QAnon uses anti-human-trafficking hashtags, campaign to promote conspiracy theories

(Gray News) - QAnon, a debunked far-right conspiracy theory, has recently drawn attention by using social media hashtags and pages dedicated to anti-human-trafficking for its own purposes.

QAnon is described by CNN as “a baseless theory… Followers of the QAnon conspiracy believe there is a ‘deep state’ within the U.S. government that is controlled by a cabal of Satan-worshipping pedophiles… and Donald Trump is trying to take it down.”

The FBI classified QAnon as a domestic terror threat in a 2019 internal memo, and its followers have allegedly been involved in a foiled presidential assassination plot, a devastating California wildfire and an armed standoff with law enforcement officers in Arizona.

QAnon’s most recent strategy to gain more followers involves piggybacking on the anti-human-trafficking movement with the hashtag #savethechildren, according to the New York Times. The hashtag began as a legitimate campaign for the Save the Children charity but has since been overrun by baseless conspiracy theories about who is doing the trafficking.

Mentions of Wayfair and “trafficking” exploded on Facebook and Instagram in July after some claimed the retail giant was using pricey storage cabinets to traffic children. The company denied the accusations, and several strands of the conspiracy theory have been debunked.

In some cases, QAnon’s conspiracy theories have been damaging for the very people social media users say they’re trying to help.

An increase in calls prompted by the Wayfair conspiracy theory strained the National Human Trafficking Hotline, which provides emergency help to victims. The line was already seeing a surge in requests for emergency shelter assistance because of the coronavirus, said Robert Beiser, of Polaris, a nonprofit organization that runs the hotline.

“There’s a very real possibility that if there’s a conspiracy theory that comes out on the internet and it generates thousands of signals into our hotline, that could get in the way for us providing timely service to survivors who are in crisis,” Beiser said.

Twitter has begun cracking down on accounts and content related to QAnon, as well as blocking URLs associated with it from being shared on the platform. Twitter also said that it would stop highlighting and recommending tweets associated with QAnon.

Twitter’s move, announced in July, followed in the footsteps of Facebook, which in May also removed several groups, accounts and pages related to QAnon.

Experts say the truth about child trafficking is that many victims are trafficked by relatives, teachers or other people they know, the Times reports. Trafficking usually doesn’t involve kidnapping or physically forcing minors into sex.

Despite all of this, multiple candidates tied to QAnon are marching toward Congress, including Marjorie Taylor Greene, who won Georgia’s Republican primary for a Congressional seat, and Lauren Boebert, who upset a five-term congressman in a Republican primary in Colorado.

On Wednesday, President Donald Trump congratulated Greene on winning, all but assuring she would be welcome in Congress, despite splinters in the Republican party over her candidacy. Trump has repeatedly tweeted QAnon-supporting accounts, memes and hashtags.

Business Insider published data in July showing the Trump campaign relies on a huge network of QAnon accounts, many of which are inauthentic, to spread conspiracies theories and disinformation across social media platforms.

Three of the top five bot-amplified hashtags of 2020 are QAnon-related, according to tracking site Bot Sentinel.

Copyright 2020 Gray Media Group, Inc. All rights reserved. CNN and Associated Press contributed to this report.