© 2022, Emerald Publishing Limited.Purpose: Given the division between conservative and liberal ideologies on many issues, brands navigate social media minefields whenever they take a social or political stance. This study aims to explore real-time social media consumer responses to eight US boycott threats, including both conservative-based and liberal-based calls for boycott. Design/methodology/approach: A grounded theory analysis of approximately 800 tweets collected in the 24 h following each brand’s trigger event led to a framework of motivations for using social media to engage in boycott discussions over a brand’s political stance. Findings: Eleven pro-boycott and 11 anti-boycott consumer profiles emerged across cases. Overarching motivations for pro- and anti-boycotters include a desire to cause/prevent change, seeking justice/fairness, self-enhancement and expression of hostility. Findings suggest that political consumerism occurs with differing motivations and varying levels of emotion, that brand defenders may lessen boycott effectiveness and that threats to boycott may not always translate to actual boycotts. Originality/value: This paper explores actual consumer boycott calls from various industries as they unfolded in real-time, as opposed to other research that explores hypothetical boycotts or a single case study. Additionally, to the best of the authors’ knowledge, this work is among the first to explore how consumers enter the boycott conversation in defense of the brand and attempt to diffuse the call for a boycott.