Everyone from Donald Trump to Stephen Colbert has taken a side on the alleged outrage surrounding Starbucks’ plain holiday red cups. But was there ever any actual outrage in the first place?
Last week, American evangelist and internet personality Joshua Feuerstein posted a video on Facebook saying that Starbucks “removed Christmas from their cups,” and that in protest, Christians should ask baristas to write “Merry Christmas” on their cups.
Media organisations, including Tech Insider, pointed to the hashtag #MerryChristmasStarbucks, which was trending on Facebook and Twitter over the weekend, as evidence of disappointment surrounding Starbucks’ decision to forgo Christmas imagery on their holiday red cups. However, now that the dust has settled, actual social media responses demonstrate that far more people used the hashtag to show disgust than support for Feurerstein’s ideas.
To uncover the truth about the “outrage,” one has to go to the root of the issue: Feuerstein’s video. As of Thursday, the video has close to 16 million views and more than 185,000 likes. However, it also has more than 512,000 share — many of them critical.
In fact, most of the most-liked comments on the video are dismissive of the “movement.”
“I’m a Christian. I also work for Starbucks,” reads one popular comment, written the day the video was posted. “I’ve worked for companies where my religion is mocked or laughed at. This company is not one of them.”
Another comment, posted after the video began trending on November 10, also called out Feuerstein as incorrect. As of Thursday, it had received more than 22,000 likes — more than quadruple the number of the most-liked comment supporting Feuerstein.
If even people who checked out the original video disagreed with Feuerstein, how did the hashtag begin to trend?
Watching the evolution and eventual explosion of the trend on Twitter sheds light on exactly what went down.
On November 5, the day the video was posted, there weren’t many tweets about the hashtag. While most that appear did show support, none were hugely popular. In fact, the most-liked and retweeted example was a sceptical responses.
— Lisa Kjar (@Lkjar) November 5, 2015
On November 6, people began actually sharing pictures of themselves with Starbucks cups that say “Merry Christmas” — evidence that Feuerstein wasn’t the only member of his so-called movement.
It also brought the beginning of the backlash.
Searching through the hashtag on November 7, the vast majority of tweets are simply criticising the movement. The switch had begun: a hashtag created criticise Starbucks had transformed into a movement to raise awareness of this criticism.
Since Saturday, the social media ratio has remained about the same, with more people using the hashtag to criticise than support Feuerstein.
— wendy mason (@wenm2911) November 8, 2015
Meanwhile, the growth of the hashtag — inflated by critics’ own posts — prompted media coverage of the topic. Regardless of publications’ political leanings, the majority of commenters responded in disgust — that Feuerstein was wasting his time on such a project.
“I’m offended by everyone being offended by this!!!” succinctly reads one of the most-liked comments on Fox New’s Facebook post about the issue.
Offline support from a wider Christian community also failed to materialise. As Jonathan Merritt wrote in the Washington Post, most Christians simply didn’t care about the red cups. No Christian groups have gone on the record boycotting Starbucks or joining the hashtag movement.
Has anyone actually met someone offended by the Starbucks cups?
— Drew Holcomb (@drewholcomb) November 10, 2015
Serious Christians don’t care what’s on Starbucks cups. I don’t know any Christians who do, but if they exist they speak only for themselves
— Matt Walsh (@MattWalshBlog) November 10, 2015
In fact, the only major new supporter of the movement to come out since the weekend has been Donald Trump. Other than his call to boycott Starbucks, the majority of on- and off-line commentary has been critical of the movement — all while bringing more and more attention to Feuerstein.
This isn’t necessarily a bad thing for Feuerstein, who has reasons of his own to want people to visit his Facebook page, whether they agree or disagree with his views.
The self-described “social media personality” offers partnerships, starting at $US10, $US20, or $US50 a month, for people and organisations who want to reach Feuerstein’s reported 500,000 daily followers, reports the Washington Post.
Feuerstein has experience with posting on polarising topics, and is sure to understand that tackling issues that will earn him criticism will also expand his reach — even if most people disagree. An example of a past Feuerstein topic is ordering a cake that says “We Do Not Support Gay Marriage,” and harassing the bakery that refused to make him the cake until it temporarily closed.
At the end of the day, most people who appeared to be a part of Feuerstein’s social media movement were, in fact, attacking the man. However, their involvement merely served to make the hashtag more prominent, over time making it a topic of discussion for most major publications, late night talk show hosts, and even a presidential candidate.
The outrage may have never been real, but its effects — including the growth it allowed Feuerstein — certainly are.
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