Pizzagate Conspiracy and Shooting

This is a ridiculous and completely true story that illustrates the dangers of the spread of fake news. Pizzagate is a conspiracy theory that gained virility during the 2016 United States election. In the fall of 2016, Hillary Clinton’s campaign manager, John Podesta, was hacked in a spear-phishing attack. His emails were made public by WikiLeaks and some viewers claimed that the emails contained coded messages that connected several United States restaurants to human trafficking.

On October 30th, 2016, a white supremacist Twitter account made a claim that the New York City Police Department discovered the existence of a pedophilia ring linked to members of the Democratic party. Later that fall, Hillary Clinton’s campaign manager, John Podesta, was hacked in a spear-phishing attack which allowed his emails to be made public over WikiLeaks. Some viewers speculated that the emails contained code words for pedophilia and human trafficking, identifying several restaurants across America as fronts for child-sex rings (Aisch, 2016). The conspiracy ran through message boards, 4chan and Reddit, and was spread by fake news sites and promoted by alt-right activists. Jonathan Albright, an assistant professor at Elon University said that a large number of Pizzagate tweets came from the Czech Repbulic, Cyprus, and Vietnam, and that some of the most frequent retweeters were bots (Fisher et al., 2016).

The online conspirators identified a Washington D.C. Pizzeria, Comet Ping Pong, as one of these speculated fronts. The restaurant’s owner, staff, patrons, and even the bands that performed were bombarded with threats and harassment over social media. The owner, James Alefantis, told New York Times that “From this insane, fabricated conspiracy theory, we’ve come under constant assault. I’ve done nothing for days but try to clean this up and protect my staff and friends from being terrorized” (Kang, 2016). Some of the other businesses in D.C. that received related harassment was Besta Pizza, Little Red Fox, the Bookstore Politics and Prose, and the French Bistro Terasol. However, allegations reached up to Brooklyn and as far as Texas and many faced harassment and death threats (Fisher et al., 2016).

This situation came to a peak when on December 4th, 2016, Edgar Maddison Welch walked into Comet Ping Pong pizzeria with an AR-15 rifle. He believed the conspiracies and decided to take action to “self-investigate” and rescue those who may be contained in the restaurant, effectively and heroically putting an end to this trafficking ring (Aisch, 2016). Welch didn’t seem to intend to harm anyone unless given proof of the allegations, as he allowed staff and customers, those including children, to escape the premise. He fired three shots, at a wall, desk, and a door, and fortunately, no one was injured in the situation (US v Welch, 2016). Welch surrendered to police officers and was arrested without incident.

Welch’s criminal allegation stated that “Welch appears to have been motivated, in part, by unfounded rumors concerning a child sex-trafficking ring that was being perpetrated by high-profile individuals at the Comet Ping Pong restaurant.” Furthermore, it explains that police found text messages in which Welch tried to recruit two friends to help him attack the restaurant. Two days before the shooting, Welch asks a friend referred to as “C” if they were “down for the cause.” Welch explains that his cause is “Raiding a pedo ring, possibly sacraficing [sic] the lives of a few for the lives of many. Standing up against a corrupt system that kidnaps, tortures and rapes babies and children in our own backyard… defending the next generation of kids, our kids, from ever having to experience this kind of evil themselves[.] I’m sorry bro, but I’m tired of turning the channel and hoping someone does something and being thankful it’s not my family. One day it will be our families. The world is too afraid to act and I’m too stubborn not to” (US v Welch, 2016). It’s clear that “Pizzagate” was a very real injustice to Welch; it wasn’t some spoofy joke on Reddit or unfounded idea conjured up by a 4chan user.

This story is a great example of the harm that misinformation can do. While the situation ended without anyone getting hurt, many people were harassed, doxed, and sent death threats, several businesses suffered from these unfounded claims, and a man was convinced enough to potentially kill before being sentenced to four years in prison.


