One thing I never expected to have to write an editorial on in 2020 is conspiracy theories about child sex trafficking.
While this is obviously a real problem, so is all the misinformation shared online. Most of the posts, related to the Qanon and Pizzagate conspiracy theories, have taken over the hashtag “#savethechildren.”
Pizzagate is a conspiracy started in the end of 2016, claiming that democrats are using
a Washington, D.C., pizza restaurant as a coverup for a child sex traficking scheme.
Qanon is an alt-right conspiracy claiming that Donald Trump is lying about many things in order to stop a liberal pedophile ring.
Save the Children is an actual charity that provides humanitarian aid to children, not necessarily related to sex trafficking. They issued a statement on Twitter on Aug. 9 denouncing any links to “#savethechildren” or “#saveourchildren,” as well as the conspiracies the tags are linked to.
Because so much of this is being shared on Facebook, the company has started blocking hashtags related to it. It has also started using a fact checker at the bottom of suspicious looking stories, indicating to what degree it’s true or false.
At the end of the day, all of this is purely conspiracy theory. There’s no proof of any of these claims.
While there are cases of rich or famous people trafficking children, like the Jeffrey Epstein case, that’s not how most victims are trafficked.
According to the Polaris Project, a nonprofit that fights sex and labor trafficking, most victims of sex trafficking are recruited by an intimate partner or family. Other common causes include false job offers and various forms of fraud. Victims are kept under control through creating or taking advantage of substance abuse issues, physical and sexual abuse, threats of violence and emotional abuse.
Part of the problem here is the sort of glamorization of conspiracy theories. Some theories, like pop culture–related ones, can be mostly harmless (Paul McCartney is dead and was replaced by a lookalike, anyone?). However, many are damaging.
It’s important for people to question the world around them, but we should also be forming our opinions on current issues based on facts.
Social media makes it easy to spread bad information and junk science. How many times have you seen someone on Facebook share a post about a missing person, only to click the link and see the article was updated and the person had been found in 2015?
Many other harmful conspiracy theories rely on social media to gain traction as well. I’m willing to bet we wouldn’t have nearly as many antivaxxer if it wasn’t for mommy blogs and Facebook groups.
Lots of the people sharing posts related to these theories seem to be using it as some kind of argument against various democratic politicians.
Yes, I agree that many of them, such as Bill Clinton and Joe Biden, have done really bad things and need to be held accountable.
However, I don’t think they’re part of some crazy scheme to traffic children. I also find it ridiculous that anyone thinks Donald Trump, a man with dozens of sexual misconduct/ assault allegations, including some made by children, would be the person to take down a child trafficking ring.
I’m not really sure what the best approach to such a weird problem is, but I think as a whole we should all try to fact check posts before sharing them, and try to only use reliable sources, as well as engage in more critical thinking.
We should all be on the lookout for cognitive dissonance and confirmation bias in what we read as well as what we share online.