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An unfounded conspiracy theory that furniture company Wayfair is advertising the sale of human children disguised as cabinets and pillows went viral over the weekend.
The theory seemingly originated from speculation among popular members of conspiracy theory group QAnon and grew on Reddit's r/conspiracy subreddit.
QAnon believers have repeatedly made false allegations of child trafficking against Democrats, celebrities, and businesses.
The unfounded conspiracy theory that American furniture retailer Wayfair sold human children disguised as extremely expensive cabinets and pillows went so viral that hundreds of thousands of people on Twitter alone have voiced their concerns.
It has been debunked by Snopes, Facebook's independent fact-checkers, and other journalists, and extremism researchers say that the theory seemingly originated from, and continues to have close ties to, the QAnon conspiracy theory movement.
The trend took the internet by storm on Friday and continued throughout the weekend after a Reddit user claimed that high-priced cabinets and pillows on Wayfair's website were named after young Americans who were allegedly missing.
Wayfair quickly denied the claims. "The products in question are industrial grade cabinets that are accurately priced. Recognizing that the photos and descriptions provided by the supplier did not adequately explain the high price point, we have temporarily removed the products," a Wayfair spokesperson told Insider. When asked about the high-priced pillows, the spokesperson said they were priced in error.
Despite the brand's denial and reporting that squashes the theory, it continues to spread.
The theory appeared to begin with speculation from a popular QAnon conspiracy theorist before spreading to Reddit
Ben Collins of NBC News traced the theory to @99freemind, a.k.a. Amazing Polly, a popular QAnon influencer on Twitter and YouTube based in Ontario, Canada. She posted a June 14 tweet about Wayfair's expensive "storage cabinets" having girls' names.
The theory then traveled to the r/conspiracy subreddit, according to Collins, who called that subreddit a "clearinghouse for anonymous paranoia."
Soon, the theory traveled to other social media platforms, and it began trending on Twitter after many users shared screenshots to show that high-priced shower curtains, cabinets, and pillows shared their names with missing Americans.
There is still no evidence that Wayfair has been involved in anything nefarious.
Many social media accounts spreading the Wayfair theory are QAnon believers
The conspiracy theory is easily linked to QAnon, the far-right conspiracy theory movement centered around the belief that a "deep state" cabal of elites is hellbent on destroying President Donald Trump. QAnon followers have repeatedly made unfounded allegations that specific celebrities and politicians are involved in child sex trafficking.
Instagram accounts dedicated to the Wayfair conspiracy theory have popped up using QAnon hashtags. The @wayfairgate Instagram account found fast popularity spreading the theory, collecting over 21,000 followers in days, tagging many posts with QAnon hashtags including #q, #wwg1wga, #stormiscoming, #pizzagate, and #maga.
Dedicated QAnon accounts have also spread the theory. On Sunday, the "QAnon News Network," which has over 31,000 followers, posted about the Wayfair conspiracy theory for the second time, claiming that Wayfair was involved in the trafficking of missing girls and women.
The post was not marked by Instagram as containing misinformation, but the account's first post on Saturday about the theory was flagged as sharing "partly false information" by the platform's fact-checkers.
Facebook's independent fact-checkers have reported that the Wayfair theory is false. A spokesperson for Facebook, which owns Instagram, told Insider that fact-checkers "independently assess false information and once they rate content as false, our goal is to give users that context, wherever they may see it," adding that the company feels "it's our responsibility to let everyone who sees that content know that it has been debunked."
The theories have also spread rapidly on TikTok, Facebook, and Twitter, where QAnon conspiracy theorist Jeffrey Pedersen, a.k.a. @InTheMatrixxx, tagged the FBI in a tweet calling for an investigation into Wayfair. Pedersen, who has nearly 150,000 Twitter followers, did not immediately respond to Insider for comment. A Twitter spokesperson told Insider that the platform has taken actions against certain posts for "spam and platform manipulation" related to this theory.
As the theory went viral, it was shared by people who don't typically hold QAnon beliefs, including some celebrities and influencers. On Sunday, singer Maisy Stella, who has 624,000 Instagram followers, shared an Instagram story about the conspiracy theories. "i really suggest you look into the wayfair child trafficking gate. it is undeniable," she said, tagging the @wayfairgate Instagram account.
Stella did not immediately respond for comment.
Child sex trafficking misinformation has been a central theme among QAnon conspiracy theorists
The Wayfair story is reminiscent of Pizzagate, the conspiracy theory scandal from 2016. Believers of the oft-debunked Pizzagate theory falsely alleged that Hillary Clinton, then a presidential nominee, and her aides were involved with a child sex trafficking ring at a pizza restaurant in Washington called Comet Ping Pong. The theory eventually inspired an armed man in search of the non-existent children to enter Comet Ping Pong.
Alexander Reid Ross, a researcher who tracks white nationalism and a doctoral fellow at the Centre for Analysis of the Radical Right, said to Insider that Pizzagate, Wayfair, and other QAnon theories are a "misplaced moral crusade" against pedophilia that targets wealthy elites. He added that the "crusade" is commonly used to target and take down political opponents, particularly in Russia. "This is absolutely weaponized and used by the far-right all over the world."
While the QAnon universe has expanded in the years since Pizzagate, its main tenant remains the same. "QAnon, beginning in 2017, was birthed out of the Pizzagate conspiracy theory, retaining the central belief that a cabal of powerful elites control the world, using their power to covertly abuse children," said Marc-André Argentino, a PhD candidate at Concordia University who researches how extremist groups use technology.
QAnon conspiracy theories such as the one about Wayfair have increasingly reached mainstream attention in recent months. Celebrities including Hilary Duff and Oprah Winfrey have had to publicly deny QAnon believers' false claims that they were involved in child sex trafficking and several US political candidates who hold QAnon beliefs will be on the ballot in November.
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