In late February 2021, a screenshot of an apparent news article was shared to Facebook to support an assertion that an 11-year-old earned $1,000 by selling “n-word passes” to white classmates:
1k!!!! He had to have sold a few to some teachers ????????????
A February 25 2021 tweet of the same screenshot was orders of magnitude more viral, with six-figure engagement counts:
In the screenshot, an image of the back of a little boy’s head appeared under the following visible text:
11-Year-Old Black Child Made $1K Selling ‘N-Word Passes’ to White Friends at School
White parents tried to make adopted kid woke, failed.
Published 5 months ago on 21 July, 2020
No identifying information about the source for the claim or its author was visible. Locating the original item seen in the image was not difficult based on the headline and date; it was published by known disinformation purveyor Paul Joseph Watson for Summit News.
As we have previously reported, Summit.news effectively acts as nothing more than a way to launder propaganda and disinformation from InfoWars and its contributors into the mainstream:
Readers who clicked through to the article were directed to the site Summit.news (which lacks an informative “about” page) … What wasn’t immediately apparent was that Summit.news is an aggregation site that does not appear to do any original reporting and dabbles heavily in disinformation; the republished article shown here was originally from the conspiracy-pushing site InfoWars.
A Wikipedia page for Watson struggled to cram quite a lot of unpalatable history into its opening sentences:
Paul Joseph Watson (born 24 May 1982) is a British right-wing YouTuber, radio host, writer and conspiracy theorist whose views have often been qualified as anti-feminist and politically extremist. Up until July 2016, Watson concurred with his alt-right label, but has since dropped the label and now self-identifies as being part of the new right. Despite the change, he is still understood to be a far-right individual by multiple sources. In May 2019, Facebook and Instagram permanently banned Watson for violation of hate speech policies.
A May 2019 article (“How far-right extremists rebrand to evade Facebook’s ban”) mentioned how Summit News is a favored workaround to evade sanctioning by social media platforms. The 2021 post circulated as a screenshot, also circumventing Facebook’s filters:
A week after Facebook banned a group of prominent far-right influencers for violating its policies against “dangerous individuals and organizations,” the company has removed another page that was being used to circumvent the ban.
Facebook took down the page after being asked about it by National Observer.
The now-removed Facebook page is associated with a website called “Summit News,” which is run by Paul Joseph Watson, editor of the controversial website Infowars. Summit News hosts all of Watson’s content, much of which is cross-posted verbatim on Infowars.
Both Watson and Infowars were banned from Facebook [in 2019], but Watson was circumventing the ban by repackaging his content under a different brand name and posting it on the platform. A week after his initial ban from Facebook, his content was still available on the platform, through Summit News’ Facebook page.
In April 2020, Watson quibbled with Piers Morgan on Twitter; Morgan described Watson as “racist”:
A subheading visible in the screenshot hinted at a racially-charged “take” on the claim in the July 21 2020 piece, reflected in the item’s first few lines. The opening paragraphs also revealed the story’s source:
The woke white parents of an adopted 11-year-old black child were shocked to discover that he had made over a thousand dollars selling ‘n-word passes’ to white kids at school.
A woman going by the name of ‘Mortified Mom’ told Slate that she and her husband, who are both white, adopted a 5-year-old girl called Taylor and an infant boy called Martin. The children, who are both black, are now 11 and 16-years-old.
Apparently, they failed.
Being the budding entrepreneur that he is, 11-year-old Martin devised an ingenious revenue-generating scheme – he would sell ‘n word passes’ to his fellow middle school students for $25-$50 a pop.
Readers attempting to authenticate the screenshot’s claims were already at a disadvantage thanks to the relatively unknown site hosting the content; a portion stating that an unnamed woman had told Slate about the purported “n-word passes” obfuscated the actual source of the claim.
