Megan Thee Stallion isn’t on trial. The man charged with shooting her in both feet, the Canadian rapper Tory Lanez, is. But if you consume content from some popular hip-hop bloggers, podcasters and social media accounts, you might be misled.
The outlets are part of a new wave of infotainment, where content creators cover consequential events without the expectation of adhering to journalistic standards. In the Lanez trial, at any given moment, a follower might believe Lanez’s DNA was conclusively not found on the gun used during the shooting, or that Kylie Jenner kicked Megan out of her house — though there’s no evidence to support either idea.
Some question if Megan Thee Stallion was even shot at all.
These online personalities draw thousands to millions of viewers for celebrity-related news, and often share provocative, unverified rumors to their throngs of followers. The result is online fervor fueled by misogyny and misinformation that pits a high-profile woman, such as Megan Thee Stallion or Amber Heard, against a man accused of destructive behavior, such as Tory Lanez or Johnny Depp.
Lanez, whose legal name is Daystar Peterson, is on trial for a July 2020 incident in which Megan Thee Stallion, whose legal name is Megan Jovon Ruth Pete, alleges that Peterson shot her in the foot as they were leaving a party at Kylie Jenner’s home in a car. Peterson denies the claim.
Pete publicly condemned the commentary from blogs and on social media in September, writing, “It might be funny to y’all on the internet and just another messy topic for you to talk about but this is my real life and I’m real life hurt and traumatized.”
Blogs and sites like NoJumper, Hollywood Unlocked and others have drawn criticism for casting doubt on Pete’s allegations.
The podcasts, blogs and social media accounts have covered a variety of topics, including theories that Pete wasn’t actually shot, drawing from a police report that didn’t include the results of her surgery. Many have also focused on Pete’s sexual history and portrayed her as an aggressor and a liar to undermine her testimony. The narratives have become viral social media content.
“It’s been very clear, as I’ve seen entertainment and gossip spaces commenting on the case, that she has been set up as someone who is out for herself, lying, and problematic in all these ways,” said Catherine Knight Steele, a communications professor at the University of Maryland and the author of “Digital Black Feminism.”
“This points to the way that mis- and disinformation, and misogynoir, is trafficked because of its profitability, even in the Black community. It’s profitable for these sites to traffic in the most vile stereotypes about Black women.”
Misogynoir refers to a particular misogyny directed toward Black women where race and gender both play a role in bias.
The backlash against Pete has followed a trend of harassment of female celebrities who make allegations against celebrity men, including Heard and Angelina Jolie. Alex Spiro, one of Pete’s lawyers, said he and Pete are “exploring all legal options” regarding bloggers who have posted misinformation.
Malikah Berry Rogers, executive director of the advocacy collective Southern Black Girls and Women’s Consortium, watched in court as Pete testified last week. “What I left the courtroom feeling is that the conversation has misplaced the victim,” Berry Rogers said. “We are not speaking clearly about why we feel it’s OK to put her character up for discussion, as opposed to the person who shot her.”
Peterson’s defense team has argued that Pete and her estranged friend Kelsey Harris were fighting over him, raising questions around Pete’s sexuality and the inherent intimacy of their relationship.
While many mainstream outlets have highlighted the racial and gendered dynamics of the case and pointed out the misinformation circulating, experts said popular bloggers and entertainment sites have focused on Pete and Peterson’s sexual history to argue that Harris may have shot Pete over a dispute involving their love triangle.
Milagro Gramz, a hip-hop news commentator, has been covering Pete and Peterson since before the trial started. She has been covering the trial from inside the courtroom and tweeting updates.
In May, Gramz posted an image of an LAPD report from Peterson’s arrest stating that the first doctor to see Pete “confirmed laceration due to stepping on glass.” The information was recorded before bullet fragments were discovered in Pete’s feet during surgery, but bloggers and podcasters like DJ Akademiks presented Gramz’s post alongside conspiracy theories that Pete wasn’t shot.
“On my end, everything is not going to be something that was intended to be a factual statement,” Gramz said in a phone interview. “It might have a comedic effect.”
Gramz added that she is not attempting to “tear anyone down” and that she has prayed for Pete and victims who have gone through “what she’s alleging.”
Gossip blogs and social media accounts have grown in popularity in the last 15 years, as spaces for “deliberation and dialogue,” Steele said. However, many today prioritize shock value, she said.
“Whatever can garner the most controversy can go the most viral,” Steele said. “It’s profitable because being anti-Black woman, using Black women as scapegoats or villains, works for a variety of audiences, white audiences, Black men audiences and, most unfortunately, in spaces where Black women use misogynoir to distance themselves from the negative implications of being associated with other Black women.”
Legal counsel for Pete told NBC News that they had flagged some social media posts from gossip accounts as abusive content.
One of Pete’s attorneys, Jordan Siev, said seven of Gramz’s tweets had been reported to Twitter on his client’s behalf. A screenshot of a response from Twitter last week, shared with NBC News, said, “We locked [Gramz’s] account for breaking our abusive behavior rule.” Gramz confirmed that her account had been restricted for 11 hours due to violations of Twitter rules, and Pete’s legal team confirmed they received a message stating the account had been locked because of their claims.
Adam Grandmaison, the host of NoJumper, wrote in an email, “in no way are we trying to push any agenda in favor of meg or tory.”
Jason Lee, founder of Hollywood Unlocked, said that although he personally knows both Pete and Peterson, the goal of the site is “to be unbiased.” However, he has also come under fire from social media users who say he is biased toward Peterson.
He has baselessly implied that Pete may have been “aggressive” with Peterson during the shooting incident and that Peterson acted in “self-defense.” Some have even pointed out comments from Lee on social media that appeared to support Peterson.
Lee said his personal opinions don’t reflect that of Hollywood Unlocked.
“Jason Lee gives his opinion, but Hollywood Unlocked is unbiased,” Lee said. “At first I thought it was unfair for people to automatically say Tory was guilty without giving him an opportunity in court. I’ve always struggled with the way she’s been treated. While I don’t believe it’s fair to say Tory’s automatically guilty, I also don’t believe it’s fair to call a woman who says she was shot by a man a ‘liar.’”
Meanwhile, Rea Davis, a senior contributor for AllHipHop.com, said Black-owned media sites like AllHipHop have been “pretty objective” when covering the shooting.
“When you’re looking at bloggers, oftentimes they’re not held to the same standards so they exercise a lot of opinion,” Davis said. “When opinion is shared versus fact, that leaves a lot of room for misinformation.”