Image from Creative Commons
News outlets, blogs and gossip sites are no strangers to causing controversy. Many have an obvious position on the political spectrum (i.e. Fox News, The Sun, The New York Post, The Daily Wire), others have reported blatant misinformation and some simply aren’t very accessible to the common consumer. News outlets on social media are no different, and can be even worse perpetrators of these issues. A prime example of this is The Shade Room, an Instagram-based media company founded in 2014 by Angelica Nwandu.
The Shade Room, described by the New York Times as the “TMZ of Instagram,” posts about celebrities and trending news multiple times per day with a primary focus on the Black community. It’s garnered over 29 million followers in just nine years, an amazing feat. Many Black people regard The Shade Room as a sort of safe haven for receiving their news, especially because it’s Black-owned. However, some members of the Black community heavily criticize The Shade Room for the same reasons that I do; right-wing peddling.
The Shade Room has a history of posting right-wing talking points and spreading misinformation. Recently, they’ve been under fire for allegedly misleading the public about President Biden’s Maui wildfire relief because of an Instagram post stating , “President Biden announces one-time payment of $700 payment per household to Maui residents affected by the fires,” which was the first in a series of slides. This led to the comments being filled with people criticizing the President, with some even calling for him to be voted out of office. Video creator Joshua Joseph called out the Shade Room for their post by explaining that there was more aid than the $700 that the Shade Room focused on. Although The Shade Room touched on this information in later slides, Joseph pointed out that the media outlet thrives on clickbait and banks on the fact that most of their followers will only read the headline. This is far from the first time they’ve been in controversy for something like this.
They also have a history of posting things that elicit anti-LGBTQ+ reactions and comments from followers. Back in October of 2019, The Shade Room reposted a message from Masika Kalysha, “Love and Hip Hop: Hollywood” star, in which she says, “This is for the fools that thinks it’s ‘progressive’ when Disney has a gay couple kissing next to Nemo…NO.” She follows this by saying she wouldn’t allow her daughter to watch “Adam and Steve lip lockin’.” The Shade Room captioned this post with “#MasikaKalysha has a message” evidently signaling for their followers to weigh in, and that’s exactly what they did. Hundreds of people in the comment section agreed with her, subsequently spewing out anti-LGBTQ+ rhetoric. They ultimately promoted the bigoted, ignorant idea that being gay is “unnatural” and that giving gay people representation in the media is inappropriate and spreads a certain agenda towards children.
They’ve made many posts regarding Zaya Wade, the daughter of Dwayne Wade and step-daughter of Gabrielle Union. Zaya Wade is transgender, which Wade and Union have publicly celebrated and supported. However, The Shade Room’s posts about Zaya Wade have accumulated hatred, harassment and criticism about her gender identity and status as a transgender girl, especially because she began her transition at the age of 12. The fact that they continuously posted about her knowing that the comment sections would become filled to the brim with hostility and bigotry, targeted toward a minor, is disgusting.
While they’re not blatantly telling their followers to comment ignorant, belligerent nonsense, they’ve consistently enabled them to do so. It seems like they purposefully design some of their posts to bring out a bigoted uproar in their comments just because they know it’ll get a lot of engagement. Having “shade” in the comments is one thing, but having hateful rhetoric is entirely different. They’ve been called out several times for this, with Nwandu recently being accused of promoting homophobia and body-shaming for financial gain. These accusations haven’t been addressed by Nwandu and her team, but not long after The Shade Room was founded, she stated that she and her team were working towards creating a more “balanced and positive atmosphere” on Instagram, yet their version of “working towards this” just isn’t enough.
Gossip sites and news outlets facing controversy or backlash is practically inevitable, with most of them facing similar criticisms that The Shade Room has encountered. What makes The Shade Room’s issues more jarring is that it’s supposed to provide a safe space for Black media consumers. However, the same day they’ll make a post praising a Black philanthropist, prodigy or doctor, they’ll make a post about Magic Johnson’s son, EJ Johnson, who is a gay man, and the comments will be filled with homophobic and demeaning insults. Then, knowing the kind of response it’ll elicit, they’ll post him again.
Despite all of this, The Shade Room’s following continues to grow. They consistently garner high viewership on their page. I suppose if what they’re doing works, why stop it? Why try to make their platform more positive if it gets thousands and thousands of clicks per day as is? A lot of people, especially Black people, love The Shade Room, viewing it as an “uplifting” and “unapologetically Black” news outlet. As long as there are millions who believe this, the voices of the few hundred who call them out will fall on deaf ears. After all, the majority of people love gossip, even when it’s at the expense of marginalized people.