Protesters demonstrate Monday inside a Center City Starbucks in Philadelphia where two black men were arrested last week. (Mark Makela/Reuters)

Six days after two African American men were arrested at a Philadelphia Starbucks, an Internet hoax is falsely suggesting the company has issued a coupon that entitles African Americans to free coffee. The fake coupons followed days of protest, a personal apology to the men from the company’s CEO and an announcement the company would close more than 8,000 U.S. stores on May 29 to educate its employees about racial bias.

The coupons, which are circulating on social media, say the holder is entitled to one free drink “Limited to persons of African American heritage and/or identity.” Many use the phrase, “The best dialogue starts over a cup of coffee, and we’d like to buy you one.” They appear to have originated on 4chan, wrote Business Insider, which noted that in some coupons, “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.”

“This is completely false and in no way associated with Starbucks,” a company spokeswoman told The Washington Post.


An image of one hoax Starbucks coupon (Twitter)

Ann Coulter also referenced the hoax coupons on Twitter, after Donald Trump Jr. tweeted on Wednesday that President Trump had nominated a Marine to become the first black female general. “AND she gets free coffee at Starbucks,” wrote Coulter.

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.

Sharpe’s Twitter name is Hotep Jesus, and his page links to a site called Hotep Nation that states the group is “opposed to the Democratic Party” and anti-Black Lives Matter. Alt-right websites like Infowars and Dangerous, the site run by Milo Yiannopoulos, have seized upon the incident. Dangerous wrote Sharpe is “one of a burgeoning movement of African Americans who mock leftist identity politics and their hackneyed concept of ‘social justice’ in the United States.”

It is not the first time Internet hoaxers have circulated fake Starbucks coupons. 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.

Starbucks has also had previous missteps in addressing racial inequality in the U.S. 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.

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