The 2016 election has rustled up some crazy fake news and accusations of people and businesses, but possibly one of the most vile so far has to do with Hillary Clinton and a Washington, D.C.-based pizza shop. A fake story making the rounds before the election claimed the pizzeria was a child-trafficking site used by Clinton and campaign chairman John Podesta, and it's the latest example of how these fake stories are actually affecting businesses.
People threatened Comet Ping Pong Pizza owner James Alefantis, his business, and staff on social media over the allegations, according to The New York Times. He looked online for the origin of the story, and found the story of Pizzagate, which took on a life of its own on Reddit and has since been documented and debunked by Snopes. According to the Times, Alefantis is not being investigated by law enforcement for any of the accusations.
Alefantis claimed he has never met Clinton, but he was a supporter. The Times reported that Alefantis has some high-profile Democratic friends in the area, and he was once in a relationship with former right-wing journalist David Brock. Comet Ping Pong Pizza was mentioned in Podesta's hacked emails that were released by Wikileakes, which may have been the source for the conspiracy articles against the restaurant.
Alefantis told the Times, “From this insane, fabricated conspiracy theory, we’ve come under constant assault." The Times also reported that Alefantis has contacted the FBI regarding the situation. After Alefantis contacted local police regarding the threats and fake story, the police sent a police car to the restaurant for safety.
Former Clinton campaign official Glen Caplin did not address the accusations directly to the Times, but did say, “WikiLeaks has spawned several conspiracy theories that have been independently debunked.”
Unfortunately, it seems that the power of viral fake news tends to overshadow the truth. The hashtag continues to be used on Twitter, and users are calling on officials to look into the case.
The aftermath of the 2016 election has allowed an opportunity for reflection, with many dissecting the possible influences in reaching its outcome. In this, there's been a lot of discussion about fake news articles. How much blatantly false information spread and could have actually swayed voters in the presidential election is debatable. Regardless, we know that fake news is harmful, and has real consequences, as in the case of Comet Ping Pong.
It's as important for readers to be vigilant in checking sources as it is for journalists to be reporting verified information. When readers stop questioning the truth behind what they're reading, it leads to these types of situations where innocent people and their reputations can suffer. And in that case, everyone loses.