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Justice Studies

Global Center on Human Trafficking Enters Research Partnership with the Center for Strategic Communication

Posted in: Faculty News, Justice Studies

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In its mission to facilitate research that expands scholarship and informs public discourse, the Global Center on Human Trafficking is pleased to announce a research partnership with the Joetta Di Bella and Fred C. Sautter III Center for Strategic Communication. Housed in the School of Communication at Montclair State University, the Center for Strategic Communication is home to social listening platforms, consumer insights tools, and a range of social analytics software. These tools are used to facilitate research that examines the ways in which social media content reflects communities’ values, preferences, beliefs, and interests. Areas like these are essential in assessing how human trafficking is understood by the population at large.

“Knowing what people understand about trafficking and, more importantly, what they don’t understand is an essential part of the antitrafficking movement,” said Dr. Daniela Peterka-Benton, Academic Director of the Global Center on Human Trafficking. “The most significant space for assessing this is naturally the online space,” Peterka-Benton said.

Already, the partnership has produced significant results. In the first collaborative study between the two centers, a report on the dramatic increase in human trafficking misinformation on the X (formerly Twitter) was assessed. This surge occurred after Elon Musk boosted content supporting the debunked “#pizzagate” conspiracy. Foundational to the QAnon movement, Pizzagate references the belief that elites are kidnapping and trafficking children in a D.C. pizzeria. Utilizing the tools of the Strategic Communication Center, a 9,501.5% spike in Pizzagate posts was identified after Musk’s remarks. Working with the Global Center on Human Trafficking, this misinformation was contextualized to show how such false stories hinder needed support to help the real victims of human trafficking.

Particularly noteworthy about this initial partnership is that it was prominently featured in a Rolling Stone article. Additional media outlets have also linked and shared the study results from this partnership indicating that such a collaboration has immense potential to study and affect discourse about human trafficking.

“It’s an incredible start,” Peterka-Benton said, “especially as part of our work to create the first ever Human Trafficking Misinformation Network to study and share the dangerous misinformation that’s out there about trafficking.”