Updated: Oct 13
Human trafficking mis-, dis-, and malinformation (MDM) has increasingly muddled the information landscape with disastrous effects on the phenomenon itself: Non-governmental organizations committed to helping victims and survivors of human trafficking receive a barrage of conspiracy-driven reports of purported cases of human trafficking, weighing on their capabilities to discern real cases from coordinated campaigns by QAnon supporters and other nefarious actors. Simultaneously, government efforts seeking to prevent or disrupt human trafficking in an environment rife with human trafficking MDM, have lead to misguided and counterproductive legislation.
One persistent human trafficking narrative Limbik has evaluated relates to the “Border Crisis”. This narrative specifically purports that Democrats are intentionally facilitating human trafficking at the U.S.-Mexico border. The “Border Crisis” narrative has garnered popularity as the QAnon conspiracy has increasingly gone mainstream among U.S. adults. The Soufan Center defines the QAnon conspiracy as “a right-wing conspiratorial movement that blends, creates, alters, and co-opts ‘theories’ to fit an evolving narrative underpinned by the core notion that the ‘Deep State,’ led by a cabal of elitist pedophiles, is actively working to usurp President Donald Trump.” This elite group of pedophiles is supposedly composed of members of the Democratic Party, Hollywood celebrities, and other “elites” who operate a global child sex trafficking ring which former President Donald Trump seeks to dismantle. According to Limbik’s Believability survey, currently 19.4% of U.S. adults agree with the following statement: “I consider myself a QAnon member, believer, or supporter.”
Potential for Impact
The Potential for Impact (PFI) of “Border Crisis” has oscillated in the June 2021 to June 2022 monitoring period. PFI is a predictive metric and, in this case, assesses how “Border crisis” will resonate with the U.S. adult population.
The average PFI, high theme PFI, and low theme PFI lines all refer to other human trafficking MDM narratives Limbik is evaluating.
If the PFI for a particular narrative is greater than 100, this means the narrative has an increased likelihood of resonating with the U.S. adult population (and therefore poses a higher risk). If the PFI for a particular narrative is less than 100, the narrative has a lower likelihood of resonating with the U.S. adult population (and therefore poses a manageable risk).
The “Border Crisis” narrative has generally recorded a PFI above the average PFI across all evaluated human trafficking MDM narratives. Moreover, it has recorded a PFI greater than 100 multiple times, indicating a high likelihood of resonating with the U.S. adult population and thus increasing the likelihood of harm, both on- and offline.
For example, in August of 2021, “Border Crisis” recorded a PFI of 118.9, its highest to date. This elevated PFI came in the aftermath of the American withdrawal of Afghanistan, with many QAnon accounts co-opting the remarkable nature of Afghanistan-related content to propagate their conspiracy.
Source(s): Facebook, Twitter
To understand whether the “Border Crisis” narrative is propagated by actors outside the United States, Limbik evaluated the extent of Foreign Influence, i.e., the percentage of artifacts purporting this narrative that can be attributed to known or likely foreign posters in the June 2021 to June 2022 monitoring period. Foreign Influence for the “Border Crisis” narrative has remained relatively low but increased over the span of a year. The majority of artifacts coming from outside the U.S. originated from the United Kingdom and Canada. Although “Border Crisis” has primarily been contained to the West, the QAnon conspiracy movement more broadly has gone global, seemingly finding support wherever health and political crises hit hardest or where societal polarization is rampant.
In February 2021, a joint report by Limbik, Polaris, and The Soufan Group found that violent anti-government groups, white supremacists, and neo-Nazis have strategically leveraged human trafficking MDM to recruit members and radicalize followers. Another report on QAnon jointly published by The Soufan Center and Limbik established that the radicalization process of many QAnon adherents might lead to the condonement, or even perpetuation, of acts of violence and terrorism in the name of protecting children and women. The intricate links between “Border Crisis” and the QAnon conspiracy will likely see a continued high Potential for Impact for this narrative and, in light of its propensity to lead to offline violence and harm such as vigilantism, necessitate continued monitoring and evaluation.