Date: December 19, 2017
“Inside the web of conspiracy theorists, Russian operatives, Trump campaigners and Twitter bots who manufactured the ‘news’ that Hillary Clinton ran a pizza-restaurant child-sex ring.
The revelations overcame Edgar Maddison Welch like a hallucinatory fever. On December 1st, 2016, the father of two from Salisbury, North Carolina, a man whose pastimes included playing Pictionary with his family, tried to persuade two friends to join a rescue mission. Alex Jones, the Info-Wars host, was reporting that Hillary Clinton was sexually abusing children in satanic rituals a few hundred miles north, in the basement of a Washington, D.C., pizza restaurant. Welch told his friends the “raid” on a “pedo ring” might require them to “sacrifice the lives of a few for the lives of many.” A friend texted, “Sounds like we r freeing some oppressed pizza from the hands of an evil pizza joint.” Welch was undeterred. Three days later, armed with an AR-15 semiautomatic rifle, a .38 handgun and a folding knife, he strolled into the restaurant and headed toward the back, where children were playing ping-pong. As waitstaff went table to table, whispering to customers to get out, Welch maneuvered into the restaurant’s kitchen. He shot open a lock and found cooking supplies. He whipped open another door and found an employee bringing in fresh pizza dough. Welch did not find any captive children – Comet Ping Pong does not even have a basement – but he did prove, if there were any lingering doubts after the election, that fake news has real consequences.
Alefantis thought he’d finally scored a victory when The New York Times published an article debunking Pizzagate. He learned what the Clinton campaign found out too late. As Harvard’s Benkler puts it, “The right-wing-media ecosystem had become so hyperpartisan, so self-referential and so superinsular it often simply ignored information that’s disconfirming.” Instead, right-wing social media referenced mainstream coverage as a way to “legitimate” their claims. On November 21st, the day the Times published its story, our sample shows Twitter traffic about Pizzagate hit unprecedented levels: some 120,000 tweets.”