Videos on TikTok pushing a baseless human trafficking conspiracy theory about the company Wayfair have received millions of views on the social media platform. Based on the higher view counts users received for some of these videos in comparison to others posted by the same accounts, there are indications that the conspiracy theory has been algorithmically promoted on the platform.
Since July 9, the conspiracy theory, which baselessly alleges that the online home furniture company is involved with human trafficking because of the names and prices of some of its products, has spread on social media platforms, and the company has been forced to deny it. Those platforms include TikTok: A review by Media Matters of “wayfair” on the platform among videos above 20,000 views found at least a dozen videos pushing the conspiracy theory with over 2 million views combined, all of which have been posted in the past few days.
One video, which has more than 620,000 views, falsely claimed Wayfair was connected to Ghislaine Maxwell, an associate of accused sex trafficker Jeffrey Epstein who was recently arrested by the FBI. (Media Matters is not showing identifying information for videos created by minors to protect their identities.)
Another video, this one with more than 430,000 views, showed someone pretending to find a missing child after ordering a Wayfair product.
One video with more than 230,000 views showed a tweet alleging talk show host Ellen DeGeneres is connected to the conspiracy theory, and in the caption said it “all ties in with” the debunked Pizzagate conspiracy theory. (Another video about Wayfair, which had 76,000 views on TikTok before it was taken down, included the #pizzagate hashtag in its caption.)
Supporters of another conspiracy theory -- QAnon -- also helped spread the allegations against Wayfair on the platform: A video that received more than 100,000 views featured the hashtag “#wwg1wga,” a reference to the QAnon slogan “Where we go one, we go all” (QAnon supporters have repeatedly helped spread misinformation on TikTok).
Other viral videos have received hundreds of thousands of views combined while pushing the conspiracy theory on TikTok, including showing a message from an alleged Wayfair whistleblower, promoting a cyber tip line to report the company for alleged trafficking, claiming Amazon and Walmart are somehow connected to the conspiracy theory, checking a “suspicious Wayfair ad,” and calling the conspiracy theory “scary” in the caption alongside slogans like “#savethechildren.”
Among some of the accounts that have posted these viral videos on TikTok, their videos about the new conspiracy theory seemed to get a much higher view count than their other content, possibly suggesting at least some of the videos were algorithmically promoted by TikTok to show up as suggested videos for users to watch.
Besides the specific videos found in Media Matters’ review, hashtags have popped up on the platform specifically for videos promoting the conspiracy theory, such as #wayfairgate, #wayfairexposed, #wayfairscandal, #wayfairtrafficking, and #wayfairconspiracy, with videos under those hashtags receiving more than 2.5 million views combined.
And when searching “wayfair” in the platform’s search bar, “wayfairconspiracy” is currently the top auto search suggestion -- making its auto search suggesting conspiracy theory videos a recurring problem for TikTok.
The spread of the conspiracy theory suggests TikTok continues to struggle to contain Pizzagate and Pizzagate-adjacent content on the platform, despite an apparent recent crackdown. And it comes as TikTok has continued to have issues with the spread of conspiracy theories and other misinformation, despite the company having an explicit anti-misinformation policy.