JULY 2015 - Jay-Z, Beyonce & Confederate Flag Fake News
Photo Caption and Credit: Beyoncé and Jay-Z performing at Safeco Field in Seattle, Washington during their co-headlining “On the Run Tour”, on July 31, 2014. (Courtesy of Miss Erica)
By: Genesis Jefferson
From music to social and political advocacy, billionaire, Grammy award-wining, couple Jay Z and Beyonce Carter are superstars. In 2019, Jay Z received the President’s Award at the 50th NAACP Image Awards. In that same year, Beyonce and Jay Z were both awarded at GLAAD for their LGBTQ+ advocacy. However, four years prior, in July 2015, Newswatch33, a fake news outlet, reported that the Carters planned to use their fortune to acquire the rights to the Confederate flag. Newswatch33’s false article stated that the Carters’ attorney had informed the outlet that the couple wanted to buy the Confederate flag in order to prohibit the use of the racially charged symbol. Since the article’s release in 2015, the publication has been removed from the internet. Additionally, secondary sources do not name the journalists or contributors to the article.
According to The Fader, a culture and music-focused news site, Newswatch33, was “bogus and incendiary” and notorious for publishing false stories (Kameir, 2015). Moreover, PolitiFact, a fact-checking news site, points out that Newswatch33 had a disclaimer attached to its content, which stated “accuracy (or) reliability” of the website information is at users’ “own risk.” (Bruzgulis, Cabaniss, 2015)
Despite NewsWatch33’s disclaimers, other news outlets, including The Source and Complex, picked up the false story, circulating it to a broader audience. And though Complex and other news sites later admitted the story was false, CBC News, a Canadian publication, notes that rewriting the false report came too late. Users on Facebook and Reddit continued to decimate the story, causing it to go viral. (Obourn, 2015)
This example of fake news represents how actual current events can sometimes inspire fake stories, elevate them, and make them appear real. The month before the Newswatch33 article regarding Beyonce and Jay-Z’s supposed plan to purchase the confederate flag, a white supremacist murdered members of a black church in Charleston, South Carolina. After the tragic shooting, photos surfaced online of the shooter posed with a Confederate flag and a gun. (Obourn, 2015)
According to The Science of Fake News, published by the American Association for the Advancement of Science, fake news “mimics news media content in form but not in organizational process or intent,” (Lazer and others, 2018). The Intent of Newswatch33’s false article falls into a distinct category of fake news: propaganda. According to Fake News and Misinformation, an article written by computer network researchers at Prairie View A&M University, Propaganda fake news is politically motivated (Sadiku, Eze, Muza, 2018). Newswatch33’s article was inherently political since it centers around the Confederate flag, a highly topical and polarizing symbol. Additionally, when the story was published, hate crimes like the Charleston Church Shooting had brought the Confederate flag under increased scrutiny.
Overall, this example proves the importance of news literacy tactics, such as source verifying, by reading additional sources. Tactics such as these are vital to deciphering real and fake news (Sadiku, Eze, Muza, 2018). Newswatch33 represents how, in the digital age, with the presence of rapid information spread, it’s important to remember that not every news source is equally credible. Therefore, it’s up to both news producers and consumers to fact-check information for themselves, even when said information seems trustworthy at first glance.