Ashton Kutcher and his tirade against The Village Voice to his seven million Twitter followers has successfully convinced American Airlines to stop advertising with the newspaper. Dominos may be next.
It all started when The Village Voice fact-checked Kutcher's claim that "100,000-300,000 children in America [are] turning to prostitution this year" with the "Real Men Don't Buy Girls" campaign he's leading with Demi Moore and other Hollywood celebrities. Their response published on the paper's cover Wednesday, "Real Men Get Their Facts Straight," claimed that the campaign's very big number is in fact a misinterpretation of a figure of "at risk" children floated by University of Pennsylvania professors. The challenge drew Kutcher's ire, and he took The Voice to task on Twitter for the escort ads in the back of the paper. He sort of hasn't stopped tweeting about it since. We covered the spat in full on Thursday, just shortly after Kutcher tweeted, "Hey @villagevoice I'm just getting started!!!!!!!! BTW I only PLAYED stupid on TV."
Well, he was not bluffing. On Friday, Kutcher went after The Village Voice advertisers. "Hey @disney @dominos are you aware that you are advertising on a site that owns and operates a digital brothel?" he tweeted first. Shortly after, he upped the ante with a very serious charge against The Voice: "Hey @AmericanAir are you aware that you are advertising on a site that supports the Sale of Human Beings (slavery)?" Within two hours, American Airlines told Kutcher in a direct message that they had pulled their ads from The Voice website. He bragged, "Thank you! Via dm @AmericanAir --> Heads up: Ads should be down w/in the hour. Blank ads are being served for now." Thereafter, Dominos started talking to American Airlines and based on Kutcher's latest tweet, sent Saturday morning, they may be the next to defect, "Thank you @dominos for you responsiveness and your support in the effort to create a human trafficking free internet."
It's unclear how much revenue Village Voice Media will lose in Kutcher's continued assault. However, as Felix Salmon at Reuters points out, their diligence to fact-checking the sex trafficking numbers is basically admirable, but they were sort of asking for trouble when they picked on Kutcher:
There are, however, big weaknesses with the piece. For one, it gratuitously attacks Ashton Kutcher, a smart person who’s making the world a better place, in an unpleasantly ad hominemmanner. Kutcher is not the problem here. And it needs a lot more serious discussion of VVM’s own ethics with regard to running adult classifieds, including classifieds which turn out to be advertising underage prostitutes. You can argue about the efficacy of Kutcher’s campaign, but he’s not making the problem worse. VVM, meanwhile, is a non-negligible part of the problem, and needs be a lot more honest about its own place in the child-prostitution ecosystem.
The result of all this has been a destructive Twitter war with Kutcher, which has already resulted, among other things, in American Airlines pulling ads from VVM websites. VVM, in other words, could hardly have engineered a higher heat-to-light ratio if they’d tried. All of which makes the article look less a serious investigation, and more a noxious publicity stunt. If VVM is willing to examine its own behavior with regard to child prostitution in detail, then this road might have been well worth traveling. But if they just want to take potshots at Ashton Kutcher, I do wonder whether they will ultimately achieve anything at all, beyond a general notoriety.
We're going to go ahead and venture a guess that Disney will not be happy to be embroiled in the controversy. Good luck, The Village Voice. At least your writers didn't go on strike.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.