I can't believe it, but I'm actually feeling sorry for a company. Target (NYSE: TGT) is under fire for contributing $150,000 to support an anti-gay political candidate. In their outrage over this one specific situation, I worry that people are ignoring the bigger picture.

The cutting edge
According to its Web site, since 1946, Target has given 5% of its back to the communities in which it operates, which amounts to $3 million each week. Whatever your opinion on the candidate Target's supporting, it's hard to deny that the company's done a lot of good.

Yet thanks to tools such as Facebook and Twitter, disgruntled consumers can -- and do -- spread disgruntlement quickly. As I type this, there's a "Boycott Target" Facebook page with more than 73,000 supporters. As each of them joined the page, their 20 or 200 or 2,000 friends heard about it as well.

I typed "boycott" into Facebook's search box, and turned up more than 3,000 pages! Clearly, angry people are spreading the word about companies and other things they don't like. Many of their campaigns could affect shareholders' investments in the companies in question.

A page about boycotting BP (NYSE: BP) has nearly 850,000 supporters. Yet that campaign is also a bit misguided; the vast majority of BP-branded gas stations are owned not by BP, but by independent business owners who had nothing to do with the spill, and who are being unfairly punished in its aftermath. Boycotts can be effective, but unless they're founded in accurate information, they can easily do more harm than good.

The big picture
When you learn about a company doing something you don't like, consider the big picture before you call for a boycott. Procter & Gamble (NYSE: PG) has drawn fire for contributing $5,000 to a Congressional representative with an anti-gay voting record. But a little digging will reveal that Procter & Gamble has also given much more to other candidates, and that it has a good record of supporting gay issues overall. And If you're dismayed that Altria (NYSE: MO) gave $41,500 to Hillary Clinton's 2008 Presidential campaign, note that it tends to give far more to Republican candidates and causes than to Democrats.

Of course, sometimes a big-picture look might still spur you to take action. If you support California's eco-friendly Global Warming Solutions Act, you might want to know that Valero Energy (NYSE: VLO) has contributed half a million dollars to oppose that bill. (Thus far, 700 people have joined a "Boycott Valero" Facebook page.) If you're a regular customer -- or better yet, a shareholder -- consider getting in touch with Valero to express your displeasure.

With so many points of view in America, and so many people who passionately support one side or another, it might be smart for corporations to just not contribute to politicians or political causes at all. The potential for a hit to their reputations, deserved or not, simply might not be worth it.

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Longtime Fool contributor Selena Maranjian owns shares of Procter & Gamble. The Fool owns shares of and has written covered calls on Procter & Gamble, which is a Motley Fool Income Investor recommendation. The Fool owns shares of Altria Group. Try any of our investing newsletter services free for 30 days. The Motley Fool is Fools writing for Fools.