Jul 13, 2020 - Technology

Online conspiracy theory links child trafficking to Wayfair furniture sales

Wayfair's logo is displaced on a phone screen

Photo: Rafael Henrique/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

Platforms including Reddit, Twitter, Facebook and YouTube have been playing host to a baseless conspiracy theory that picked up steam over the weekend claiming that furniture e-tailer Wayfair is a front for human trafficking.

Why it matters: The claims caught fire among QAnon, the online group that believes President Trump is fighting a secret war against deep-state pedophiles. Since beginning in 2017, QAnon has moved slowly toward mainstream notice, and a number of supporters of the fringe belief system are now running for Congress.

What's happening: Internet users are claiming that Wayfair listings for pricey cabinets and other furniture are in fact a way for predators to order children sent to their door.

  • Conspiracy theorists have seized on coincidental overlaps of product names with the names of children reported missing around the country.
  • The claims have spread widely online after appearing on the r/conspiracy subreddit late last week.
  • Twitter hasn't taken down many of the tweets spreading the claims because they don't appear likely to cause real-world harm, a spokesperson said. Facebook has added fact-checking labels to posts involving the conspiracy theory and is downranking them so they appear less prominently and frequently in people's feeds, according to spokesperson Liz Bourgeois.

Reality check: There's no question that the internet has been exploited by human traffickers, but there's no evidence that an e-commerce platform on the open web is actually being used to buy and sell children.

  • Hundreds of thousands of children are reported missing in the U.S. each year, according to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.
  • It's no surprise that some of those children would share names with items of furniture named after people.
  • Several of the children that conspiracy theorists identified as having names matching Wayfair listings are in fact no longer missing.

What they're saying:

"There is, of course, no truth to these 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 from the site to rename them and to provide a more in-depth description and photos that accurately depict the product to clarify the price point."
— Wayfair spokesperson, to Newsweek

Our thought bubble: Conspiracy theories are fringe until they're not. Remember: President Trump entered politics by promoting a conspiracy theory that his predecessor wasn't born in this country.

Go deeper