pizzagate: fake news, real consequences
Right wing conspiracists weaponized partisan politics and concern about children into a toxic theory that's spilling out into the real world.
Now, as much as I’d like to be done posts related to politics for a while, the continued shit show that is the fallout of Election 2016 just keeps dragging me back in. Luckily this time, there is a technology hook we can talk about, and that hook is the state of the news on the web being promoted by social media algorithms, a state that has a strong argument in favor of adding a new Horseman of the Apocalypse called Conspiracy to the prophecy of the End Times. Like I said, if you’re a conspiracy theorist, it’s pretty much been your year, and social media replaced the sandwich board and obscure blog buried in the dark recesses of the web with an online equivalent of a prime time talk show on a broadcast channel. When Alex Jones is hosting a major political party’s winning candidate to back up his paranoid tirades about technocrats trying to impose a New World Order, we’ve made a very, very wrong turn at Albuquerque to a place where facts are just things to which we pay lip service and then ignore. And since facts no longer matter, ever nastier tales are taking on a life of their own and escaping the web.
Now, I’m no stranger to conspiracy theories, and this blog has covered them for years on end, but few that I’ve seen have reached the insane apex of the story being dubbed Pizzagate. While parsing John Podesta’s leaked emails on WikiLeaks, anonymous conspiracy theorists concocted the disturbing and bizarre story that one Washington D.C. pizza place best known for decently reviewed pizza and being featured on Guy Fieri’s road trip of gluttony that is Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives, is a secret hotspot for child sex trafficking. The evidence? Experienced internet soldiers, start rolling your eyes now because this theory comes from 4Chan, home of many happy trolls and pranksters in search of fun new ways to mess with people, and rests on the less than cute euphemism “cheese pizza,” an expansion of CP. Pretty much every admin is familiar with this terminology because it stands for child porn. When you’re working in IT, you never know when you’ll find employees who decided to hide it within sprawling corporate networks, and when you do, far too often for comfort, you’ll try to break the record for fastest police report filed.
However, when you’re a restaurant which literally makes cheese pizzas out of dough and mozzarella, emails that continuously bring up what a great selection of cheese pizzas you have are hardly incriminating. And so, those interested in portraying Democrat big shots with whom the locally popular owner of Comet Ping Pong frequently rubbed elbows as Satanic pedophiles who after a long day of selling out America to ISIS take a break with a fun evening of child rape, more or less made up a bunch more codewords. The word “map” somehow became code for semen, “pasta” meant a young boy, and “pizza” meant little girl. Which is bizarre since it’s repurposing a part of a well known seedy euphemism for something different, based only on an anonymous post on the /pol/ board, an online home for many conspiracy theorists. As is always the case with 4Chan, you never know who’s doing it for the lulz and who’s serious, so it wouldn’t surprise me if the whole thing was created as a stunt by /pol/ dwellers familiar with theories spawned on far right blogs regarding Bill Clinton’s opaque relationship with a wealthy and powerful pedophile named Jeffrey Epstein.
Conveniently forgetting that Trump was buddies with Epstein was well, and this relationship gave him a nasty legal headache over the years, a small pro-Trump subreddit seized on the story so much, it spun off into a subreddit of its own, which doesn’t take to debunkings of its core beliefs lightly. When a ready-made scandalous conspiracy was combined with a modern iteration of the Satanic Panic, which was encouraged by the aforementioned Alex Jones and WikiLeaks holding a piece of performance art with a connection to John Podesta to be an Illuminati occult rite, it started to gain a life outside of the echo chambers of the web, and turned into real world harassment. There are literally thousands of people committed to finding some way to find dirt on a connected business owner, and will continue to do so, much the same way Sandy Hook truthers spent years harassing grieving parents. They have too much invested into it now, and are convinced that every day the police allow Comet to stay open, dozens of little boys and girls are victimized.
What’s especially disturbing in this case is the belief that the theorists really understand some sort of secret language, and are convinced they can now read between the lines of something sinister, despite a very long history of hoaxes and lies regarding sexual scandals in the media. Could this story be be wrong as well, especially since it comes from posts on an image board frequented by well known trolls and hoaxers? No, they say, only shills for a Democratic evildoer could possibly not believe this and be willing to allow all those poor children be molested! After all, we know that there is plenty of evidence that Epstein ran a pedophile ring, and in the UK, a similar affair was a full blown government crisis that was actually covered up with a very real conspiracy, one that only now slowly started to unravel. Doesn’t all this lurid stuff have a patina of plausibility in this light? To a degree, yes, but as should be noted by every internet conspiracy theorist, plausibility does not equal occurrence. Proof beyond sinister interpretations of modern art on the walls, silly pictures, and highly dubious code words, is still required…