Last week, social media platforms from Reddit to Twitter moved to ban the use of the word “groomer” on their platforms if used to target the LGBTQ+ community at large or LGBTQ+ individuals on the basis of their sexual orientation or gender identity. This new policy comes in the aftermath of a proliferation of artifacts implying that LGBTQ+ individuals sexually groom children even when evidence is lacking. The oft-used “ok, groomer” phrase was initially pushed on imageboard website 4chan with the stated aim of making LGBTQ+ people “come out” as pedophiles and has dangerously evolved to vilify the community more broadly. This narrative has been interwoven with other disinformation that purports a widespread phenomenon of children being groomed in schools through the sexual education curriculum. False accusations have led to doxxing and threats directed at school officials who have been baselessly labeled as groomers. As school board meetings throughout the United States have taken on the subject of the appropriate scope, time, and place of comprehensive sexual education — if any —, defamatory disinformation targeting identity-based groups has become widespread.
As part of its mission in understanding the human trafficking mis-, dis-, and malinformation landscape, Limbik has been evaluating two intricately linked MDM narratives. The “LGBTQ+ Pedophilia” narrative purports that the LGBTQ+ community promotes pedophilia and endangers children while the “Sex Ed” narrative claims that sexual education in public school is an attempt at grooming children. These narratives, sometimes underpinned by a genuine concern about children, do not acknowledge that sex education can actually make children less vulnerable to grooming practices. Furthermore, these narratives have been muddled within the larger QAnon conspiracy theory that views left-wing gender ideology and comprehensive sexual education as essential facilitating tools for the global child sex trafficking ring supposedly operated by “the cabal”.
Potential for Impact
The Potential for Impact (PFI) of “Sex Ed” and “LGBTQ+ Pedophilia” was evaluated weekly by Limbik from July 2021 to July 2022. As a reminder, PFI is a predictive metric and, in this case, assesses how these two narratives will resonate with the U.S. adult population.
The average PFI, high narrative PFI, and low narrative PFI lines all refer to other human trafficking related 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 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 PFI of both “Sex Ed” and “LGBTQ+ Pedophilia” have consistently recorded above-average PFIs, demonstrating their increased disposition for resonating with the American public.
For example, in March and April, “LGBTQ+ Pedophilia” recorded the highest PFI of all trafficking-related MDM narratives evaluated by Limbik. The high PFI can be attributed to the discussions around the Florida Parental Rights in Education Act that passed the Florida Senate on the 8th of March. Labeled by critics as anti-LGBTQ+, the passing of the legislation increased chatter online about the purported intersection between the LGBTQ+ community, sex education, and grooming.
Source(s): Telegram, Twitter
Although artifacts contained within these narratives primarily originated in the United States, Foreign Influence of both “Sex Ed” and “LGBTQ+ Pedophilia” gradually increased between July 2021 and July 2022. Both narratives’ foreign post volume was globally distributed and did not have a predominant region of origin. Of note, however, Russian state-affiliated media like Russia Today and Sputnik have increasingly propagated these narratives — explicitly and implicitly — with the awareness of how polarizing the issues of sexual education and LGBTQ+ rights in the United States have become.
Source(s): Russia Today
As the “Sex Ed” and “LGBTQ+ Pedophilia” narratives continue to be propagated on Twitter and other platforms by conservative pundits and as schoolboards take it upon themselves to settle matters related to sexual education, the resonance of these narratives among U.S. adults shows little signs of abating. As the Midterm elections in November 2022 approach, these two interwoven narratives will likely prove to be highly consequential and fractious issues across the U.S. political landscape - with more polarizing candidates stoking already-volatile talking points related to these narratives in order to further galvanize their bases and exacerbate political fault lines with their opponents.