What Does the Term “Dog Whistle” Mean and Why Should You Care?

Bryce McKinley | January 6, 2021

First introduced in Australian politics in the 1990s, the term “dog whistle” quickly traveled across the ocean to America and has been making a comeback in the public lexicon. While those who use it can be found on both sides of the political aisle, it’s a particularly common phrase in the media.

It’s also a phrase that’s absolutely ripe for abuse.

What does it mean?

In a metaphorical context, a dog whistle is a term or phrase that doesn’t register as anything other than a benign phrase to the vast majority of people who hear it. There’s allegedly a small group of people, however, who are tuned in to the supposed hidden meaning of this phrase, which usually has racist undertones.

Any rhetoric or word choice can be falsely construed as being a secret term meant to convey hidden messages to racists, misogynists, or homophobes. Brands should be particularly sensitive to its use, and if it turns up in reference to their company, it may foreshadow a significant reputation crisis.

Why should you care?

As with most words in the days of the internet, the term “dog whistle” has been overused to the point where it means almost nothing. It’s used now by the media to instantly discredit anyone or any idea they don’t like and to create the perception that someone is racist or sexist without any actual proof, and they can create a viral outrage out of nothing.

Brands that use social listening to monitor for specific keywords would be wise to add the term dog whistle to their filtering criteria. Being aware of the instances in which this phrase appears could provide a company with an early warning that they’re about to suffer a blow to their reputation and can help them rise above the lies and slander to nip the problem in the bud.

If you’re looking for a way to get ahead of the curve, reach out to Massive. Our experts in the field of reputation management and online crisis response can help create a custom-made response plan for your brand so you’re prepared for any social media event.

Bryce McKinley
Efficiency & Establishment Officer at Valor Capital
Bryce joined the team at Massive to streamline business development operations, improve internal program execution, and generate expansion exponentially. He oversees all aspects of operations and new business strategies.