I was disheartened to see the Westfield News used as an instrument for spreading misinformation and fear by failing to provide important context in its article “Families Raise Awareness of Child Trafficking,” dated September 11. The Westfield residents quoted in the piece make highly misleading statements such as “800,000 children go missing every year.” This statement and others made by organizers of the “Save the Children” event is a direct product of a wave of conspiracy theories that are part of a fear-mongering recruitment campaign circulating on the internet broadly referred to as “QAnon.”
The ideas spread by QAnon are truly bizarre. For example, it’s alleged that Tom Hanks, Oprah Winfrey and Pope Francis are part of a secret cabal of elites engaged in the trafficking of children. These conspiracy theories prey upon some of our worst nightmares. Their goal is to capture attention by instilling irrational fears in the public and then leveraging that fear to radicalize followers and help win support for extremist political views and candidates. Social media services have taken measures to thwart the spread of QAnon’s dangerous and highly polarizing messages. Last month, Facebook removed 790 QAnon groups from its service. Twitter has taken similar measures and labeled posts from accounts promoting QAnon conspiracies as “harmful activity.”
While child trafficking is certainly real and abhorrent, there is no reason to be any more worried now than before QAnon lies and exaggerations began circulating. There has been no sudden rash of child abductions or trafficking. And the vast majority of abducted children are not the result of strangers snatching kids but from friends and relatives who know the child. There are only about 100 child abductions from strangers each year. Finally, about 99% percent of all “missing” children are found. The vast majority of missing children reports are runaways or children who have been lost for very short periods of time and were not abducted.
Going forward, I encourage the Westfield News to provide much more context for these type of events. The Fourth Estate should be in business of giving readers a complete picture that can help inform then about the world they live in, not blindly promoting conspiracy theories that cloud their judgment and help undermine democracy.
Sincerely, Steve Dondley
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