QAnon posts but IRL: Everything to know about the demonstrations
Who doesn’t want to end sex trafficking? Horrific stories about sex abuse and child trafficking flood our media, including Jeffrey Epstein and the upcoming Ghislaine Maxwell trial. Who wouldn’t want to join a group that is fighting to end sex trafficking and protect you and your children from being snatched by an evil cabal of bad guys?
Except, they might not be. A hashtag is trending on social media, #SaveOurChildren, which claims to be about ending sex trafficking. Really, they have ties to QAnon, a far-right conspiracy mill.
While fighting sex trafficking is laudable, no one knows who Q is, or if his motivations to end sex trafficking and expose a giant sex trafficking ring are legit. Let’s take a look at the protests to end human trafficking. Are they doing more harm than good?
What is QAnon?
QAnon is a string of right-wing conspiracies posted by Q, a person or group of people claiming to work inside the U.S. government. Recent posts by Q or “drops” as Q believers call them, center on allegations that the Democratic Party and “Hollywood elite” are running a cabal of sex trafficking rings that sacrifice, assault, and cannibalize children for Satan.
A Q Drop from August 26 shows a cropped tweet alleging that the DNC star looks like a satanic pentagram when turned on its side. The caption underneath begins: “One party discusses God. One party discusses Darkness. One party promotes God. One party eliminates God. Symbolism will be their downfall. The Great Deceiver(s).”
The first conspiracy associated with QAnon was #Pizzagate, a theory that believes Hillary Clinton ran a sex trafficking ring in the basement of a pizza parlor. One man showed up to the alleged pizza parlor carrying an assault rifle. While Q didn’t “drop” this conspiracy, since Q wasn’t active until 2018, #Pizzagate is linked to Q by the mainstream media.
QAnon also has ties to the Wayfair conspiracy. After a series of overpriced cabinets were published on Wayfair’s website, each costing tens of thousands of dollars and bearing uncommon names similar to the first names of missing children, internet sleuths got suspicious.
A Redditor broke the connection and the story spread all over social media, shared by many Q believers.
A common hashtag used by QAnon is #SaveOurChildren. Originally, they posted #SaveTheChildren until a user on Instagram pointed out that the hashtag had ties to a group that worked with The Clinton Foundation, an organization that QAnon posters believe is a front for a sex trafficking ring.
Facebook users claimed the old hashtag was banned in early August. However, that’s only partially true. Facebook temporarily disabled the hashtag since it was backlogging their fact-checkers. Facebook claimed a lot of misinformation was shared using the hashtag, and their fact-checking bots couldn’t keep up.
“We temporarily blocked the hashtag as it was surfacing low-quality content,” Facebook spokesperson Dami Oyefeso told Snopes. “The hashtag has since been restored, and we will continue to monitor for content that violates our Community Standards.”
Both sides of the aisle are welcome?
One rally organizer told NBC that people from all political beliefs are welcome and seen at the rallies. However, most interactions are from QAnon posters. First Draft counted 18 percent of hashtags coming from Q posters. The interactions with these hashtags were 70% Q posters in August. Most #SaveOurChildren posts were specific to QAnon.
A gateway into conspiracy
Whitney Phillips, an assistant professor of rhetoric & communication disagrees that the Save The Children trend is about sex trafficking. Rather, it’s a hook to get people to buy conspiracy theories. “This is not about child protection. This is about a conspiracy theory that’s trying to couch itself in other terms to get more people involved and sympathetic.”
Phillips explains that child sex trafficking is a good entry point because who doesn’t want to end child abuse? Once they’re on board with the cause and feeling like they’re doing something, believers go down a rabbit hole of conspiracies, which makes it hard to separate fact from fiction.
QAnon protests may distort how sex trafficking happens
The Polaris Project, a sex trafficking hotline, released a statement about the influx of calls made about the Wayfair scandal. “While Polaris treats all calls to the Trafficking Hotline seriously, the extreme volume of these contacts has made it more difficult for the Trafficking Hotline to provide support and attention to others who are in need of help.”
Furthermore, human trafficking often looks very different than most people realize. Children in the most danger of being trafficked include runaways & throwaways who are vulnerable to predators to get food & shelter. Also, according to Freedom United, a human trafficking victim advocacy group, at least 60% of sex trafficking survivors were once foster kids.
Therefore, kids living with caregivers, not on the streets, who haven’t had contact with the foster care system are less likely to be trafficked. It’s possible, but unless they’re shoved in a van and kidnapped, they may not realize it’s happening. Human trafficking can be more subtle.
Eliza, a sex trafficking survivor told NBC, “just speaking from personal experience, I did not step forward sooner – this is me, speaking as a survivor – because I thought, I hadn’t been transported in the back of a semi-truck”.