By Amanda Short

 

Wayfair is an e-commerce store that specializes in the sale of furniture, home goods, and human trafficking victims?[1] In July of 2020, a conspiracy theory created by QAnon began to spread like rapid-fire over social media.[2] For those of you unfamiliar with QAnon, this group spreads “conspiracy theories that allege, falsely, that the world is run by a cabal of Satan-worshiping pedophiles who are plotting against Mr. Trump while operating a global child sex-trafficking ring.”[3]QAnon generated a conspiracy theory that Wayfair was engaged in a human trafficking scheme by advertising items such as industrial storage cabinets and throw pillows as a ruse for selling children.[4]

 

The Wayfair human trafficking scheme centered around higher-priced items named after missing children.[5] Wayfair responded to claims of human trafficking by stating that the industrial cabinets were priced accordingly, but the pricing of pillows at $9,999 was an error made by the company.[6] There was no evidence found to substantiate this conspiracy of a human trafficking ring by Wayfair, and alleged victims of the scheme came forward to notify the public they were indeed safe.[7]

 

Unfortunately, conspiracy themes of this nature skew the public opinion as to what human trafficking is. Human trafficking is the exploitation of persons for labor, services, or commercial sex.[8] Human trafficking reports have occurred in every state in the United States [9] with a disproportionate effect on children and women.[10] According to the Polaris Project, many misconceptions surround the crime of human trafficking.[11] These misconceptions of human trafficking lead to a diversion in resources and a hindrance to ending the crime.[12]

 

The fantasized images of human trafficking portrayed through conspiracy theories and blockbuster movies lead to a misunderstanding of what human trafficking is.[13] Many may recall the movie Taken when thinking about human trafficking.[14] In Taken, Liam Nielson portrayed a former FBI agent forced to spring action when his daughter was kidnapped by a human trafficking ring.[15] Movies of this nature perpetuate ideas that human trafficking victims are always taken by force, and victims are restrained against their will.[16]

 

The Wayfair human trafficking conspiracy spread misinformation and directly impacted resources for victims.[17]According to the Polaris Project, the National Human Trafficking Hotline became overrun with callers claiming Wayfair was selling children.[18] The hotline received hundreds of phone calls about the Wayfair conspiracy theory from the internet, which diverted support and attention to real reports of human trafficking.[19] None of the incoming phone calls from worried persons included information beyond what was shared online.[20]

 

Some websites have been accused and found to facilitate human trafficking, but Wayfair is not one of them. Backpage.com was a classified ad website that included an adult section for personal ads.[21] In 2018, Backpage.com was seized by federal authorities following CEO Carl Ferrer’s plea deal on charges of facilitating prostitution and money laundering.[22] Backpage.com facilitated the sale of children for sexual acts by overlooking code words used to indicate the sale of children, such as ads containing “Amber Alert.”[23] Backpage.com profited immensely from the sale of persons, as indicated by the 129.7 million dollar increase in revenues from 2008 to 2014 with 90% of the increase of earnings from the adult ads.[24]

 

The internet has brought on an era of immediate access to information, but with this instant information comes misinformation. To learn more about human trafficking, check out the resources from the Polaris Project at https://polarisproject.org.

 

[1] See On Wayfair and the Problem with Sex Trafficking Conspiracy Theories, End Sexual Exploitation (July 16, 2020), https://endsexualexploitation.org/articles/on-wayfair-and-viral-conspiracy-theories-about-sex-trafficking/.

[2] See id.

[3] Kevin Roose, What is QAnon, the Viral Pro-Trump Conspiracy Theory, N.Y. Post (Oct. 19, 2020), https://www.nytimes.com/article/what-is-qanon.html.

[4] See On Wayfair and the Problem with Sex Trafficking Conspiracy Theories, supra note 1.

[5] See Amanda Seitz & Ali Swenson, Baseless Wayfair Child-Trafficking Theory Spreads Online, Wash. Post (July 16, 2020, 5:26 PM), https://www.washingtonpost.com/business/technology/baseless-wayfair-child-trafficking-theory-spreads-online/2020/07/16/f5206c10-c7aa-11ea-a825-8722004e4150_story.html.

[6] See id.

[7] See id.

[8] See Human Trafficking, U.S. Dep’t of Just., https://www.justice.gov/humantrafficking (last visited Nov. 13, 2020).

[9] See 2019 U.S. National Human Trafficking Hotline Statistics, Polaris, https://polarisproject.org/2019-us-national-human-trafficking-hotline-statistics/ (last visited Nov. 13, 2020).

[10] See id.

[11] Common Myths and Misconceptions About Human Trafficking in the U.S., Polaris, https://humantraffickinghotline.org/sites/default/files/Common%20Myths%20and%20Misconceptions.pdf (last visited Nov. 13, 2020).

[12] Human Trafficking in the Movies, Stop The Traffik (Oct. 2, 2020), https://www.stopthetraffik.org/movies/#:~:text=When%20people%20think%20of%20human,trafficking%20ring%20while%20on%20holiday.

[13] See id.

[14] See id.

[15] See id.

[16] See id.

[17] See Polaris Statement on Wayfair Sex Trafficking Claims, Polaris, https://polarisproject.org/press-releases/polaris-statement-on-wayfair-sex-trafficking-claims/ (last visited Nov. 13, 2020).

[18] See id.

[19] See id.

[20] See id.

[21] See Tom Jackson, Backpage CEO Carl Ferrer Pleads Guilty in Three States, Agrees to Testify Against Other Website Officials, Wash. Post (April 13, 2018, 6:00 AM), https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/true-crime/wp/2018/04/13/backpage-ceo-carl-ferrer-pleads-guilty-in-three-states-agrees-to-testify-against-other-website-officials/.

[22] See id.

[23] See Charlie Savage & Timothy Williams, U.S. Seizes Backpage.com, a Site Accused of Enabling Prostitution, N.Y. Times (Apr. 17, 2018), https://www.nytimes.com/2018/04/07/us/politics/backpage-prostitution-classified.html.

[24] See id.

Image Source: https://apnews.com/article/9d54570ebba5e406667c38cb29522ec6

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