Social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter lit up this week, and conservative commentator Rush Limbaugh is feeling the effects.
Soon after Limbaugh spent hours on his talk-radio show bashing a Georgetown University law student over her support of birth control, people from around the U.S. took to Facebook, Google+ and Twitter to vent their anger at Limbaugh. With no organized leadership, they called en masse for sponsors of Limbaugh's radio show to pull their advertising.
Today, in part because of this social pressure, Limbaugh's show has lost more than 20 advertisers, including Allstate Insurance, AOL, Citrix, Quicken Loans and Sears, according to reports.
Social networking sites are quickly being seen as the new medium for protesters of all types.
"Social media has entered into a new era, which is way past the point when it was used to find the best dry cleaner or see if a certain restaurant had fresh seafood," said Dan Olds, an analyst with The Gabriel Consulting Group. "Now it's become a real tool that is being used to topple governments and even saves lives."
The latest online brouhaha began Feb. 23 when law student Sandra Fluke testified before a congressional committee about the need for insurance companies to cover birth control costs. Limbaugh then called the woman a "slut" and "prostitute" and spent hours discussing her on his radio show.
Word of Limbaugh's actions quickly spread over traditional media and social networking sites, where people were quick to voice their own support or outrage.
For instance, Andy Borowitz (@BorowitzReport) tweeted, "Due to remarks of his we consider unacceptable, we have terminated our relationship with Rush Limbaugh. - Satan."
And Stop Rush Limbaugh (@StopRush) tweeted, "Please urge Capital One (@AskCapitalOne) to cease advertising on Rush Limbaugh's radio program."
Sensa Products, a weight-loss system company that had been a sponsor of Limbaugh's radio show, tweeted Monday: "Rush Limbaugh's comments are not in line with SENSA values so we are pulling our ads indefinitely which shud be down in the next couple days."
The website BoycottRush.org enables people to sign a petition calling for advertisers to pull their support of his show.
And a Limbaugh boycott page on Facebook has received more than 31,000 likes. Another boycott page on Facebook has garnered more than 13,000 likes.
"Social media makes it easy to mount boycotts and express outrage," said Olds. "Social media is really coming into its own as a protest tool. Interest groups are using it to apply pressure in a variety of ways. It's an easy way to rally the troops to express outrage at this or that."
Last month, people took to social networking sites to pressure the Susan G. Komen For the Cure organization to rethink its decision to cut funding of Planned Parenthood programs. After three days of protests by Planned Parenthood backers, Komen reversed its decision and said it would continue its previous funding plans.
Last year, conservative blogger Andrew Breitbart posted a sexually suggestive twitpic of former U.S. Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-N.Y.). That one tweet eventually led to the congressman's political downfall.
Sharon Gaudin covers the Internet and Web 2.0, emerging technologies, and desktop and laptop chips for Computerworld. Follow Sharon on Twitter at @sgaudin, on Google+ or subscribe to Sharon's RSS feed . Her email address is email@example.com.