Pizzagate. This was the hashtag attached to the viral, social media mystery surrounding Hillary Clinton, John Podesta, and an alleged pedophile sex-ring operating out of the back rooms of Comet Ping Pong–a pizza joint in Washington D.C.
The rumors began with a tweet, were further fanned by InfoWars anchor Alex Jones, and spiraled out of control on websites like 4Chan and Reddit. The story came to a head when a man named Edgar Welch drove from North Carolina to Washington D.C. to investigate, bursting into Comet Ping Pong with a gun.
Fortunately, no one was injured. Also, there was no pedophile sex dungeon inside the pizza place.
How could anyone believe a conspiracy theory so stunningly out there? In the age of instant information in which speculation mutates rapidly, an unbelievable story can become absolute truth in no time at all, and without any real evidence.
With no hard evidence to validate Pizzagate, one would think that belief in the story would evaporate, or at least temper. However, some Trump voters still believe there’s validity to it. An Economist-YouGov survey recently asked Trump voters to rate the following sentence as “True,” or “Not True”:
Leaked emails from the Clinton campaign talked about pedophilia and human trafficking. ‘Pizzagate’
46% of Trump voters said “True.” 53% said “Not True.” Nearly half of Trump voters believe that there is at least some legitimacy to the “Hillary Clinton-child sex trafficking” story. What this appears to show is that a large portion of individuals who voted for Donald Trump either haven’t taken the time to investigate the fake story, or that despite countervailing evidence, they simply don’t believe the story is fake. Either way, that’s disturbing.
Politics is more than a game. For a republic to function properly, its people must be informed and intellectually honest. The Economist-YouGov survey shows that a portion of Trump supporters are neither. The 46% who believe the “Hillary Clinton-sex trafficking” story has validity are either uninterested in knowing the truth, or they have been shown the truth, and have instead chosen to indulge their conspiratorial urges.
We need to be rigorous in our scrutiny–not only of our leaders and our press, but of ourselves. If we fail to analyze our belief systems in an intellectually honest way, if we fail to separate fact from fiction, we will become vulnerable to con men.
Come to think of it, perhaps such a vulnerability has already been exploited.