Pizzagate involves more than just melty cheese pizzas and a great restaurant experience. Up there with Watergate, this conspiracy has been reported by numerous media outlets as a secret sex-trafficking ring run by your favorite media personalities.
But is it a type of fake news, or a long-anticipated exposure train?
The Pizzagate conspiracy theory gained traction right before the 2016 United States presidential election and is now gaining newfound attention with the emergence of TikTok, a short-tail social media platform. Much of the TikTok-user demographic is composed of Generation Z, and the platform’s hyper-viral algorithm has presented these users with a massive audience. Although it is the talk of the town amongst Generation Z content creators, the Pizzagate theory has been debunked time and time again. Yet, many still believe the theory to be absolutely true, and are utilizing this large audience to spread what may well be misinformation.
And that is the danger in this situation: Generation-Z lacks trust in our media. They collect their own evidence, present this evidence in a very digestible format, and then use the shock-factor of child sex-trafficking to create a tight echo-chamber of believers. This echo-chamber presents Pizzagate as not only a possibility, but a current tragedy in which any celebrity named will become the next victim of cancel culture – a phenomenon where celebrities and influencers are exposed for their past-wrongdoings and will likely lose their massive platforms.
The echo-chamber is dangerous amongst modern-algorithms which highly customize content based on a user’s interaction. Due to the sheer shock-factor Pizzagate is – I mean, it’s characters like Ellen DeGeneres reinvesting her capital into sex trafficking – individual user engagement increases with this type of content and quite literally creates an echo-chamber as the algorithm feeds and re-feeds you Pizzagate theories.
The presence of this digital echo-chamber is evidence that Generation-Z may not – for the most part – have developed media literacy. In general, consumers and believers of fake news easily skip over the description and interpretation parts of obtaining media literacy; They recognize patterns in the evidence, but they take their encounter with this information as completely factual as opposed to comparing perspectives and making sense of them on their own. They instead skip straight to engagement, creating open communities of believers online whose algorithms consistently add fuel to the fire by distributing highly-customized user-generated content to their users.
Kang, C., & Frenkel, S. (2020). ‘PizzaGate’ Conspiracy Theory Thrives Anew in the TikTok Era. Retrieved 10 July 2020, from https://www.nytimes.com/2020/06/27/technology/pizzagate-justin-bieber-qanon-tiktok.html