The term #PedoGram became a top trend across Twitter on Wednesday after a report from the Wall Street Journal revealed that Instagram’s algorithm has been promoting child abuse material and helping connect pedophiles.
The report, a joint investigation between the Journal and academics from Stanford University and the University of Massachusetts Amherst, found that Instagram’s recommendation systems aided pedophiles in finding accounts selling illegal content.
Shockingly, many accounts offering such material openly used hashtags such as #preteensex to promote their content. Even worse, many accounts that were reported for promoting the sale of illegal content were either ignored or rejected by Instagram.
While users across social media networks expressed shock at the findings, far-right accounts used the very real problem to push debunked conspiracy theories such as PizzaGate.
The PizzaGate conspiracy theory, which rose to prominence in 2016, alleged that then-presidential candidate Hillary Clinton was helping run a secret child sex slavery ring in the basement of a pizza parlor in Washington, D.C.
The report found that emojis were used by pedophiles to communicate. An image of a map was intended to allude to the acronym “minor-attracted person.” Cheese pizza emojis were also used given that the words’ initials are the same as “child pornography.”
While it has long been known that the term cheese pizza has been used among pedophiles, before the 2016 election, PizzaGate conspiracy theorists attempted to accuse prominent politicians of abusing children after an email from then-Hillary Clinton campaign manager John Podesta mentioned ordering pizzas was released by WikiLeaks.
Others argued that QAnon, the conspiracy theory alleging that a secret team of government insiders was helping former President Donald Trump topple an international pedophilia ring run by Democrats, had been entirely vindicated.
Prominent right-wing figures, including those who helped spread PizzaGate and QAnon, amplified the #PedoGram hashtag.
Others looped the news into claims that the 2020 election was stolen.
While Instagram’s child abuse problem is real and must be addressed, none of the findings remotely prove that conspiracy theories like QAnon are legitimate.
In response to the reporting, Instagram’s parent company Meta said that it planned to establish an internal task force to investigate the issue.
“Child exploitation is a horrific crime,” a company spokesperson said. “We’re continuously investigating ways to actively defend against this behavior.”
The report also noted that other social media platforms were searched for child abuse material but did not allow such communities to fester like Instagram.