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

Posted in: School of Communication and Media News

A graphic with a blue background showing a spike in traffic around the PizzaGate topic on the X platform.

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

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.


About the School of Communication and Media: Founded in 2012, the School of Communication and Media offers a range of dynamic programs in communication and media to a talented and diverse student population of over 1,800. Offering degrees in film and television, social media and public relations, advertising, journalism and digital media, sports communication, communication and media studies, animation and visual effects, and an MA in public and organizational relations, the School prepares the next generation of communication and media practitioners and leaders. The School houses award-winning student programs that include WMSC RadioThe Montclarion newspaper, Hawk Communications Agency, the Red Hawk Sports NetworkHawk+ OTT streaming platform, and News Lab, as well as the Center for Cooperative Media, which serves the public by working to grow and strengthen local journalism. Student projects and programs have recently received national recognition from PRSSA’s Bateman Competition, an Edward R Murrow Award, several Marconi Award nominations, and a College Television Award from the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences.

About the Global Center on Human Trafficking: The Global Center on Human Trafficking is a multi-disciplinary effort focused on developing innovative solutions to the global problem of human trafficking. Montclair State University, one of the most diverse higher education institutions in the United States, has a history of supporting social justice and human rights issues affecting communities across the world. What began as a university initiative spearheaded by a group of committed leaders, faculty and staff, has grown into a global center working hand in hand with survivors around the world to transform the response to human trafficking. It is dedicated to mobilizing collective action to develop novel solutions to the complex problems of human trafficking so that all people may live free from human trafficking. A barrier to trafficking prevention has been misinformation about the problem which the Center seeks to remedy with the Trafficking Misinformation Network initiative.

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