You may have heard of Pizzagate, the story of a Washington DC pizza outlet that became embroiled in a false conspiracy theory so outlandish, it led a gunman to burst through the restaurant’s doors carrying an assault rifle as families ate their meals.
The tale was completely refuted, but that doesn’t mean similar conspiracy theories haven’t popped up in its place.
The latest company to fall foul to internet hearsay and unfounded rumour is Wayfair, an American e-commerce company that sells furniture and home-goods. On 10 July, the company became the subject of a conspiracy theory linking the business to child sex trafficking.
Though completely unfounded, here’s everything you need to know about the incident so far.
What does the theory say?
On 10 July, a Twitter user posted a screenshot of Wayfair’s website, complaining of the high price of some of the company’s bedroom cabinets. Nothing too outlandish there.
But, said poster claimed the cabinets were priced so high because they were actually being sold as the vessels for missing children, in order to facilitate illegal child trafficking.
Accusing Wayfair of listing the items of furniture for more than they were available for at other outlets, the poster supposed that inside each was a missing child.
Adding fuel to the spurious fire was the fact Wayfair had given each of the cabinets in question female names – Neriah, Yaritza, Alyvia, and Samiyah – names which social media users claimed matched with those of real missing children.
The cabinets were quickly removed from the website as the theory began to gain traction online, but that only ‘proved’ the conspiracy in the eyes of those who believed it.
What have Wayfair said?
"There is, of course, no truth to these claims,” Wayfair said in a statement to Newsweek.
A spokesperson clarified that the items were removed temporarily from the company’s website “to rename them and to provide a more in-depth description and photos that accurately depict the product to clarify the price point.”
"The products in question are industrial grade cabinets that are accurately priced,” the spokesperson said.
Is the theory true?
As one Twitter user pointed out, “I'm pretty sure the US Postal Service or FedEx would hear a human inside of the box.
"Not to mention days or weeks in transit, they would need food and water and a bathroom; pretty positive you can't just order a human like that.”
Why was ‘Wayfair’ trending?
In the age of the internet, such conspiracy theories are fairly common. It’s more rare that one does blow up and go viral – as the Wayfair theory has – but it does happen.
There are even dedicated pages to share your theories on, like Reddit’s r/conspiracy subreddit, described as “a clearinghouse for anonymous paranoia” by NBC News reporter, Ben Collins.
"Pizzagate/QAnon people have Wayfair trending today," he said.
They falsely claim price glitches on storage boxes prove that the company is trafficking children.”
What was Pizzagate?
Pizzagate was a similar theory, that in 2016 claimed Hilary Clinton’s presidential campaign was affiliated with a fictional human trafficking ring.
The conspiracy is so-called because the alleged headquarters of the operation was the Comet Ping Pong pizzeria in Washington, DC, which – according to the theory – was also a meeting ground for Satanic ritual abuse.
It all began in March 2016, when the personal email account of John Podesta, Clinton's campaign manager, was hacked.
WikiLeaks published the emails later that year. Conspiracy theorists claimed the emails contained coded messages that alluded to human trafficking and a child sex ring.
The emails included multiple references to pizza and pizza restaurants, but there is no evidence that they are “code” or refer to anything else.
Had the claims been true, they would have implicated a number of high-ranking Democratic Party officials.