Fake Child-Trafficking News Story Leads to Death Threats at Innocent Pizzeria

No backroom lairs. Photo: Jenn J./Yelp

Running a restaurant isn’t easy. The hours are brutal, the Yelpers are ruthless, and sometimes a fake-news story accuses you of running a pedophile ring for Hillary Clinton’s campaign. That’s what happened to Comet Ping Pong, a popular D.C. pizzeria, and owner James Alefantis tells today’s New York Times he’s at his wits’ end trying to undo damages from what the far right now calls “PizzaGate.” The ludicrous claim — that Clinton and campaign chair John Podesta kidnapped, molested, and trafficked kids in the back of the restaurant — has gone so viral on Facebook and sites like the Vigilant Citizen, Planet Free Will, and that Snopes has been forced to actually debunk it.

“Endless” harassing messages started pouring in almost instantly from people who thought the story was true. Those messages included death threats via phone and social media.

The Times spells out the reality of the situation as clearly as possible:

While Mr. Alefantis has some prominent Democratic friends in Washington and was a supporter of Mrs. Clinton, he has never met her, does not sell or abuse children, and is not being investigated by law enforcement for any of these claims.

Alefantis tells the paper he’s asked the FBI to investigate, put local police on security detail, and begged places like YouTube, Facebook, and Reddit to delete all references to the demonstrably false claim. Yet Comet’s manager says it’s like “trying to shoot a swarm of bees with one gun,” and his wife fears for their safety and apparently wants him to change jobs. People on social media are even attacking the bands that have performed there.

Alefantis has actual ties to Podesta (he knows him “casually,” according to the Times), and, ironically, used to date the founder of Media Matters, a group that picks apart misinformation in the conservative press. But, remember, no child-trafficking experience.

Fake News Leads to Death Threats at Innocent Pizzeria