You can support Amala Network with a small donation on PayPal or a monthly donation on Patreon! Follow us on Facebook and Twitter. After the election of a president who refused to disavow his terrorist supporters until weeks after winning (while still employing the man who gave them a voice), we didn’t think politics could get any worse. 2016 and its endless attempts by the Nazi frogs of Twitter to push conspiracy theories into the mainstream would be left behind, we thought. We can move past the specter of Clinton and confront the new fascism on our terms.
Then Reddit went and f*cked it all up.
Ever since Trump was accused of raping an underage girl, the Nazi frogs have tried to flip the tables by alleging Hillary and/or Bill have been involved in various child trafficking rings for sexual purposes. The conspiracy theories went so far as to invoke Madeleine McCann, a child who went missing nine years ago; the theorists claim Hillary’s campaign manager John Podesta is involved in her disappearance.
Nothing has stuck, but the thing about conspiracy theorists is they never know when to call it quits. A new theory started to spread around social media just days before the election: PizzaGate
According to the most ethically-upstanding Reddit investigators, Clinton and her associates are tied to a pizzeria in DC. The owner—an ex-boyfriend of a Clinton supporter—has installed secret doors and tunnels throughout his pizzeria that are used for a special dish; decoding the curious symbols found throughout the menu will allow you to order special time with one of the many children roaming freely throughout the building.
Yes, Trump supporters are accusing a pizza owner of advertising sexual encounters with children through large, bright symbols on his menu. Several people tied to Clinton are said to frequent the pizzeria—further proving this nefariously disgusting conspiracy must be true!
As with most conspiracy theories, the evidence is a combination of fabrication and wishful thinking. Emails used in the conspiracy are harmless discussions—such as a mother telling friends her children will be at her house during a weekend—while much of the photographic evidence was pulled from people and places that have nothing to do with anyone involved. The secret-but-public symbols customers must decode to order a child? Reiterations of long-debunked moral panics, photoshopped next to an FBI logo so everything seems official.
That didn’t stop eager beavers on the internet from harassing the pizzeria and all surrounding businesses. New York Times reported that police have been made aware of threats against various employees while having no reason to investigate a conspiracy theory created by Neo-Nazis from Reddit dot com. Tragic, but unsurprising; Reddit also harassed a day care in Salt Lake City over a conspiracy theory involving the CIA, and parents of victims from the Sandy Hook massacre.
Like that time Reddit waited until the mainstream media covered their child pornography subs before finally banning them, Reddit waited until the New York Times covered the witch hunt they were accommodating before they banned the subreddit.
On its own, this would result in a short-lived backlash with accusations of censorship before everyone moved on to something else. Users threatened to abandon the site for Voat—a competitor in the loosest sense of the term—as they have countless times before. Without an easily-gamed algorithm to put their fabrications in front millions of eyes, PizzaGate was in its death throes.
The Nuclear F*ckup
(Yes, we know nukes don’t have a fuse, but there’s no other bomb whose impact can properly match the level of this f*ckup. Deal with it.)
That is, PizzaGate would’ve died off had Reddit’s CEO, Steve Huffman, not taken offense to the very free speech he’s defending on his site despite all the lives ruined by it.
See, Huffman’s banning of /r/PizzaGate made him public enemy number one of Donald Trump’s festering nazi hive, /r/The_Donald. The users spent the day calling him a pedophile and leaving comments which said, “F*ck spez.” (Spez is Huffman’s username.) As Huffman has no idea how to handle risk management, he responded by editing the code of Reddit’s system:
Whenever someone would leave a comment with ‘f*ck spez’ in it, it would be automatically changed to ‘f*ck the_donald mods’.
Users picked up on this quickly and called him out. Roughly an hour later, Huffman showed up in the thread and apologized for reacting badly to the free speech he’s fully supported when it’s been targeted at women and minorities.
So here’s why this is such a massive f*ckup that will ruin political dialogue for a lot of people in the foreseeable future:
Conspiracy theorists rely on a seed of truth to have any chance of their lies getting momentum. PizzaGate, on its own, could be easily debunked by looking at the emails its creators intentionally misinterpreted. Once the emails are seen, everything else becomes clear as the fabrication it is and the whole thing is dismissed by most people.
The banning of /r/PizzaGate seems like a logical conclusion once you hear about the threats its users were sending. Coverage of those threats came from the New York Times, which the theorists would tell you is on the Clinton payroll to cover up any dirt discovered, but few outside the bubble would have reason to believe they’d cover up a conspiracy this ludicrous.
In other words, PizzaGate shouldn’t be noteworthy at all.
But Huffman admitting to editing users’ comments out of petty revenge changes the game. Now, theorists have their seed of truth—undeniable even with context. It’s literally unknowable if Huffman or other administrators have ever edited other comments with a similar method; the unknowable is most dangerous when blooming from a seed of truth.
The New York Times and Snopes debunking PizzaGate? Both relied on /r/PizzaGate’s information for discovery. A reasonable person will tell you they doubt Huffman or anyone else has ever edited other comments, but the conspiracy theorist can rightfully counter that we are in the unknowable. It takes a small red line to draw this to a conclusion where Huffman and/or other mysterious people edited /r/PizzaGate prior to the debunking articles, planting all of the ludicrous claims while deleting the verifiable evidence theorists will claim to have posted.
And this becomes even more harmful when you consider 2016 saw a combination of record-low confidence across the political spectrum in mainstream media, and a startlingly high spread of false and/or misleading information shared as ‘news’ on Facebook. We live in a society where the common ground between people who like and hate Clinton is constant outrage over how the New York Times operates, and the majority of internet users have never heard of Snopes in their life.
What Huffman did has just cemented a solid income for the Alex Joneses of the world. After 18 months of constant(ly over-the-top) allegations against Clinton, we thought Trump assuming office would mean we’d at least be able to forget campaign season while fearing the slow destruction of society; things would suck, but the Nazis too cowardly to leave the confines of their anonymity would run out of material to deflect Trump’s failure onto Clinton for the next four years.
Now, we’re doomed to relive every Clinton conspiracy theory—repurposed to include the seed of truth. They’ll grow in new communities on Reddit while Huffman miraculously keeps his job and decides to become even more toothless in shutting down harassment. They’ll spread through our feeds, where people who wouldn’t have been swayed before might now be more willing to think they have a point. They’ll expand into new conspiracies each time Trump does something that would make the Nazis look weak for supporting him. They’ll become harder to shut down as the specter of the unknowable spreads further and further.
Steve Huffman just ruined 2017 before it even began.