I’m leaving Sleeping Giants, but not because I want to
How my white male co-founder gaslighted me out of the movement we built together.
Nearly four years after I began building Sleeping Giants, the campaign to make bigotry and sexism unprofitable, I’m leaving — but not because I want to.
I want to share with you my journey with Sleeping Giants, why taking credit matters and why you must fight for yourself as hard as you do for your cause. I want to show you how a woman of color almost disappeared from the movement she built, and what you can achieve when you refuse to follow the rules your white male “leader” sets for you.
I hope other brilliant WoC and marginalized folks see yourselves in me and don’t wait as long as I did. The stakes are too high for you to disappear.
How Sleeping Giants grew from nothing
Matt will never admit this, but we are equals.
We independently had the exact same idea one week apart. He found me less than a day after I published a Medium post urging marketers to add Breitbart to their exclusion list, and after I had tweeted a screenshot at Old Navy. We hit it off, and began working together immediately.
It was the start of an incredible collaboration through our two social media accounts: I run Sleeping Giants FB. He runs Sleeping Giants Twitter.
How it worked
Sleeping Giants quickly became popular because we brought good news everyday. Each day, advertisers would drop Breitbart or some other horror show. Best of all, anyone could participate.
Together, we built a community of 400,000+ followers, who helped us lose Breitbart 90% of its ad revenues, put Bill O’Reilly out of a job and deplatform hate figures like Alex Jones and Milo Yiannopoulos.
Behind that magical flow of daily wins? I was working behind the scenes to identify which advertisers needed an extra push. I was creating actions for our Facebook community: first testing email addresses privately, then writing email templates for our followers to send. This became a core tactic that helped us move fast.
My work got Facebook VP Carolyn Everson on the record for the first time in 2017 about their partnership with Breitbart. I also masterminded the strategy that resulted in Robert Mercer stepping down as co-CEO of Renaissance Technologies.
And I never expected or desired credit for any of it. This was all a truly inspiring experience. It was a collective environment where the stakes were high and all that mattered were the results.
My relationship with Matt was positive, friendly and respectful, and we never had any disagreements. He asked me to always send press requests to him so we wouldn’t “muddle the message.” I thought it was odd, because I run our Facebook account full-time and he was never worried I’d muddle the message there. But he was a nice guy, and I respected his wishes.
We came out together — and I disappeared
When Matt and I came out in July 2018 on the front page of the business section of the New York Times, I believed it was as equal partners. It was through Matt’s subsequent media appearances I realized he considered me an optional part of the story.
In the weeks after we went public, he positioned himself as Founder of Sleeping Giants and went on to take interviews with Pod Save America, Kara Swisher and AdWeek. In AdWeek, I ended up portrayed as “one of the individuals who helps him run the accounts.”
Without my knowledge, my story was being defined by someone else — a white man who could use his platform to exclude me, diminish me, or disappear me entirely. He never once invited me to join him. I never had any idea he was doing any of these interviews until it was too late.
I called a meeting with Matt in August 2018, after watching a slew of these articles come out. I said I needed a title, that I didn’t want to step on his toes, didn’t want to be famous, but we needed to figure something out so I could have a voice too.
I explained: going public was my chance to start influencing the advertising industry directly.
I wanted Matt to know I was just here to work, not take credit. He could go on TV, get famous, and do all the big stuff if that’s what he wanted. I just wanted to be in the background quietly getting things done.
He told me I could pick any title but co-founder, because he was the founder. We agreed on the title “founding organizer.”
I had no problem with this. He was the leader, I would be the #2. I asked him to make me a Sleeping Giants email address, so I could look more official. (He didn’t). He asked me to continue sending all press requests to him. (I did).
“You are a such a pain in the ass…I don’t owe you anything”
We continued to work together, and I continued to send Matt all press requests that came in through Facebook.
No longer anonymous, he was now being quoted by name in the media. These media mentions began appearing in his bios, for conferences like SXSW and 3% Conference. On Twitter, he began to replace what was once a collective “we” with “I” and “my”, frequently referring to himself and his family.
The work I had done for Sleeping Giants was also appearing on his conference bio. The vagueness that once helped us look like a mysterious group bigger than we were was now being claimed solely by him.
I didn’t have the media attention or connections that Matt did. I wasn’t 45, white and I certainly didn’t know anyone in advertising. I was young, unknown and invisible.
But I wanted to speak publicly on the issues too. How was I going to do it without a little help? I asked Matt if he could maybe give me a heads up so I could join him at some of the bigger conferences, like SXSW. I was tired of finding out about these things on Twitter.
He agreed, saying he would keep me in the loop in the future. We remained in frequent contact.
In June, I saw Matt posting from France on Instagram. “Are you in…Europe?” I asked. He said yes, I’m speaking at Cannes. Days later, he sent me a DM of him accepting a Cannes Gold Lion, the ad industry’s biggest award:
I went into a downward spiral when I realized what a big deal this was: What have I been spending every single day working on? Did anyone know I existed? That I was working on this too? Why didn’t he ever mention this to me?
I felt humiliated. I spent the week unable to eat, sleep, or function — I had put on my personal website that I’m “founding organizer” of Sleeping Giants. Would people think I was lying about my involvement? Was I just here performing free labor in service of a white man’s personal brand?
