A heavily armed man is curled up in a closet. “Me, waiting to be sent to Hollywood in a Wayfair closet, to knock out the pedophile stars who will open it”, comments on the associated text.

Many internet users accuse the online site Wayfair of selling children to the elite, under the guise of industrial cabinets at prices deemed suspect.

The reference slipped into this image posted on Twitter may seem cryptic. But, for hundreds of thousands of Internet users, it clearly refers to a supposed child trafficking organized by an American e-commerce site specializing in furniture, Wayfair. A traffic that would benefit the powerful in America.

Exorbitantly priced at missing children’s files

It all begins around July 9 with the discovery of cabinets for sale on Wayfair at seemingly delusional prices – thousands of dollars for furniture or decorative accessories of great banality.

Apprentice investigators, intrigued by these prices, type the reference numbers of these products on the search engine Yandex – leader in Russia, 5e in the world -, the moderation of which is not considered very meticulous. They associate this search with the terms “src usa”, suspected for a few weeks on Reddit and YouTube to be a code used by pedophile criminals on the Internet. However, upon this request, the Russian search engine returns photos of very young girls, some of them in suggestive poses.

For them, it is an indication that Wayfair customers are not only buying a wardrobe, but also children. A vast collaborative online “survey” is starting. Other internet users then cross the names of this furniture (Marion, Daniel, Cassandra, etc.) with the files of missing children, and some coincide. Thus was born the “Wayfairgate”, as its followers call it.

The “Wayfairgate” takes up the conspiratorial way of thinking: to look for coincidences between a priori unrelated elements, like furnishing products and reports of missing children.

“No basis for these allegations”

The “Wayfairgate” is spreading like wildfire on Twitter, Reddit, and the young social network TikTok, where the keyword has been seen more than 40 million times. In the process, he reached the banks of the French-speaking Internet, whether on the conspiracy account Radio-Québec or the Jeuxvideo.com forum. The scale of the rumor forced the sign to publicly challenge:

“There is obviously no basis for these allegations. The products in question are industrial quality cabinets at a fair price. We recognize that the photos and descriptions offered by the supplier did not adequately explain the high price level, and therefore have temporarily removed these products from the site (…). »

The QAnon conspiracy nebula at work

Explanations that did not convince QAnon, an informal network of hundreds of thousands of Internet users convinced that an anonymous White House employee, nicknamed “Q”, and secretly helped by Donald Trump, fights from the inside against pedosatanic network involving the heart of Hollywood and the Democratic Party. QAnon was instrumental in spreading Wayfairgate.

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“The QAnonsphère is a sponge to conspiracy, details Tristan Mendès France, associate lecturer at the University of Paris, specializing in digital cultures. Any plot which goes in the direction of their ideological base, which is ultratraditionalist, of extreme right, a little supremacist on the edges, they adopt it. They are now scouring the web for inconsistencies, anywhere, series of numbers or letters. “

They thus forged links between Wayfair and George Soros, billionaire who obsesses QAnon. From a simple patterned cushion, the names of Bill Gates, Bill Clinton or John Podesta, often cited in the English-speaking complosphere, have also been linked to the rumor. As was that of Tom Hanks, for to have posted in 2016, the photo of a glove fallen next to the famous letters “src usa”, on the tar.

The QAnonsphère quickly redirected this story of shady cupboards and cushions towards its favorite theme: a cabalistic plot involving the democratic elites.

“QAnon followers are conditioned to think that powerful people do their wrongdoing in public, using a complex network of symbols, codes, keys and images that only other powerful people understood – until let Q help them to decipher the code “, reconstitue Mike Rothschild, author of a study on wacky conspiracy theories, The World’s Worst Conspiracies (Whereas the 2020 are not taught).

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An investigation polluted by biases and fakes

So much evidence, they think, even if it means falling into an error of reasoning that Gérald Bronner calls, in Democracy of the Gullible (PUF, 2013), la “Neglect of sample size”. In this case, these isolated coincidences are very insignificant when compared to the astronomical quantities studied: 460,000 reports missing children occur every year in the United States, and no less than 18 million different commercial products are listed on Wayfair.

Online discussions are also done on the basis of information. Like an advertisement falsely attributed to Wayfair, but in reality tour in 2018 for FedEx ; the unfounded rumor of resignation the CEO of the company; or the alleged links between Ghislaine Maxwell, the confidante of the child sex billionaire Jeffrey Epstein, and a man presented – wrongly – like the director of operators of Wayfair.

The specter of “Pizzagate”

So many reasons why this conspiracy theory leaves experts doubtful. Tristan Mendès France thus evokes a “Delusional flurry”. The American verification site Snopes judges the idea itself “Absurd” :

“Would a large company really use its official website to allow people to buy children online? “

Cautiously, the Internet Watch Foundation (IWF), which combats child pornography content online, explains to World do not have “Saw no evidence” of this supposed criminal network.

Mr. Mendès France recalls the case of the “Pizzagate” poisoning. In 2016, a conspiratorial rumor accusing a Washington pizzeria of hosting pedophile orgies for elected Democrats had led a user to barge in, armed with an assault rifle. “With Wayfairgate, we have a real phenomenon of unhealthy crowds. The concern is about the volume. We are not immune to this kind of slippage ”, warns the expert of online communities.

Illegal content on Yandex

However, beyond the excesses on Wayfair, these theories point to a very real problem: the Russian search engine Yandex returns in its results to illegal content, more than Google or DuckDuckGo, more attentive to the question. From the search “src usa”, The world was able to fall in a few clicks on photos of minors, certainly dressed, but associated with child pornography keywords. These have since been deleted.

“It seems to be the result of something called Google bombing, a problem that affects all search engines from time to time, and what we have been fighting against for a long time “, explain to World the Russian company, which has since cleaned up. The IWF confirms that “src usa” is not one of the pedophile codes that the foundation identified and stalking. In other words, by clicking on the content deemed suspicious, the amateur investigators of Wayfairgate would have conditioned Yandex to send them images of young girls, says the Russian engine.

The results for

However, this does not explain either the presence of pedophile keywords, or that in free access of ambiguous content, even openly child pornography, associated with similar research. This time, QAnon may not be for nothing. In January 2020, experts were already alerting on the proliferation of illegal sexual content on the Russian search engine.