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Samantha Putterman
By Samantha Putterman July 11, 2023

No, The Wall Street Journal didn’t confirm that ‘Pizzagate is real’

If Your Time is short

  • The Wall Street Journal didn’t confirm that the debunked Pizzagate conspiracy theory is real. The newspaper recently reported that Instagram allowed a network of accounts that commission and purchase underage-sex content to connect with one another and promote their content. Some of these accounts use emojis as code language, including an image for "cheese pizza."

  • One of The Wall Street Journal’s reporters dismissed the claims.

  • The Pizzagate conspiracy theory — which claims that former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and those around her, ran a child sex-trafficking ring in a Washington, D.C., pizzeria’s basement — remains baseless. 

Did The Wall Street Journal’s reporting prove that the widely discredited "Pizzagate" conspiracy theory is real?

Not even close. But that’s not what some social media users are claiming. 

"‘Pizzagate Is Real’: WSJ Uncovers Massive Pedophile Ring on Instagram Using ‘Pizza Code Words,’" reads a screenshot of a July 8 headline on Instagram. 

"WE WERE RIGHT AGAIN. A massive pedophile ring involving high-ranking officials has been uncovered on Instagram by Wall Street Journal reporters this week," says the post caption.

This post was flagged as part of Meta’s efforts to combat false news and misinformation on its News Feed. (Read more about our partnership with Meta, which owns Facebook and Instagram.) 

The headline comes from a June 9 story on a website called "The People’s Voice." The story author, Sean Adl-Tabatabai, has been linked to misinformation websites. 

The Wall Street Journal, along with researchers from Stanford University and the University of Massachusetts Amherst, investigated Instagram’s algorithm and reported June 7 that the platform allowed a network of accounts that commission and purchase underage-sex content to connect with one another and promote their content. The article details how the researchers and reporters found that Instagram let people search explicit hashtags and that certain emojis functioned as a kind of code language, including one for "cheese pizza" — a shorthand for child pornography.

Meta, which owns Facebook and Instagram, acknowledged problems within its enforcement operation and told the Journal that it was setting up an internal task force. Meta also said it has removed 27 pedophile networks over the last two years.

But just because some of the accounts were using a pizza emoji as code for pedophile activity doesn’t mean the Journal reporting is proof that the widely discredited Pizzagate conspiracy theory is real. And the post’s claim that the reporting showed that "high-ranking officials" were involved is inaccurate. 

To recap, the Pizzagate conspiracy theory emerged in October 2016 and falsely claimed that a Washington, D.C. pizzeria was a front for a basement child sex-trafficking ring run by former Democratic presidential nominee and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and her then-campaign manager, John Podesta.

Then and now, no evidence supports the idea that Clinton, or others around her, are sex-trafficking children. 

Jeff Horowitz, one of The Wall Street Journal reporters who wrote the June 7 story, tweeted to address claims that the article confirmed that Pizzagate is real. 

"My best understanding is QAnon actually popularized the idea of ‘cheese pizza’ as an extremely lazy in-group code, thereby launching it on social media," Horowitz tweeted June 8. "So congratulations: QAnon popularized an emoji that did, for a while, help lead people to actually bad stuff. Per talking to (former) Meta (employees), the reason the pizzagate term carried a warning label was that adherents of the conspiracy theory themselves posted illegal content."

PolitiFact reached out to the newspaper for comment but did not y hear back.

We rate the claim that Wall Street Journal reporting proves that "Pizzagate" is real Pants on Fire!

RELATED: How Pizzagate went from fake news to a real problem for a D.C. business 

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No, The Wall Street Journal didn’t confirm that ‘Pizzagate is real’

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