I went rogue. I posted a passive aggressive note on his Instagram — and then I did what I wasn’t supposed to: take a press request.
After I spoke to the New York Times reporter, Matt called me, furious that I had dared to shade him on Instagram. It was one of the most traumatic experiences of my life, and I remember what he said perfectly:
- “This is a betrayal. This is worse than anything that Breitbart could do. This is worse than being doxxed by The Daily Caller.”
- “I’m older than you and I know more people than you. I’ve been working for like 20 years, and I used to work at an ad agency. I’m sorry you’re not getting the jobs you want. I’m sorry you don’t have the connections I have.”
- “You’re such a pain in the ass. Every three months, like clockwork, you call me wanting something. No one does this to me, not my wife, not my business partner, not my friends.”
- “Everything I do is for the movement. What about you? You’re in it for the glory aren’t you?”
- “I did not deserve what you did to me. The way you chewed me out in front of all my friends. They were all saw what you said, they were all asking who this person is saying these things about me.”
- “I took a huge risk just by starting this account and I do a million things you don’t even know about.”
He told me he didn’t know if he could trust me again. When I asked him why he couldn’t just tell me about Cannes, I will never forget what he said: “I don’t owe you anything.”
I felt worthless. I ended up apologizing to him for what I had done, and got him off the phone. I figured he would call me and apologize to me in the next few days or weeks. He didn’t call me again for 7 months, until January 2020.
I can’t believe I almost quit
In the months after this devastating call, I would discover Matt had created an LLC and an email, Speaking@slpnggiants[dot]com that only he could access.
It was painfully clear that this movement was a platform for him, and no one else.
He was having conversations with people I had no idea about. Some of those people would come to me, assuming I knew what was going on because they had already spoken to Matt. This had never been the case, even before our fight. Matt never cc’ed me into anything or made any introductions. I was always clueless, and it made me look bad at a time when I was trying to raise my profile.
I seriously considered quitting Sleeping Giants at this time. I had always cared so much about not stepping on Matt’s toes, but this man couldn’t care less about me.
But leaving Sleeping Giants would be the end of the road for me. It would mean walking away from my chance to fix the adtech industry. If I left, I would go back to being “just” a copywriter — the person I was before November 2016.
I decided I would stay, but I would make one big change: I stopped waiting for permission. I had been running the other half of Sleeping Giants right from the start. If I was getting pushed out of the story, I had to write myself back in.
I no longer forwarded media requests or event opportunities to him unless they specifically asked for him. I started posting my research under my own name, instead of feeding it to Matt to tweet out as Sleeping Giants.
A few months later, I gave my first big talk at TuringFest (which you can watch here). When they changed my title on their website from Founding Organizer to Co-Founder, I didn’t correct them. The conference organizers also set me up with a reporter from The Drum, who I learned later was writing a profile on me. It was my first profile!
Days later, PayPal suspended the KKK from their service thanks to my research and the BBC called me for a quote. From there, I never looked back.
Matt and I DMed on a strictly as-needed basis to keep the campaign going, but would never speak on the phone again until seven months later — this January.
I stopped playing by his rules
When Matt called me in January to “reconcile” as Buzzfeed reports, he was no longer in a position of power over me. I didn’t need a Sleeping Giants email account to look official anymore. I didn’t need anything from him at all.
He told me he wanted us to work together again and have things be “not weird” between us. He promised to be a better collaborator. I agreed, and asked him one last time to make me a Sleeping Giants email address, knowing he would not. I asked him one last time for access to the General Inquiries email, knowing he would not (and he never did).
By now, I had started taking meetings as co-founder of Sleeping Giants. I met industry leaders and allies, who made introductions and championed me to others. I was being recommended for conferences and interviews. People were coming directly to me, Nandini Jammi. Not Sleeping Giants.
The simple act of calling myself co-founder changed so much. People looked up to me as a leader and respected what I had to say. Doors were opening and I had a pathway into the adtech industry that allowed me to start building the next thing.
I have been using my capacity as a leader to personally pressure adtech exchanges to drop hate sites around the world. I also represented Sleeping Giants at Mastercard’s shareholder meeting last year.
I have become a source for countless tech and business reporters. I bring people together, I collaborate and I even launched a new business, Check My Ads.
Last year, I was interviewed for a PBS documentary on fake news. I was genuinely astonished at the invitation, and asked the filmmaker how he found me. He said he was specifically seeking out underrepresented people for his film.
I loved that. It costs nothing to make space for me. It costs nothing to cc me in. It costs nothing to empower other people to achieve their goals.
Matt and I never appeared anywhere together. He never shared invitations with me. He shut doors on me, instead of bringing me in. It would cost Matt exactly nothing to have two leaders. It would only have made us more powerful.
Throughout all this, I continued running the Facebook account because I care deeply about our community and our mission.
A few weeks ago, I told Matt I was researching ways to put pressure on Facebook. He told me he had just gotten off a call with the ADL about a potential campaign. He was having meetings about what they would later announce as the #StopHateForProfit campaign. Once again, he was leaving me out of the room.
I’m sorry I have to leave Sleeping Giants. There was always space for both of us, just not on this campaign.