How Fake News Articles Fabricated A Child Trafficking Story And Led To Death Threats For A Pizzeria

The New York Times highlights the case of Comet Ping Pong, a pizzeria based in Washington, D.C., that was the subject of several fake news stories online.

These stories falsely alleged that the restaurant was a hub for child trafficking after Comet was mentioned in the hacked emails from Hillary Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta that were released by WikiLeaks.

As the Times reports, “The articles appeared on Facebook and on websites such as The New Nationalist and The Vigilant Citizen, with one headline blaring: ‘Pizzagate: How 4Chan Uncovered the Sick World of Washington’s Occult Elite.’”

As a result, the owner of the restaurant and the staff started receiving a torrent of threats via social media, including one message that said, “I will kill you personally.”

After Media Matters launched a petition asking Facebook to take action to address the rampant problem of fake news circulated via its service, CEO Mark Zuckerberg has publicly committed to working on the problem at the social media giant.

From The New York Times:

Fake news online has been at the center of a furious debate for the past few weeks over how it may have influenced voters in the presidential election. President Obama warned last week that we are “in an age where there’s so much active misinformation and it’s packaged very well” on social media sites. The criticism has buffeted web companies such as Google and Facebook, whose chief executive, Mark Zuckerberg, has promised to work on technology tools to slow the gusher of false digital information.

But Mr. [James] Alefantis’s experience shows it is not just politicians and internet companies that are grappling with the fake news fallout. He, his staff and friends have become a new kind of private citizen bull’s-eye for the purveyors of false articles and their believers.

For more than two weeks, they have struggled to deal with the abusive social media comments and to protect photos of their own children, which were used in the false articles as evidence that the pizza restaurant was running a pedophilia ring. One person even visited Comet Ping Pong to investigate the allegations for himself.