After taking over McDonald's "Cheers To Sochi" social media campaign on Twitter last month, LGBT activists are continuing their push to demand official sponsors of the Sochi Games to denounce Russia's anti-LGBT laws with the launch of a parody website, CheerstoSochi.org.
McDonald's asked customers to use the #CheersToSochi hashtag on Twitter Jan. 21 to send messages of support to olympians competing in the games, and opened CheersToSochi.com (the URL now redirects to aboutmcdonalds.com) as a hub for "sending cheers." But within days, LGBT activists and other critics swarmed the hashtag, using it to demand official Olympic sponsors, such as McDonald's and Coca-Cola, denounce the host nation's discriminatory policies.
"For a while, I was thinking about a blanket campaign that would hit all the sponsors and then McDonald's did all my work for me, they launched 'Cheers To Sochi,'" said Scott Wooledge, an LGBT activist at Queer Nation NY. "We successfully hijacked 'Cheers To Sochi' from McDonald's. [CheersToSochi.org] is a way to continue the campaign."
By Jan. 24, McDonald's apparently discontinued use of the hashtag and never snapped up the .org version of the domain, Wooledge said. He purchased the domain for $10 about two weeks ago and told BuzzFeed the site parodies McDonalds' official site in both name and design and will serve as an aggregator for directing criticism to the Olympic sponsors on social media.
Taking over the conversation on sites like Twitter and Facebook is a more effective way of getting the attention of the sponsors, who have so far ignored online petitions with similar demands even though they have hundreds of thousands of signatures, Wooledge said.
"This is a way to have a conversation," Wooledge said. "It has functionality as well in that it makes it easy to share things on various social media sites. It links to all the sponsors and all their social media pages."
Users are greeted with a message upon landing at the site reading, "Send your cheers to your favorite Sochi 2014 corporate sponsor or the International Olympic committee. They've all betrayed the ideals in Olympic charter. How do you feel about that?" The site includes links to the sponsors' social media properties and memes that could be used along with the hashtag.
Wooledge estimates about 90% of tweets including the #CheersToSochi hashtag are people protesting the sponsors' silence on the anti-LGBT laws or even protesting the Olympics outright.
When it was clear the #CheersToSochi conversation had shifted to the controversy over the propaganda law, McDonald's issued a statement on its website, saying in part, "We are aware that some activists are targeting Olympic sponsors to voice their concerns regarding the Russian LGBT legislation. McDonald's supports human rights, the spirit of the Olympics and all the athletes who've worked so hard to compete in the Games. We believe the Olympic Games should be open to all, free of discrimination, and that applies to spectators, officials, media, and athletes."
Around the same time #CheersToSochi launched last month, Wooledge created a video parodying a classic Coca-Cola commercial, by adding clips of violence perpetrated against LGBT people in Russia. The company showcased a new commercial briefly featuring a gay couple during the Super Bowl on Sunday.
BuzzFeed has reached out to McDonald's for for further comment and will update this post if the company responds.
Update - Feb. 6 4:55 p.m. ET: Becca Hary, director of global media relations at McDonald's, issued the following statement in response to BuzzFeed's request for comment:
"Social media is all about conversation. Understandably, the LGBT community is focusing its conversation on the Russian legislation. We respect everyone's rights to express their opinions. "Cheers to Sochi" is a cool way for fans to cheer on athletes and teams who are competing in Sochi. McDonald's is proud to be a top sponsor of the Olympics; our sponsorship dollars literally help the men and women who are working to achieve their Olympic dreams. We remain engaged with the IOC and have made clear our concern regarding this human rights issue and the paramount need to ensure non-discrimination and safety for everyone at the Games."