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Why Were People So Quick to Believe the Abercrombie Racist Pants Story?

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In perhaps the most reported Abercrombie (ANF) story since this summer’s “The Situation” fiasco, the clothing retailer is now trying to convince consumers that it is not responsible for a knock-off site selling pants with a racist name. As of this writing, the site appears to have been taken down, but a quick Twitter search for the chain reveals that many on the Internet remain outraged.

Basically, the whole mess started with a picture of a convincing-enough looking Abercrombie & Fitch website selling pants in a shade called “[N-word] Brown.” It quickly began circulating around the Internet, upsetting many people.

Of course, this being the Internet, few took a close look at the picture. As the Atlantic points out, the product description has the garbled feel of a bad online translation -- which it apparently is. Here are a few lines:

“Abercrombie and Fitch brand has been attracting the young market to the greatest extent. They are in love with these products, for they perfectly suit their looks.”

Abercrombie has done a good job of getting the site taken down, and has apologized on Facebook. They have been criticized for being somewhat slow to react (in Internet time, anyways) but all in all seem to have resolved the issue.

Now, that being said, Abercrombie’s flak department should take a moment to ask itself why so many people were willing to believe this story. Granted, it’s the Internet, but the idea of a major company naming their product like this should strike people as patently ridiculous.

Except it didn’t. Worse yet, this incident has served -- just like The Situation ban -- to dredge up Abercrombie’s history of discrimination issues. The company has been sued in the past for both racial discrimination and for forcing a disabled woman to work in its stockroom.

These incidents may or may not have affected public response to the fake site. Internet memes have a life of their own, and their popularity is often unrelated to their accuracy (Buzzfeed recently ran a great piece on this). Still, the public response to an idiotically racist product name should be disbelief, not the assumption that Abercrombie messed up.

That’s called an image problem.
POSITION:  No positions in stocks mentioned.