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Starbucks’ Red Cup Controversy

Recently, Starbucks introduced a new 2015 red cup in celebration of the upcoming holiday season. However, this year the cup design was quite different; instead of the traditional pine tree, snowman or anything related to Christmas, Starbucks chose to design their cups in plain red. This change led to outrage by the general populace regarding the company’s reluctance to celebrate Christmas. With the widespread use of social media, the outcry became the center of attention for a while. It all started with viral video by a conservative Christian Joshua Feuerstein who claimed that Starbucks’ new red cup represented its attitude against celebrating Christmas. The fight over new design resulted in a massive argument between two sides, one for and the other against it. Updated news and arguments spread through the omnipresence of social media ¬†and networks through what we know as an information cascade.

In an information cascade, we often give higher credibility or give in easily to information that is widely accepted. As a result, an information cascade could either have positive or negative results. For instance, the number of “likes” or “shares” a news article or viral video on the Starbucks controversy may provide a good indication of how reliable and sensible the information being presented is. On the other hand, these indicators may be misguiding in the sense that just because a large population “likes” or “shares” a piece of information does not mean that it is more accurate. We see the negative effects of information cascading in Joshua Feuerstein’s viral video. In his rant, the conservative Christian claims “do you realize that Starbucks wanted to take Christ and Christmas off of their brand new cups?” and “do you know that Starbucks isn’t allowed to say Merry Christmas to their customers?” Because the video was so popular, many people believed his claims without fact-checking. In reality, his claims were unfounded for several reasons. For instance, several pieces of merchandise on the Starbucks website include Christmas ornaments. The company evens sells “Christmas blend” coffee during the holiday season! Evidently, many people were misinformed and were led to believe that Starbucks was adhering to certain policies that some people were upset over. It is important, more now than ever before, that we fact check all information on social media and networks to prevent misguided information cascades. While this situation was minuscule, an information cascade with wrong information could leave to devastating effects in more ¬†serious circumstances.


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November 2015