Aisch, G., Huang, J., & Kang, C. (2016, December 10). Dissecting the #PizzaGate Conspiracy Theories. Retrieved from

Fisher, M., Cox, J. W., & Hermann, P. (2016, December 06). Pizzagate: From rumor, to hashtag, to gunfire in D.C. Retrieved from

Kang, C. (2016, November 21). Fake News Onslaught Targets Pizzeria as Nest of Child-Trafficking. Retrieved from

US v Welch Affidavit in Support of Criminal Complaint, Https:// (United States District Court for the District of Columbia December 12, 2016).

The Macedonian Fake News Scam

Throughout the campaigning leading up to the United States 2018 presidential election, misinformation and fake news took over news outlets and spawned a lot of issues. Anyone can write whatever nonsense they think will garner them a giggle or a like or get them blocked on Twitter, but why is there so much fake news and where does it come from? Well, a great deal of it came from a small town in Macedonia.

In Veles, dozens of teenagers from this small town construct their own news sites and publish false news stories focusing on the United States election. Several boys have come forward to talk about their experience with journalists under pseudonyms, The Wired focused a boy who called himself Boris. He was inspired by his friend’s successful health website that provided fake home remedies and so he founded several websites to fill with false and plagiarized articles on American politics. CNN interviewed a boy who went by Mikhail whose work was trafficked over social media. Mikhail claimed to make around $2,500 a day from the automated advertising engines on his websites whereas Boris garnered over $16,000 in his first four months.

Mikhail and Boris are just two of the many young “journalists” in Veles as the town was “the registered home of at least 100 pro-Trump websites, many of them filled with sensationalist, utterly fake news” (Subramanian, 2017). Mirko Ceselkoski has over ten years of experience in running websites directed toward American audiences, beginning from celebrities and muscle cars until he discovered the virality of fake news. He now works to coach students how to earn money through fake news sites, boasting that at least four of his students are millions, though the claims cannot be verified (Davey-Attlee, n.d.). These writers carefully chose topics that would attract the most views and many decided to focus on Pro-Trump stories, not because they cared about Trump’s policies, but because his name was sensationalized. Boris found that Bernie supporters were harder to fool without some sort of proof, so Boris decided to completely focus on a Pro-Trump audience as they had more Facebook groups and appeared to trust his stories more easily (Subramanian, 2017). These groups were more receptive to such subjects as Hillary Clinton’s imminent criminal indictment and as the pope’s approval of Trump.

Macedonia’s unemployment rate is about 24% and the average monthly salary is $371. Veles is a small town in the center of the country that slowly declined since Macedonia’s independence in 1991, the town also once boasted the title of the second most polluted town in Yugoslavia. Boris comments that “We can’t make money here with a real job,” such as skilled trade careers or factory jobs, “This Google AdSense work is not a real job.”  His first four months of his online work garnered over eleven times the amount of money that the average Macedonian citizen made, and many writers where earning more in one month than the average citizen would make in their lifetime. Boris chose to take on a dishonest job and while he doesn’t believe he had any part in the outcome of the election, as he was just repeating others’ thoughts on a random website, he can’t help but care about the results, stating that “some crazy man has won the election. Maybe the guy will start World War III” (Subramanian, 2017).

The Wired states “the election summoned forth the energies of countless alt-right websites in the US, which manufactured white-label falsehoods disguised as news on an industrial scale. Across the spectrum of right-wing media—from Trump’s own concise lies on Twitter to the organized prevarication of Breitbart News and—ideology beat back the truth” (Subramanian, 2017). Our society is easily persuaded by the internet as we aren’t educated enough to know how to identify valid sources and biases. We ourselves, as viewers, tend to be biased in how search for information, as we want sources to back up our ideas rather than tell us that we are wrong. That is the audience that Boris would aim for, supporting one’s thoughts with lies that feed and enforce their point of view. Boris’s stories are an example of why and how fake news is spread, but also the impact of this false information and how his content possibly even influenced some percentage of the election votes.


Davey-Attlee, F., & Soares, I. (n.d.). The fake news machine: Inside a town gearing up for 2020. Retrieved from

Subramanian, S. (2017, May 01). The Macedonian Teens Who Mastered Fake News. Retrieved from