The media has been up in arms over fake news as of late, and honestly who can blame them? The proliferation of hoaxes, fraudulent clickbait articles, and outright conspiracy-mongering may have played an impact, however small, in our presidential election. Facebook is even in talks of banning fake news from the platform altogether — goodbye Now8News and Daily Currant! — and fact checkers are trying to help educate the public on telling the B.S. from the real thing.
One of the more prevalent sources of fake news and conspiracies in this past election cycle were the DNC leaks. Not necessarily because of anything Julian Assange did (although he certainly has his own agenda), but because one of the pitfalls of document dumps of that nature is that people can peruse thousands of pages of information and are free to interpret it however they please.
That’s how we ended up with ridiculous stories about Hillary Clinton practicing witchcraft and dabbling in Satanism. It’s also how we ended up with the newest conspiracy theory about Hillary Clinton and campaign chairman John Podesta running a secret child sex trafficking ring out of a D.C. pizzeria. It seems that while rifling through Podesta’s mostly banal emails, Internet sleuths saw words and phrases like “pizza,” “pasta,” and “hot dogs” and deduced that these were code words used by pedophiles — a natural assumption, of course.
They further deduced, as only a mouth-breathing tinfoil hatter could, that a specific restaurant in the nation’s capitol was actually the site used by said pedophiles to purchase and abuse their young victims. Their reasoning is predictably ridiculous: cartoon images on the menus look kind of like the symbols (well, maybe if you squint) used by pedophiles to “identify sexual preferences.” These symbols have fueled similar panic in the past when parents thought they were appearing on children’s toys.
The owner of the pizzeria is also a casual acquaintance of Tony Podesta, the brother of John Podesta — unsurprising for a restaurant that, again, is located in Washington, D.C., but still considered “proof” by random Reddit users that he’s in on the conspiracy.
Now, a group of folks on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and elsewhere have descended on the pizzeria, leaving hate mail and death threats from behind the safety of their Pepe avatars. According to the New York Times:
Days before the presidential election, James Alefantis, owner of a local pizza restaurant called Comet Ping Pong, noticed an unusual spike in the number of his Instagram followers.
Within hours, menacing messages like “we’re on to you” began appearing in his Instagram feed. In the ensuing days, hundreds of death threats — one read “I will kill you personally” — started arriving via texts, Facebook and Twitter. All of them alleged something that made Mr. Alefantis’s jaw drop: that Comet Ping Pong was the home base of a child abuse ring led by Hillary Clinton and her campaign chief, John D. Podesta.
When Mr. Alefantis discovered that his employees were getting similar abusive messages, he looked online to unravel the accusations. He found dozens of made-up articles about Mrs. Clinton kidnapping, molesting and trafficking children in the restaurant’s back rooms. The articles appeared on Facebook and on websites such as The New Nationalist and The Vigilant Citizen, with one headline blaring: “Pizzagate: How 4Chan Uncovered the Sick World of Washington’s Occult Elite.”
Now, despite being labeled false by this very Times article and by the rumor-busting website Snopes, proponents of the PizzaGate conspiracy have refused to back down. Every fact check, every comment thread pulled by social media sites, are only more evidence of the conspiracy’s reach.
Here are some fervant believers using the Twitter hashtags #PizzaGate and even #LittleLivesMatter:
I thought it couldn’t get sillier. And then Kanye West got dragged into this:
And then this happened:
And then this happened:
And now we have a fake Congressman involved…I give up.
Honestly this should all be quite silly. But it’s not. Just like the McMartin preschool fiasco from the ’80s, bogus pedo hunts like PizzaGate have the possibility to tear apart the lives of innocent people. And it’s already started for Mr. Alefantis and his staff.