The unhinged conspiracy theory now known as "Pizzagate" has resulted in a man bringing an assault rifle to the DC bar named in the theory, according to local police.
"Pizzagate" claims that Democratic operatives placing orders at Comet Ping Pong were actually using code to talk about underage prostitutes.
This strange and convoluted conspiracy theory, which also involves allegations of occult rituals, has its origins in false accusations about the Clintons that began spreading in late October. The original theory claimed that the Clintons and other government figures were involved in a global human trafficking and pedophilia ring.
This one example shows how Trump supporters, members of 4chan and Reddit, and right-wing blogs in the US and in other countries combined to create and spread viral misinformation during the election season.
Here's what happened:
On Oct. 30, a white supremacy Twitter account that presents itself as belonging to a Jewish lawyer in New York tweeted that the NYPD was looking into evidence that emails from Anthony Weiner's laptop contained evidence of Clinton involvement in an "international child enslavement ring."
Hours later, a member of the Godlike Productions message board, a hub for conspiracy theories and the "Lunatic Fringe," posted a message saying a major pedophile sex ring was about to be exposed. The user claimed the Clinton Foundation was implicated. "Its [sic] about to come apart," they warned.
The next day, Oct. 31, Sean Adl-Tabatabai, who used to work with British conspiracy theorist David Icke, took note of the message board post and the tweet. He wrote a post for his site, YourNewsWire.com. His story took another step by claiming an "FBI insider" had confirmed the claims.
OK, let's do a quick recap. At this point we have:
* One random account on Twitter and a woman in Missouri claiming that NYPD sources are telling them the Clintons are about to be brought down by a massive child trafficking/sex scandal.
* An anonymous person in a 4chan thread who claimed to work in law enforcement and who said something similar a few months ago — before news of the FBI looking into emails on Anthony Weiner's laptop broke.
* A conspiracy theorist who pulled these things into a post and used them to claim "evidence has emerged from the Clinton email investigation that a massive child trafficking and pedophile sex ring operates in Washington."
What don't we have? Any actual evidence of any of the above, or information from the FBI, NYPD, or any other officials.
Yes, this is how conspiracy theories are created. And now, this one was about to really take off.
The YourNewsWire.com story from Oct. 31 was soon noticed by right-wing and fringe blogs. They began to aggregate it and spread the claim of Clinton involvement in child trafficking and pedophilia.
While many sites simply repeated the details from Adl-Tabatabai, others introduced new, baseless claims. SubjectPolitics.com ran a story with the headline "IT’S OVER: NYPD Just Raided Hillary’s Property! What They Found Will RUIN HER LIFE." Er no, the NYPD did *not* raid property belonging to Hillary Clinton.
Not to be outdone, True Pundit published a story the same day citing its own anonymous NYPD and FBI sources, and listing new allegations.
By now, three days had passed since the "David Goldberg" Twitter account helped kick off this baseless story. And finally, to complete the game of telephone it set off, the account tweeted the True Pundit story as proof that "My source was right!"
Meanwhile, these Twitter accounts and 4chan had moved on to the next tactic. Noted Trump trolls on Twitter started highlighting innocuous passages in leaked emails from Clinton campaign chair John Podesta to claim they contain code words about pedophilia and human trafficking.
The Facebook user whose comment was included in a tweet about Hillary Clinton lives in Missouri. This article originally said she was in Mississippi.
Craig Silverman is Media Editor for BuzzFeed News and is based in Toronto.
Contact Craig Silverman at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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