Social Justice Warrior hoaxing is having a heyday. Whether you’re a multi-racial family surreptitiously spray-painting your own home with racist graffiti, a lesbian waitress writing fake anti-gay notes on receipts, an overweight teen falsely claiming a store clerk called you fat, or an activist sending yourself hateful tweets, never has the time been better to advance your cause using a bit of fakery.
But as the links above show, you have to be good at your game if you don’t want to be caught. Sure, the media will believe you and run far and wide with your story before checking it, and that’s good enough to keep these hoaxes coming for the years to come. But if you want to keep your cake hoax from being revealed by citizens less credulous than the media, here are some tips to get you going.
Let’s look at a story from yesterday that was good enough to fool various journalists but not good enough to fool anyone else.
Jordan Brown, a gay pastor in Austin, filed a lawsuit against Whole Foods claiming he was discriminated against. He says he ordered a cake reading “Love Wins” but that a homophobe cake decorator added “FAG” underneath. You should be able to figure out on your own that this is most likely not true. But let’s just say it’s so false that Whole Foods is taking legal action against Brown.
LOVE WINS FAG. That’s not the cake I ordered, @WholeFoods and I am offended for myself & the entire #LGBT community pic.twitter.com/cuxuv6mL3G
Jordan D Brown (@PasJordanBrown) April 18, 2016
Some tips that Brown should have followed if he wanted his hoax to have staying power.
#1 Pick A Believable Villain
If you’re a gay black progressive in Austin, Texas, Whole Foods is not a credible villain for your cake hoax passion play. Have some common sense. Whole Foods is known for selling overpriced kombucha, locally sourced quail eggs, and Buddhist magazines. It’s just not believable that their Dallas locations are a hotbed of cartoonish bigotry, much less Austin.
#2 Find A Good Witness
I didn’t go to journalism school, but one thing I’ve picked up over the years as a reporter is that single-sourced tales of perfect victimization really need to be checked out. I call this the Morton Downey, Jr., rule, because his fake-swastika tale was when I learned to be skeptical of such tales. Downey, Jr., was a trash TV talk show host who claimed to have been attacked by neo-Nazis in the bathroom of San Francisco International Airport. These attackers, he said, painted a swastika on his face and attempted to shave his head. His story fell apart because of the lack of supporting evidence and the fact the swastika was backwards, as if it had been painted on by himself while looking in a mirror.
The thing about public acts of violence and bigotry is that they ordinarily involve many witnesses. Because they’re public. I’ve been in the hellhole that is the San Francisco International Airport and the one thing it has in addition to horrible food options and crowded hallways, is tons of people. When is the last time you entered a crowded airport bathroom and encountered no other people? Similarly, Brown was in a crowded Whole Foods and couldn’t find a single person to corroborate his cake story? Nobody in the bakery noticed? Nobody looking in his cart? No cashier? No one?
#3 Pick Better Ironclad Proof Than An Easily-Resealable Adhesive Sticker.
Brown posted a video when he got home from Whole Foods showing his proof that he hadn’t tampered with the cake. Why did he not take care of the problem while at Whole Foods, you ask? Well, even though the cake top is a transparent plastic cover, he didn’t notice the huge anti-gay slur smack dab in the middle until he got to his car. Here’s the video:
He repeatedly says his story is bulletproof and not at all a cake hoax because the sticker on the cake box is intact. And, to be fair, that was good enough for some commenters on news sites. But I’ll just post a random sampling of comments from sarcastic friends of mine:
- “Y’all, he never broke the seal! Cake boxes are impenetrable. I keep all my valuables in an old cake box with some tape over the original price tag.”
- “When I leave home, I actually leave a cake seal across the door so I can tell if anybody entered the premises during my absence. It’s foolproof.”
- “Fort Knox is actually protected by a 3 tier cake seal system. Impenetrable.”
- “But if the seal is slit, you must acquit!”
- “FIRE CAN’T MELT SEAL”
But seriously, how many ways could a Whole Foods cake box be penetrated, other than steaming off the seal, gently taking off the seal and reapplying it, cutting the other side of the box opposite the seal, or removing the plastic at the top? Think these things through before other people do.
