A Starbucks in Atlanta closed a few hours early on 7 January 2018 after management received tips that an employee was placing blood, dog feces and other contaminants into the store’s products. The #StarbucksContamination rumor was rooted in a distasteful social media post, however, and did not correspond with genuine actions from a real world Starbucks employee.
The controversy started on Sunday night after a user on the /pol section of 4chan posted a screenshot purportedly showing a Facebook post from a “Shanell Rivers” in which she described various disgusting things she allegedly did to Starbucks products:
This screenshot was posted on various threads, including one entitled “Lets get her fired,” which urged fellow 4chan users to create memes, contact Starbucks, and spread the hashtag #Starbuckscontamination in order to get this woman fired. This online campaign also spilled over to Twitter and the r/The_Donald subreddit.
This campaign was based on the idea that a Starbucks employee was contaminating the store’s products, but one can’t ignore the race likely played a role in the topic’s popularity. This Facebook message was allegedly posted to a Facebook group entitled “White People Vs Black People (The Original).” And although we have not been able to track down the URL of the original post, this Facebook group does indeed exist. Furthermore, we counted more than 70 uses of the N-word in the original thread on 4chan. A litany of other racist terms were also used to describe Shanell.
Although those pushing this campaign were quick to condemn Shanell Rivers and demanded that she be fired, they had no evidence that this woman was actually an employee at Starbucks or that she had done any of the things that she listed in her Facebook post. In fact, several of the memes put out in these threads contained misinformation.
This post, for instance, attempted to introduce the internet to Shanell Rivers, but it uses an unrelated Getty Images photograph from 2014 that was taken at a “Dumb Starbucks” location in California:
We’re also skeptical that the “Shanell Rivers” account belongs to a woman that bears that name. The account’s profile picture, for instance, comes from a seemingly unrelated Instagram account.
It should also be noted that many of the items on this list would be difficult to accomplish as Starbucks employees make their drinks directly in front of customers.
When Starbucks responded to the controversy they said that they did not employ a woman named “Shanell Rivers” and that these posts were “created maliciously”:
Starbucks posted a similar response on Twitter:
This post is completely false. Starbucks does not have a partner (employee) by the name Shanell Rivers. We are working with local authorities.
— Starbucks Coffee (@Starbucks) January 9, 2018
The post was most likely made up. There’s no evidence that these acts were actually carried out at a Starbucks in Atlanta and the store stated that they do not employ a woman by this name.