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Trafficking Misinformation
August 5, 2021

Last summer, there was an upsurge in misinformation spread about child trafficking, including the spread on social media of accusations against Wayfair for purportedly hiding trafficked children in overpriced furniture.

This summer, a similar phenomenon occurred with accusations flying around on social media that $100,000 chicken nuggets are a front for child trafficking.

It’s unclear why odd or even alarming pricing discrepancies have become the red flag for heightened fears of trafficking. The sad reality is that too many children are sold in plain sight and for very little money.

The Impact of Misinformation

It might be tempting to brush this kind of thing off lightly, but unfortunately, alarmist reactions to these fears can cause actual harm. Last year, NGOs and other first responders working closely with survivors said that their systems were overwhelmed by calls from well-meaning, concerned citizens demanding investigations into what they believed were missing children. The deluge made it more difficult for anti-trafficking services to connect with actual trafficking victims and diverted a lot of their time and resources away from victims and toward debunking myths.

The 2021 U.S. State Department’s Trafficking in Persons Report raises further concerns, including the safety of NGO staff. “NGOs have also reported experiencing cyberattacks and threats on social media when they post statements debunking misinformation. Some employees of NGOs that help identify and provide services to survivors of human trafficking have even faced threats of violence by followers of these theories.” (see pages 34-35)

The report also cites that this kind of misinformation has the potential to retraumatize actual trafficking survivors as their own stories get called into question or their plight is manipulated for nefarious purposes. 

Where to Focus Efforts

The key takeaway is that pricing discrepancies are not a reliable red flag for child trafficking. The red flags for children at risk remain: 

  • poverty
  • lack of access to education 
  • social exclusion (including youth who are LGBTQ+, homeless or runaways, subject to ethnic or racial discrimination, migrants, or stateless). 

As the TIP Report states, “Often the people in the best position to identify a potential case of human trafficking are neighbors, family members, friends, or others close to victims or traffickers.” In other words, those best positioned to respond are people close enough to a case to have actual evidence of trafficking. 

In the meantime, there are things we can do to protect children from trafficking. We can talk to kids and the youth in our social circles about how grooming happens and how unsafe it is to share explicit photos or videos online, even with someone you trust. We can ensure they understand consent—both asking for it and giving or denying it unambiguously. And we can surround marginalized children with love and acceptance so they always feel safe.

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