#4 Make Your Victimization As Anonymous As Possible
A good social justice hoax will just blame “Christians who came into my restaurant” or “someone in my town, don’t know who.” In these examples, you’re claiming to have been victimized by someone in a pool of tens of thousands to millions of people. In the case of Brown, he named the specific Whole Foods, where specific people are on record as having decorated specific cakes. Probably with video evidence.
The specific employee who was accused of bigotry, it turns out, is, in the parlance of 2016 America, a “member of the LGBTQ community.” And the record shows, according to Whole Foods, that the cake was made as requested, with “Love Wins” written on the tip top of it.
It can’t be said enough: Never pin your hoax on an actual, specific person who can be questioned and who can refute your dumb story.
Here’s Whole Foods’ response:
#5 Know What You Don’t Know
Let’s call this the Rather Rule. Dan Rather’s entire journalism career came tumbling down in 2004 when the 60 Minutes anchor claimed a series of memos critical of George W. Bush had been discovered in old Texas Air National Guard files. It was an explosive story in the weeks leading up to the election. Once the documents were put online, however, average bloggers noticed that the margins, line spacing, kerning, font, and letter spacing perfectly matched modern typographic conventions from Microsoft Word that weren’t available on military typewriters of the 1970s. The story blew up in Rather’s face, although liberals have embarked on a campaign of revisionism to redeem the liberal journalist’s reputation.
Here’s where Brown messed up. He might have thought the “fag” scrawl looked similar to the “Love Wins” icing, but it doesn’t.
I’m just going to drop some comments from a BuzzFeed post about Brown’s story that remind me a bit of what happened in the Rather downfall:
So there you go, five easy tips to follow if you want to fool people other than journalists into believing your hoax. And a final word on journalists. When Jenni Lee, a reporter/anchor for KVUE-TV, first spread the story about the cake, prior to checking out the facts, two reporters posted the following in response to her:
@JenniL_KVUE Hi I'm with ABC in NY. Did you take this photo? If so may we use it on all ABC platforms and partners with credit to you?
Fergal Gallagher (@gallagherfergal) April 18, 2016
@JenniL_KVUE Hey Jenni, USA TODAY might want to pick that story up. Do you have an ETA for when something will post online?
Nichelle Smith (@NicSmith312) April 18, 2016
They did this within minutes of the original tweet. And yes, USA Today picked up the story from KVUE-TV, mentioning only at the very end, after everyone stopped reading, that Whole Foods denies it. Not that USA Today is unique, as there are thousands of such examples.
I would suggest that the Pulitzer Prize Committee should start giving out honors for journalistic restraint, but in many ways those journalism prizes are themselves great examples of how our society has long rewarded erroneous or otherwise flawed social justice activism over accurate and reasoned debates.
Consider that in this country we have actual cake bakers and other artisans who have been forced out of business for declining to cater events that offend their conscience. And rather than have tens of thousands of stories about the shuttering of those businesses or the lawsuits their proprietors are fighting, we ignore their plight. Fake social justice warrior hoaxes get massive press coverage and nationwide sympathy, while actual rights-violations, like bakers being forced to bake gay wedding cakes or get sued, get mocked (a good gaslighting if you’ll ever see one, even) on Saturday Night Live.
UPDATE: After reviewing surveillance footage, Whole Foods announced on Tuesday afternoon that it plans to take legal action against Jordan Brown for fraud. According to Whole Foods, Brown not only made up the story, he also changed the original location of the cake seal. Yes, the very cake seal which he said authenticated his claim:
Whole Foods also released its security footage video that it says contradicts the man’s claims.
Whole Foods on Tuesday said it has investigated and said the man, Jordan Brown, made fraudulent claims and would take legal action.
“After a deeper investigation of Mr. Brown’s claim, we believe his accusations are fraudulent and we intend to take legal action against both Mr. Brown and his attorney,” the company said in the statement.
The retailer went on to say Brown admitted that he was in sole possession and control of the cake until he posted his video, which showed the UPC label on the bottom and side of the box.
“After reviewing their security footage of Mr. Brown, it’s clear that the UPC label was in fact on top of the cake box, not on the side of the package,” Whole Foods said. “This is evident as the cashier scans the UPC code on top of the box, which you can view here.”