Twitter users lobby Limbaugh advertisers to drop business (or not) over Fluke controversy

We know from studies of tweets around elections and controversies like the Susan G. Komen-Planned Parenthood dustup that Twitter imitates life. As expected, we see the same fine-tuned reactions to Rush Limbaugh's verbal assault on Sandra Fluke, the Georgetown law student who was blocked from testifying to Congress that the private Jesuit and Catholic university's health plan should cover birth control.

Our analysis of more than 400,000 tweets found three distinct spikes in mentions of Limbaugh and Fluke, with the talk-show host generally receiving between twice and four times as many mentions as his target, whom he called a "slut" and a "prostitute."

While it's interesting to watch the news play out in real time on Twitter, a volume analysis alone doesn't tell us much we didn't already know. Fortunately, we can dig deeper to tally points in the Sandra vs. Rush showdown. For example, several prominent users have encouraged supporters to follow either party in a show of solidarity. Fluke has won over 22,500 followers to Limbaugh's net gain of about 7,000 new followers, though Fluke had a lot more room to grow. Her very first tweet from @SandraFluke is dated Feb. 17, while Limbaugh already had about 28,000 followers before he made his remarks. The account @StopRush, which has existed since Jan. 14, 2010, but also had few followers, now has over 6,000.

Twitter users have also lobbied companies that advertise on Limbaugh's show to pull their business. As of Monday morning, seven companies had done so. The largest (and briefest) spike occurred around Quicken Loans, one of those seven.

Our measure of sentiment—a beta technology that Yahoo! Labs is developing to recognize a tweet's attitude—registers high positive-to-negative ratios for those advertisers who decided to pull their ads from the Limbaugh show: 5:1 for Sleep Train, 12:1 for Sleep Number and 5:1 for Quicken Loans. The opposite was true for ProFlowers, with twice as many negative tweets while the company was deliberating. The firm has since pulled its business as well.

The decisions are not without cost. Our technology turns up plenty of users who have sided with Limbaugh as well. User @andrewlacy52, for example, had this to say: "@quickenloans Remind me never to do business with you. #StandWithRush."

Here are the top quotes that have resonated on Twitter between Feb.29 and March 3.

  1. Mitt Romney: "It's not the language I would have used."

  2. Sandra Fluke: "This language is an attack on all women."

  3. Andy Borowitz: "But if we leave, how are we going to reach millions of bigots and sociopaths?" [Referencing advertisers pulling their business.]

  4. Rush Limbaugh: "I will buy all of the women at Georgetown University as much aspirin to put between their knees as they want."

  5. Justin McElroy: "Gargamel, leave the smurfs alone!"

  6. Rush Limbaugh: "She wants us to pay for her to have sex."

  7. Bill O'Reilly: "You want me to give you my hard earned money so you can have sex."

  8. Sandra Fluke : "No woman deserves to be disrespected in this manner."

  9. Rush Limbaugh: "Having so much sex, it's amazing she can still walk."

  10. Washington Post: "This is not the way a decent citizen behaves."

Example hashtags





Rush Limbaugh

Sandra Fluke



#prolife #IStandWithRush #glennbeck #StandWithRush #sexwithsandra

Rush Limbaugh

Sandra Fluke



#StandWithSandra #BoycottRush

#StopRush #WarOnWomen #FlushRush

#slutgate #supportwomen #fem2

Example tweets

@TheOnion: Commentary by Rush Limbaugh: I Don't Even Want To Be Alive Anymore

@dismayedvoter: Well said Laura! RT @IngrahamAngle: Ed Schultz called me a slut last May...still waiting for Obama's call. #sandrafluke #IStandWithRush

@GiuliaRozzi: Rush Limbaugh has no problem with birth control pills, when they look, taste and work like oxycontin pills.

@NorahODonnell: Jay Carney says Pres Obama found Rush Limbaugh's comments about @SandraFluke "reprehensible" "crude" and "disappointing"

@Afterseven: @theSleepTrain There is no room for Communism in the USA #StandWithSandra #StandWithRush

@JohnFugelsang: John Boehner's staff won't read your emails asking him to condemn Limbaugh - but they can't ignore faxes. 202.225.5117

@jacquestoddard: I #StandWithRush . Fluke should be responsible for her own actions. Cheap Condoms are available in every convenience store in USA.

@HuffingtonPost: John Boehner: Rush Limbaugh's 'slut' attacks are 'inappropriate'

@BorowitzReport: Being called a slut by Rush Limbaugh is like being called a slut by an obese drug addict

@MMFlint [Michael Moore]: Hey, everybody - let's all follow @SandraFluke , the young Georgetown student on whom Rush Limbaugh continues his vile assault

Thanks to: Ajeet Grewal (Content Science team, Y! Labs); IntoNow and Ajay Shekhawat (Y! Labs) for raw data.

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