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Study: ‘Pizzagate’ Posts on X Spike Dramatically After Elon Musk Boosted the Conspiracy

The debunked conspiracy is foundational to QAnon, experts say, and a fictitious representation of human trafficking

Posted in: Communication and Media, Press Releases, Research

Line graphic showing spike in tweets related to Pizzagate

A new study from Montclair State University shows that recent comments made by Elon Musk dramatically boosted online discussion about #Pizzagate, a debunked conspiracy suggesting children were being trafficked through a D.C. pizzeria.

The study was conducted by the Joetta Di Bella and Fred C. Sautter III Center for Strategic Communication and the Global Center on Human Trafficking.

Highlights from the study on ‘Pizzagate’ on X include:

  • A 9,501.5% spike in Pizzagate posts on the X platform in the period after Musk’s boosting of the conspiracy
  • 375,140 posts using the term Pizzagate
  • 81,536,652 total impressions generated by original posts referencing Pizzagate

Google Trends Analysis showed a similar increase in online search activity related to Pizzagate. The most liked, viewed and retweeted posts consistently supported the baseless Pizzagate conspiracy.

“The Pizzagate conspiracy is an example of the sensational and fictitious presentation of human trafficking that makes solving the real problem of human trafficking so much more difficult,” said Daniela Peterka-Benton, academic director of the Global Center on Human Trafficking and coordinator of the Trafficking Misinformation Network.

“Particularly concerning is that the Pizzagate conspiracy is foundational to QAnon. The QAnon conspiracy is based on a number of antisemitic tropes and elevating it online in the current context seems to be particularly irresponsible,” said Bond Benton, associate professor of Public Relations in the School of Communication and Media at Montclair State University.

The full study, “Everything Old is Q Again,” was conducted by Benton and Peterka-Benton from the Joetta Di Bella and Fred C. Sautter III Center for Strategic Communication, located within the School of Communication and Media, and the Global Center on Human Trafficking, respectively.

For media inquiries, contact the Media Relations team at Montclair State University.