to certain assertions, it created new democratic public space for them to reflect on their political identities and become part of a virtual community of people alerted to global sweatshop conditions (Source: Micheletti, Stolle, Nishikawa & Wright 2005 27).

… without the internet and email to transmit information across national boundaries and access to receive the information, it would have been impossible to create the sense of ‘we.’ A key feature of the internet is its ability to reach a number of diverse groups quickly, affordably, and at the same time also offers the possibility for people to reply to social activists, responding with email that includes questions, elaborations, and personal contributions … The emergence of ‘e-movements’ and new forms of ‘e-protest’ and ‘e-activism’ has signified the importance of the internet as an organizational and mobilization vehicle for those engaged in social change (Source: Hara & Huang 2011 503).

My Nike example is an example of the potential of the internet as a force of democracy (Source: Peretti in Peretti & Micheletti 2006 138).
 
[But c]an an internet culture jam … be a stepping-stone for further political action? Th[is] study’s answer is that this appears to be the case (Source: Stolle & Micheletti 2013 187).

The question emerges whether online mobilisation might primarily trigger online engagement or also other forms of engagement in the offline world as well (Source: Stolle & Micheletti 2013 187).

Analysis of the Nike Email Exchange Data [NEED] shows that a relatively large group of responses contains indications of mobilization efforts. The responses give us a good overview of some of the types of mobilizing effects that can be expected of culture jamming campaigns … The discourse analysis reveals how sweatshop issues are discussed, framed, and deliberated via the Internet … In general, the emails frame the central problem in terms of the existence of sweatshops and the exploitation of Third World (child) workers … Instead of a comprehensive critique of capitalism, a reformist theme emerges in the NEED that reinforces discussions of political consumerism as focusing on changing the policies and practices of corporate actors rather than the capitalistic system itself (Source: Micheletti, Stolle, Nishikawa & Wright 2005 15).

Contacting others and forwarding the NEE or posting it on a website are the most frequent form of mobilization activities. These forms of ‘armchair activism’ do not require much time and effort. Fewer responders mentioned that they used the NEE as an opportunity to talk to others in person. Some indicate that they have or will become political consumers (that is, boycott Nike products, contact Nike, or follow similar campaigns), and very few became involved in conventional forms of political participation like contacting the media, politicians or organizations (Source: Micheletti, Stolle, Nishikawa & Wright 2005 15).

It created a virtual community of citizens concerned with the power of logos and political consumerism (Source: Peretti & Micheletti 2006 138).

Activists found the NEE to be fun but generally do not consider culture jamming as an effective method for solving sweatshop problems globally (Source: Micheletti, Stolle, Nishikawa & Wright 2005 16).

It is clear that Peretti’s final, ironic exchange requesting that Nike send a picture of the girl who made his shoes had a significant effect on NEE receivers. Hypothesizing about the life of this imaginary girl occupies a good part of the emails and illustrates the importance of testimonials and personal accounts in transnational advocacy … The narratives of the ten-year-old Vietnamese girl and child labor also reflect the way people generally view the Third World. Often she is a stand-in for garment sweatshop workers, thus infantilizing and feminizing third world workers, which in some ways corresponds with reality as garment works are disproportionally young women. Even when the ten-year-old girl is not mentioned, the workers are ‘othered’ and disempowered, that is, kept completely separate from those making claims on their behalf. They are generally depicted as lacking in agency, as exploited and downtrodden, and more specifically as lacking a voice (Source: Micheletti, Stolle, Nishikawa & Wright 2005 19).

Activists interested in reproducing the success of the Nike Sweatshop meme have started asking me for advice … In particular, I encourage activists, consumers, and citizens to join the thousands who are, challenging corporations with innovative culture jams, starting their own blogs, engaging in debate at forums like Plastic, and, becoming the architects of clever, politically progressive Internet memes. These techniques are an effective way to promote political participation and challenge entrenched power structures (Source: Peretti nd np link).

A broad social and technical transformation is creating new possibilities for political participation and direct action. The emergence of terms such as culture jamming, social networks, memes, blogs, micromedia, and middle media, signify the first attempts to grapple with the emergence of new technologies and social practices. It is difficult to predict how these concepts will evolve or how current cultural trends will develop. Although the future is always uncertain, it is clear that there are exciting opportunities for participation right now (Source: Peretti nd np link).

The Nike Sweatshop meme has run its course, but new memes have already taken its place in the media ecology … In a few months, these memes will join the Nike Sweatshop meme as fond memories, new memes will emerge, and the process will begin anew (Source: Peretti nd np link).

Thankfully, my e-mail volume is finally back down to fewer than a hundred messages a day, and the media blitz is tapering off. The exchange is working its way into sociology textbooks, viral marketing seminars, business-school cases and doctoral dissertations. My guess is that in the long run this episode will have a larger impact on how people think about media than how they think about Nike and sweatshop labor. This larger lesson suggests an exciting opportunity for activists. … By understanding these dynamics, new forms of social protest become possible, with the potential to challenge some of the constellations of power traditionally supported by the mass media (Source: Peretti 2001 np link).

If anyone understands viral media, it’s Jonah Peretti (Source: Suster 2017 np link).

The [NEE] turned [him] into an internet celebrity, landing him on national television and on class syllabi, earning him plaudits from the New York Times and Vogue, and consulting gigs with big companies. But his base remained the ragtag world of the internet. Other fun experiments followed BlackPeopleLoveUs.com, the New York City Rejection Line, FundRace.org - and in 2003, Peretti co-founded the Huffington Post (Source: Pasternack 2010 np link).

I started to think about what I call the ‘bored at work’ concept which is the millions of bored office workers who are connected to high speed internet connected who spend half of their day sharing media and passing stuff around on social networks and the other half of their day working. Collectively they are creating a network that is bigger than any of the traditional media networks and you can literally reach hundreds of millions of people if you make something that the ‘bored at work’ network likes. Now you’re starting to see the ‘bored in line’ network as people use their phones in line at the supermarket which is a newer area. It occurred to me people weren’t really making content for these new networks so Buzzfeed really emerged out of a lot of work making memes and trying to make things go viral on the web and trying to understand why things spread and how they spread (Source: Peretti 2016 np link).

BuzzFeed … has become not just a vehicle for finding promising Internet content and turning it into viral sensations … [but also] a tool for understanding how that process works (Source: Pasternack 2010 np link).

Peretti [is now] not just a spreader of memes but an expert on the engine that powers them (Source: Pasternack 2010 np link).

In a way, it's a journey that's landed him right back where he started with the Nike emails: A constant lesson in how things go viral and big corporations like Nike (now the sponsors of websites like Buzzfeed) … The internet media machine mostly relies not on subscriptions but on millions of eyeballs and clicks to distribute the stuff. It's a tough fight for all that attention; everywhere you go, it's hey, you gotta check this out (Source: Pasternack 2010 np link).

The limits of corporate responsibility are hard to define and business initiatives must be matched with progressive public policy efforts. Companies cannot solve the world's problems alone, but neither should they create or exacerbate them. Those that are seen to do so face severe consequences: while Nike is now seen as a leader in managing labour conditions, its name remains associated with the sweatshop practices for which it was first attacked more than 10 years ago (Source: Murray 2005 22).

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Compiled by Edward Jennings, Alex Hargreaves, Matt Goddard, Amy Joslin, Millie Whittington and Charles Bell, edited by Jack Parkin, Kate Fox and Ian Cook (last updated October 2017). Created for followthethings.com as part of the ‘Geographies of Material Culture’ module, University of Exeter. Edited with the support of followthethings.com internships funded by the University of Exeter and Kone Foundation.

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