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If you really want to #SaveTheChildren, stop sharing QAnon conspiracy theories

Apparently, I'm being paid off by pedophiles.

This payoff is news to me, but it's what Some Random People on the Internet are saying, so it must be true, right? That's how this works? What other reason would I have for sharing factual information about the very real issue of child sex trafficking and calling out false stories of Satanic pedophile rings in which famous evil overlords like Tom Hanks, Oprah, and Hillary Clinton torture and sacrifice children to increase their own power? I simply must be "in on it" somehow.

That seems to be more plausible in some people's minds than the idea that the wild "Pizzagate" child sex ring theory, which has already been thoroughly and repeatedly debunked, could be fabricated by online trolls and perpetuated by politically-motivated players. People believe Pizzagate is real because they've been convinced that the entire media industry is in cahoots and because fringe "sources" with no oversight and no accountability—who insist they're the only ones telling the truth—said so.


Here's the thing about such conspiracy theories. (Yes, I know. Some of you think the term "conspiracy theory" was coined by the CIA—read this and stay out of my inbox, please.) Some conspiracy theories are goofy, but harmless. The "flat earth" thing, for example, or the idea that we faked the moon landing. Those beliefs are easily disproven and obviously ridiculous, but no one is being hurt by them. We can all laugh, shake our heads, and move on.

But these outrageous child sex trafficking conspiracy theories like those pushed by QAnon are harmful. Child sex trafficking is a very real, very serious, and very lucrative industry that organizations and governments have been battling for a long time. But QAnon isn't just saying "child sex trafficking is real and important and we need to shed a light on it." They're saying "There is a secret, global cabal of Satan-worshiping pedophiles who control everything—including politicians, the media, and Hollywood—and who engage in child sex trafficking and ritual sacrifice to harvest adenochrome from children, and Trump is here to save us all from their evil and it's only a matter of time before they all go down."

Those are two very different things—the issue of child sex trafficking (which is real) and the idea that Hillary Clinton literally sucking the lifeblood out of children in a pizza parlor basement (which doesn't even exist). The fact that we're nearly four years into Trump's presidency and none of these supposed Satanic pedophiles have actually been arrested—despite Trump supposedly knowing all about their dastardly deeds, according to Q—is more than a little weird. But that isn't stopping people from believing this stuff.

It's also not stopping people from hijacking perfectly good hashtags associated with perfectly good organizations and using them to "raise awareness" about this evil. This is why the #SaveTheChildren hashtag is suddenly showing up everywhere. As Kevin Roose wrote in the New York Times:

"The idea, in a nutshell, is to create a groundswell of concern by flooding social media with posts about human trafficking, joining parenting Facebook groups and glomming on to hashtag campaigns like #SaveTheChildren, which began as a legitimate fund-raising campaign for the Save the Children charity. Then followers can shift the conversation to baseless theories about who they believe is doing the trafficking: a cabal of nefarious elites that includes Tom Hanks, Oprah Winfrey and Pope Francis."

Some unsuspecting people are using this hashtag to talk about child sex trafficking in general, but many posts refer to the evil Hollywood elite and include various QAnon hashtags along with it. And by evil Hollywood elite, they don't mean the legitimate issue of Jeffrey Epstein and investigations into his sleazy, slimy, sick habits. They mean "The Cabal."

Some #SaveTheChildren posters are surely unaware that they've been sucked into a conspiracy theory web of disinformation, but those of us who have been following the QAnon phenomenon recognize the virtual fingerprints of a QAnon push. Some of it is obvious, like seeing the #WWG1WGA (a QAnon acronym—"Where we go one, we go all") accompanying many of these posts. But it's also the fact that #SaveTheChildren was soon changed to #SaveOurChildren. Why? Because QAnon followers got wind that Bill and Melinda Gates financially support the actual Save the Children organization that the hashtag originally was used for. And Bill Gates, of course, is one of those "evil global elites" who, according to QAnon, created the coronavirus on purpose in order to push his vaccine agenda and depopulate the planet.

So yeah. The #SaveTheChildren thing is a big effing mess.

What's the big deal, though? Isn't it just important that we raise awareness about child sex trafficking in general? Of course it is. But unfounded conspiracy theories are not only unhelpful to that cause, but actively harmful.

The Polaris Project is an organization that provides social services to victims of sex trafficking, works with law enforcement to perform crisis interventions for possible victims of trafficking, and runs the U.S. National Human Trafficking Hotline. In a blog post, the organization explained how these unfounded conspiracy theories actually do harm to the child sex trafficking cause.

"A barrage of conspiracy-related reports from people with no direct knowledge of trafficking situations can overwhelm services meant for victims," the site states, pointing out that the recent Wayfair child sex trafficking conspiracy theory flooded their hotline with more calls than they could handle, with zero real leads to real victims, clogging the line so that real victims couldn't get through. They also point out that such theories can lead to loss of privacy or safety for victims or innocent bystanders. (Check out the threats and violence the owner of Comet Ping Pong pizza parlor in Washington D.C. has had to deal with over "Pizzagate.")

In addition, and perhaps most importantly, "Conspiracies distract from the more disturbing but simple realities of how sex trafficking actually works, and how we can prevent it." In other words, all this Pizzagate and Wayfair and adenochrome-sucking nonsense actually pulls people away from the reality of child sex trafficking and interferes with the work people could actually be doing to help prevent it. Most children aren't kidnapped out of the blue to be sold and abused, but are trafficked or abused by people they know. (See this article written by a woman who was trafficked by her father throughout her childhood.) Polaris encourages people to learn more about what trafficking actual is, what it looks like, and how it generally happens, rather than circulating misinformation.

The bottom line: While #SaveTheChildren might seem like a righteous thing to share, we have to recognize that there's a boatload of misinformation that is being shared along with it, and such misinformation can do more harm than good.

What should we do then to actually fight for children who are wrapped up in sex trafficking? Follow legitimate organizations that have been doing this work for years. Pay attention to what they say, as well as what they don't. (You won't find any of them endorsing QAnon conspiracies. If there were truth to them, these are the folks who would be first in line to shed light on it and do something about it.) Here are some to check out:

Polaris Project

Love146

The Exodus Road

ECPAT-USA

Thorn

Operation Underground Railroad

International Justice Mission

You can also learn more about child sex trafficking on the United States Department of Justice website.

Child sex trafficking is worthy cause to get behind. Just makes sure you're getting behind the real issue, supporting real organizations with the expertise to help, and avoiding conspiracy theories that only serve to distract from the real work being done to actually #SaveTheChildren.

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