Starbucks quietly fights fake online coupons

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After a widely lauded crisis response to a racial incident in a
Philadelphia location, Starbucks is dealing with the PR scourge of the
modern era: fake news.

The coffee chain announced it would close thousands of its stores
for a day of racial sensitivity training
after two black men were arrested, an incident that ignited a crisis for the brand. Now, internet trolls are
hoping to stir the pot with fake coupons for Starbucks customers of color.

NBC reported:

One coupon says — “We’re sorry… We know we can do better. Starbucks
values all people and we are working on employee sensitivity training.”

At the bottom it says one free beverage, and near the bar code, it says
“people of color only.”

There are other versions of the freebie popping up as well.

One promotion blames “Russian internet trolls” for the first coupon and
goes on to say, “although this started as a hoax, after mountains of
positive feedback on social media, we’ve decided to make it a reality… we
will be providing all of our customers one free beverage of their choice in
addition to 50 percent off all food items.”

Another ad says, “the best dialogue starts over a cup of coffee and we’d
like to buy you one.”

The fake ads use coded language from alt-right and white supremacist
groups, and they have been promoted by websites affiliated with those

Business Insider

Baristas are instructed to use discount code 1488, the combination of two
numbers that have become
symbols of white supremacy. The QR code for the coupon links to a website page that translates the
code as the n-word.

Among the accounts sharing the fake coupon were Gab,
a social network
known for its popularity among far-right figures that have been banned from
other platforms, and
Daryush “Roosh V” Valizadeh, a controversial pick-up artist and blogger.

This isn’t the first time that Starbucks has been the target of fake
coupons and internet trolls.

[WEBCAST: Prepare, protect and promote your organization and brand in a climate of crisis.]

The Washington Post

In August, fake coupons for a “Dreamer Day” at the coffee shop began to
circulate, saying undocumented immigrants would be entitled to a 40 percent
discount on coffee. The coupons, which also appeared to originate on 4chan,
used the hashtag “#borderfreecoffee.”
Starbucks debunked the hoax
on Twitter. The company has previously been a
target for conservatives
who believe the company’s holiday cups are too nondenominational.

The fake campaign, seemingly promoting a shared conversation between the
company and customers of diverse backgrounds, is reminiscent of a real
Starbucks campaign that was much derided.

The Washington Post

In 2015, the company launched “Race Together,” an initiative to encourage
customers and employees to discuss race while they waited for their drinks.
Baristas were encouraged to write “Race Together” on coffee cups. An
internal memo instructed stores to post “conversation starters” at the register, including prompts for people to discuss how many of
their friends are of a race different from their own. The initiative was
widely mocked.

It remains unclear how Starbucks is instructing employees to handle
customers who attempt to use the fake coupons. At least one customer seems
to have received a free coffee. reported:

Referencing the coupons seems to have gotten one man a free coffee. Twitter
user Bryan Sharpe posted a video of himself going into a Starbucks and
saying, “I heard y’all was racist, so I came to get my free coffee.”

“Is that a real thing? I mean, I’ll give it to you. I saw that on my
Twitter last night,” said the barista, who makes pleasant conversation with
Sharpe throughout the exchange.

It can be difficult to debunk online myths; as soon as one is quashed,
another springs up in its place.

As users started to warn that the Starbucks promotion wasn’t genuine, this
more sophisticated fake coupon went out.

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Starbucks, for its part, has remained quiet about the whole affair. In
statements to reporters it has confirmed that the coupons are fakes, but it
hasn’t addressed the issue through tis social media channels.

That might be a smart strategy, according to some social media scientists. The New York Times discussed the best ways to counter fake news
online in a roundup last September. Chief among its recommendations: Limit
time spent arguing about erroneous information.

It wrote:

If you have to repeat a lie, it’s best to limit the description of it, said
Kathleen Hall Jamieson, one of the study’s authors, who is also the
director of the
Annenberg Public Policy Center
at the University of Pennsylvania and a founder of

The problem, she and the other authors said, is that rehashing arguments in
favor of misinformation can inadvertently reinforce it, strengthening the
defense against the truth.

How would you advise Starbucks to respond,
PR Daily

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