You may have missed the news that a "Child Sex Ring" was recently uncoverered in Oregon. That's because it's not exactly true. A local news story was picked up by an infamous fake news profiteer and Oregonians are falling for it.
The headline and accommpanying image are meant to terrify. A small girl bound by ropes and the headline blaring: Oregon Child Sex Ring Uncovered: "They're Worth $5000 A Night"
Kids Safety Network
The preview text below the post trails off, but clicking through takes you to the story on KIDSSAFETEYNETWORK.COM. Kids Safety Network is a viral content mill that preys on fearful parents. They sit on the right of the political spectrum with plenty of stories about all the things that will kill your child, and feel good tales of heroic moms who would rather die of cancer than terminate a pregnancy. Here's a few of their current headlines on their ad-filled site:
Muslim Rapes, Impregnates Child -- Liberal Judge Blames Her Because of 1 Thing She Didn't Do (That one is in their Product Recalls section for some reason)
Warning: There's a New Outbreak Of A Dangerous Disease Attacking Children
Study: Parents With Four or More Kids Are The Happiest
Husband Lets Wife ‘Go To Heaven’ After Giving Birth To 6th Child, Making The Ultimate Sacrifice
It would be wrong to say the site is specifically political, their only metric is if people will share their stories on Facebook. It just happens that fearful people tend to be more conservative and are trigger happy on Facebook. Kids Safety Network pumps out a steady stream of Amber Alerts and urges their target audience to share their Child Safe Kit on every page. The website goes in with the hard sell on their About page:
Here’s what we believe: active, interested parents can save lives when given the proper tools. When (sic) spread this kind of vital information across our social networks and website, Kids Safety Network helps parents ensure missing children have the best chance for recovery.
If you don't share their content, children die.
You won't be surprised to learn KSN is part of the Siren Group, an online marketing company serving industries like life insurance and mobile game startups.
The Fake News Journey
The web page for the child sex ring article repeats the Facebook preview phrase three times over; a trick of click-bait articles.
Investigators in Oregon have discovered a massive child sex ring in which children were sold as sex slaves to high ranking pedophiles for as much as $5,000 a night.
The article suddenly shifts tone and reads:
Curry County residents Genevieve Wilson and Jackalene Antunes say they are working to help child victims of human trafficking in Southern Oregon, with very little help from the government.
What follows is a sloppy cut-n-paste story lifted from the Curry Coastal Pilot, a tiny paper serving the coastal community of Brookings-Harbor, Oregon. The original article is not nearly as alarmist, with a headline reading, "Shining a light on sex trafficking: Women launch effort to educate public about sexually-abused children."
The standard local news fair tells the story of two women, Wilson and Antunes, who are trying to raise awareness about child trafficking in Southern Oregon. Wilson gives an unsubstantiated quote about the monetary value of child sex slaves.
There’s not as much money in drugs anymore as there is in human trafficking. They take a young child and on a good night, can make $3,000 to $5,000.
The fake news machine took the quote and paired it with one of the top stock photos that Google pulls up with the search phrase, "human trafficking images free."
The Kids Safety Network article contains another clue about the veracity of the story, the byline given is "Sean Adl-Tabatabai News." Adl-Tabatabai is the founder of YourNewsWire.com where he published the story on July 23 this year. (It was picked up by Kids Safety Network on August 18.)
Your News Wire has been blacklisted by an EU task force combatting Russian propaganda. The site promoted the Pizza-Gate rumor that suggested Hillary Clinton campaign members were involved in a secret sex ring in the basement of a Washington, D.C. pizzeria. The restaurant did not have a basement, a fact discovered by a North Carolina man who traveled to DC with an assualt rifle to rescue the children being held in the nonexistent basement.
A former MTV producer based in London, Adl-Tabatabai played a major role in spreading fake stories ahead of the UK Brexit vote. He's especially proud of his article claiming the Queen would "flee Britain" if Brexit didn't pass.
Adl-Tabatabai is now using the domain newspunch.com to try and evade blacklisting. He shared his version of the story to Facebook with that URL and has 1,700 shares, translating to millions of views.
Kids Safety Network, with their 285,245 followers does not have the reach of Adl-Tabatabai's machine, but their version of the story received over 800 shares, nearly 2,000 likes and 170 raging comments like,
Torture and kill them all slowly and let them burn for eternity in hell!!!! 🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥
Fake News, Real Issues
It's well-reported that Oregon is a nexus for the horrific sex trafficking trade that continues to thrive despite law enforcement efforts. The Portland Police Bureau's Sex Trafficking Unit works closely with the Child Exploitation Task Force based in the Portland FBI field office. An online sting this summer caught 17 men from Oregon, Washington, Californina and South Carolina who responded to ads the police placed on sex trafficking websites.
A FOX12 report earlier this year noted the increase of sex trafficking-related crimes throghout the Portland metro area.
The story catching fire on Facebook is not related to these recent arrests. By simply changing the headline and story preview picked up by Facebook, online click farms can create a new conspiracy theory and watch the shares and dollars roll in.
The truth is:
- there were no "Investigators," just two caring women trying to make a difference through awareness;
- the "massive child sex ring" did not exist;
- it was not in Oregon;
- said sex ring did not sell children for "$5,000 a night," though that may happen;
- it did not cater to "high ranking pedophiles" (there's a ranking system for pedophiles?).
The goal of such stories is to make people afraid and angry. Research shows that anger increases engagement on Facebook, where 44% of people say they get their news.
People across Facebook are showing their fear and anger, planning their vigalante justice and certain the child sex ring is part of a government conspiracy. Here's a sampling of posts and comments on the story:
Of course the government won't help there (sic) probably the biggest customers!! Would not doubt at all its all connected to government officials!!
Parents read this. Sex trafficking is EVERYWHERE.
This makes me sick, this is not some third world country it's happening in, it's right here in Oregon, I have to be honest, I would not be able to hold back from putting a serious beating on these sick individuals. I was just talking to a friend , last week about starting a Non- profit to hunt down these animals.
One poster wrote that this was the reason why she moved from Oregon and won't be back.
Of course, trafficking is real and underreported. Anything that raises awareness is good, right? Not quite. These fake viral posts are simply feeding parents' already oversized fears. And fake news about a real issue only makes it harder to get the truth out.
We live in a staggerlingly interconnected world where a tiny newspaper article can be picked up by a notorious propagandist, find it's way to another website of questionable repute and return to Facebook to scare the hell out of Oregonians. The circle is complete. And this article couldn't have taken such an improbable journey without all our indignant shares along the way.