The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) has ruled that a tweet by Burger King which urged customers to buy their milkshakes to throw at the Brexit Party Leader Nigel Farage broke advertising rules by inciting antisocial behaviour.
The fast-food giant was ordered not to sell milkshakes to customers from one of their branches in Edingburgh during a rally which Farage was holding less than 200 metres away.
The order by police came as a spate of other Brexiteers, as well as far-right figures including Tommy Robinson, were being doused in milkshakes while making public appearances.
However, instead of complying with the order, the chain tweeted: “Dear people of Scotland. We’re selling milkshakes all weekend. Have fun. Love BK. #justsaying”.
The Complaints Against Burger King
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At the time of the tweet, Burger King’s UK Twitter account received a number of criticisms. The account quickly followed up with a second tweet, which read: “We’d never endorse violence – or wasting delicious milkshakes! So enjoy the weekend and please drink responsibly people.”
The ASA received 24 official complaints about the tweet and launched an investigation, and found that the tweet was “likely to be seen as a reference to the recent incidents of ‘milkshaking’ political figures”, despite Burger King arguing that the tweet was intended to be a tongue-in-cheek joke.
“We considered it would be understood as suggesting that Burger King milkshakes could be used by people to ‘milkshake’ Nigel Farage,” the ASA said.
“We therefore concluded the ad was irresponsible. We told Burger King to ensure that its future marketing communications did not condone or encourage antisocial behaviour.”
Language Which Incites Violence
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The decision to ban the tweet comes in the midst of a national debate about the use of language to incite hate and violence.
The debate comes as MPs face an increasing number of abuse and threats – an issue which has seen an “unprecedented rise”, according to the Met Police Commissioner Cressida Dick.
Speaking at the joint committee on human rights earlier this year, the commissioner said that recent events, including the “ghastly” murder of MP Jo Cox in 2016, had created “an extraordinary set of circumstances” in which threats against MPs were rising.
Just last week, language used by the Prime Minister Boris Johnson (including words like “humbug”) were used in death threats to female Labour MPs.
At Prime Minister’s Questions on Wednesday (2 October), Shadow Home Secretary Diane Abbott said that, since Johnson’s speech, her colleague Paula Sherriff MP has received four further death threats since the “humbug” remark.
Now, MPs have decided to use “moderate” language within Parliament to avoid inciting violence, with a joint statement by party leaders explaining that MPs have a “duty to weigh their words carefully” given the “stark divisions” over Brexit.
What About Freedom Of Speech?
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Freedom of speech has been called the “lifeblood of democracy” – it means we can hold and express opinions and ideas, and criticise people in positions of power. It is protected by Article 10 of the Human Rights Act.
However, freedom of speech is not unlimited. The Equality and Human Rights Commission says: “Although you have freedom of expression, you also have a duty to behave responsibly and to respect other people’s rights.”
The MPs who signed the agreement explained that “everyone is entitled to have a view”, but “their right to safety cannot in any way be dependent on what that view is or the course of political action they take.”
MPs have developed a blanket agreement when it comes to their language is a positive move; but organisations, companies, and authorities now also need to follow a similar direction.
While Burger King has received a slap on the wrist for its comments, the Police have said that they will not take action over Nigel Farage’s comments at a Brexit Party rally where he said he would “take the knife to the pen pushers in Whitehall.”