A July 15 2020 Slate.com advice column for parents, called “Care and Feeding,” included a letter from an anonymous reader using the name “Mortified Mom.” The column was titled “My Black Son Sold ‘N-Word Passes’ to His White Friends,” and “Mortified Mom” wrote:
Dear Care and Feeding,
Eleven years ago, my husband and I started fostering a sister and brother,“Taylor” and “Martin,” and we adopted them a year later. Our daughter was 5, and our son was an infant, but they are now 16 and 11 and are smart, kind, and mostly well-behaved kids. My husband and I are white, and they are Black, but we’ve done our best to have honest, age-appropriate discussions on race, our privilege, and how messed up the systematic oppression and racism in our country is. I thought we had done an OK job … until yesterday.
Taylor asked us after dinner if she could talk to us in private and showed us screenshots a friend had sent her. Apparently, Martin has been selling “N-word passes” to kids at his middle school for $20-50! It’s been going on for weeks, and he had offered it to Taylor’s friend’s sister, who screenshot it and sent it to Taylor. They go to diverse schools for our area, but there are still a lot of white/non-Black kids there. Taylor told us that kids have been sending Martin money via Venmo, and she thinks he’s made almost $1,000. My husband and I are shocked and angry, and we don’t know what to do. Martin’s actions must have made his fellow Black classmates upset and uncomfortable, and I feel like a horrible mother and person. I thought we did a good job, but we must have done something wrong. We need to give him consequences, but I don’t know how extreme to go. Right now, I’m leaning toward taking away device privileges for a long, long time and confiscating the money. What else can or should we do? How do we confront him about this and apologize and tell other parents?
In the scope of the Slate column, the letter was presented and responded to as if sincere by the author, and there was no overt indication that the letter-writer who went by the moniker “Mortified Mom” was fibbing. Conversely, advice columns are typically repositories for anonymous submissions, and not all reflect situations that actually happened.
It was possible “Mortified Mom” was real, and that her adopted Black son was caught “selling n-word” passes for between $20 and $50 to classmates — however, a few details were questionable. Nothing in the letter suggested the relayed circumstances were a “failure” of “wokeness,” and the letter writer at the time was going only on an unverified claim made by their eldest child, assuming the letter was even written in good faith.
Moreover, $1,000 worth of “n-word passes” at $20 or $50 worked out to between 20 and 50 passes. For the story to be true, as many as 50 children would have had to have come up with at least $20 (possibly $50), simply to be “allowed” to speak a forbidden word. All the children would need access to their own money, and all 20 to 50 of them would have chosen an “n-word pass” versus the many other things a child that age could purchase with $20 to $50.
On top of that, all 20 to 50 of the children would have had the ability to acces Venmo, and “Martin” (the 11-year-old entrepreneur) would have had to have amassed more than $1,000 there without attracting his parents’ attention.
When the screenshot went viral and spread in February and March 2021, it was decoupled from its unreliable sources (Summit.news and Paul Joseph Watson) and refashioned into an attempt at racist outrage-bait, although vestigial elements of his editorializing were visible in the subheading. Even if readers were able to find the underlying article, it didn’t readily make apparent that the story was aggregated from an advice column — the word “advice” appeared, but in the context of an article versus a column:
After the mom asked for advice on how to punish the child, respondents to the article suggested that the kid needs a “black man in his life” and that the money should be donated to Black Lives Matter or another “anti-racist” organization.
That brief snippet made it sound as if commenters on a news article suggested that the putative money be donated to Black Lives Matter. In fact, that portion was in the response from the column’s author to “Mortified Mom,” and it looked as though Watson was seeking to mislead readers into believing an advice column was news reporting:
As far as folks who purchased the pass, tell their parents ASAP. Good luck to whomever has to explain to those kids why they can’t say the N-word—which, again, they were probably saying as they saw fit any damn way. And good luck to you, for this isn’t an easy challenge to deal with. Oh, and donate the money to a bail support fund for Black Lives Matter protesters or another organization that is doing anti-racist work.
The “11-Year-Old Black Child Made $1K Selling ‘N-Word Passes’ to White Friends at School” screenshot spread virally in February 2021, seven months after the Summit.news post first appeared. Its underlying claims originated not with an “article” but with an advice column, and the letter-writer’s story at times stretched the bounds of credulity. Although there was little surface harm in spreading the screenshot, its viral popularity made it likely that more readers would come across Summit.news, and possibly remain unaware that it was a known source for falsehoods, racist claims, and disinformation.