Pizzagate

Pizzagate is a debunked conspiracy theory that Hillary Clinton and her 2016 presidential campaign manager John Podesta used a pizzeria named Comet Ping Pong as their headquarters for a child trafficking ring. The conspiracy, which originated in posts on the internet forum 4chan and grew in conservative websites, developed in response to emails from Podesta that were leaked by Wikileaks (Sebastian, Brunney). The CIA determined there was a possibility that the Russian government hacked Podesta’s email account and gave the emails to Wikileaks as part of a concerted effort to undermine Clinton’s campaign (“A Tweeted Lie”). As spectacular and silly as the whole thing might seem, there have been tremendous consequences for Comet Ping Pong. As the conspiracy moved onto more mainstream sites like Facebook and Instagram, employees for the pizzeria were subjected to death threats and online harassment. On December 4rth, 2016, a man from North Carolina named Edgar Maddison Welch who believed in the conspiracy theory appeared at the pizzeria with a rifle hoping to rescue the children he believed were being kept there against their will. He was thankfully arrested before he could hurt anyone (Sebastian, Brunney). The owner of the restaurant, James Alefantis, reached out to social media sites including Facebook, Twitter and Reddit, but initially had no success in getting false stories supporting the conspiracy theory taken down. Over the course of Pizzagate’s existence, it’s been incorporated into the Qanon conspiracy theory, used as a political tool in Turkey, and developed to include several celebrities as conspirators (Sebastian, Brunney). I’m not sure what to think in regards to how social media sites should have handled the situation. Twitter, Reddit and TikTok all took steps to censor Pizzagate content, but given how much the conspiracy managed to grow despite that you have to consider when it’s appropriate to take actions which might make the problem worse in the long term (Sebastian, Brunney). I don’t know too much about the logistics of censoring internet content, and I wouldn’t be able to give a professional opinion on when it’s the right thing to do, but in general when there’s a distasteful conspiracy theory rampaging on the internet, are there times when it would be better to let the discussion run its course rather than shove it into the dark part of the web? We might not like to see content of that nature on Facebook and Twitter, but at least in an open forum there’s room for moderating voices that might keep things from spinning out of control. A more ideologically diverse population could in theory temper the worst extremes of partisan narratives.

References:

“A Tweeted Lie Triggers an Incident.” Marubeni, www.marubeni.com/en/insight/potomac/backnumber/19.html.

Sebastian, Michael, and Gabrielle Brunney. “Years After Being Debunked, Interest in Pizzagate Is Rising-Again.” Esquire, 24 July 2020, www.esquire.com/news-politics/news/a51268/what-is-pizzagate/.

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