Prominent conspiracy theorists — including Gen. Michael Flynn — are promoting an unfounded theory that pedophiles have been using Etsy to distribute child porn, sold under the guise of wildly expensive digital downloads of images of pizza.
This new conspiracy theory has emerged from the fecund muck of QAnon and Pizzagate — both of which hold that the world is run by an unaccountable cabal of satanic child sex traffickers, and both of which thrive on decoding of supposed secret messages. The fixation with pizza among conspiracy adherents stems from the belief that “cheese pizza” is predator code for child pornograpy or that pizza, generally, can be a veiled reference to pedophilia.
Early this week, cybersleuths in Q-friendly corners of X (formerly Twitter) began highlighting strange listings on Etsy, the e-commerce platform for arts and crafts. These vendors purported to sell digital downloads of images of pizza — some of them marketed with images of hungry children — for exorbitant prices, running thousands of dollars.
Amateur investigators pointed to odd Etsy shops, including YummyYumPizza, which was offering an encrypted “Pizza file” for $4,000. Another seller offered a similar “Pizza Image” for $9,000. One sleuth posted a screenshot of an offering for a “cheese PIZZA picture” at $3,000 writing, “Damn @etsy has CP for sale. Instant encrypted downloads.”
These shops are no longer active on the site. An Etsy spokesperson reached by Rolling Stone on Wednesday characterized the claims of illegal image sales as “completely baseless.” The platform has been removing such pizza listings, the spokesperson added, not because the company has uncovered risks to child safety, but because they violate other platform policies — including unreasonably inflated pricing.
The fever swamps, however, are not easily deterred. Alarm over the pizza pics soon filtered up to a verified X user named Liz Crokin, a prominent QAnon influencer with 280,000 followers, and whose bio includes the declaration “Pizzagate is real.”
Crokin published an extended post under the title, “IS CHILD TRAFFICKING TAKING PLACE ON ETSY?” Pointing to screenshots of digital pizza vendors, Crokin wrote: “There are a lot of suspicious listings … that have people wondering if child porn or children are for sale for sex on the e-commerce site.” (Crokin’s missive also indicated she also had an ax to grind with Etsy, alleging the platform had removed her “Child Lives Matter” merchandise from the site.)
Tonkin tagged the Q-aligned Gen. Michael Flynn in the post. The Trump-pardoned Flynn soon retweeted it to his 1.4 million followers, highlighting a quote from Crokin’s writing in his own tweet: “Hey @Etsy — I would like an explanation for these suspicious posts, and I still would like an explanation for why I’m not allowed to sell ‘Child Lives Matter’ products while you approve products that promote Satan!”
“Hey @Etsy — I would like an explanation for these suspicious posts, and I still would like an explanation for why I’m not allowed to sell “Child Lives Matter” products while you approve products that promote Satan!”@NiQole1776 @Amerifuture https://t.co/A0xBbxIa6A
— General Mike Flynn (@GenFlynn) December 12, 2023
With Flynn’s amplification, the baseless theory reached a broader right-wing orbit. On Tuesday, Alex Jones’ InfoWars published a post with the banner headline reading: “Etsy Accused of Facilitating Child Pornography Ring Via Sales of Expensive ‘Pizza’ JPEG Files, Gen. Mike Flynn Raises Alarm Over ‘Suspicious Posts.’”
Like any platform, Etsy is open to misuse by unscrupulous sellers, including folks trying to make a quick buck or get a rise out of the general public. The pricing of digital downloads, moreover, remains a wild west of internet capitalism — as any owner of an NFT can attest.
What to make of the overpriced pizza pics? Posters chewing over the Etsy matter on the r/Conspiracy subreddit were not convinced the sellers actually hoped to profit from disturbing images of children. Alternative explanations floated by the crowd included trolling the Pizzagate community, scamming pedos for cash by delivering only actual images of pizza, money laundering, or some kind of trap for perverts. One Redditor joked: “Chris Hansen’s new Netflix series is filming.”
Unmistakably, this new pizza-based-child-abuse conspiracy theory has jumped to the fore in the days after the world’s richest man breathed life back into the largely-dormant Pizzagate conspiracy. With just a pair of tweets on the platform he owns, Elon Musk generated a tidal wave of traffic about the conspiracy on X, and a similar surge in search for the theory on Google.
Pizzagate — which baselessly alleged that high-level Democrats were trafficking kids out of the basement of a Washington, D.C., pizzeria called Comet Ping Pong — was long ago debunked. Yet it has been resurrected like some kind of conspiratorial zombie. The Etsy panic, too, reads like a retread of a similar, baseless theory from 2020 that the home decor company Wayfair was being misused to facilitate child trafficking. The similarity was first noted by Media Matters, which underscored that that conspiracy theory had even prompted an investigation from the Department of Homeland Security, which found no evidence to support it. (In the digital equivalent of closing the barn door after the horse has bolted, X has now suspended a chief promoter of the Etsy conspiracy — user @niqole1776.)
Today, as jumpy conspiracy theorists continue to spook themselves with boogeymen of their own creation, the gears of questionable commerce continue to grind. Consider the Etsy seller trying to make a quick bag by offering a lonesome buyer a “virtual hug.” Seller LoveisRad is offering the digital squeeze for the low, low price of just $44,444.44.