Leading global youth charity, Save The Children, was this week forced to distance itself from a conversation about child trafficking that's currently surging on social media.
"We have been protecting children around the world for over 100 years," the not-for-profit tweeted on Monday.
"While many people may choose to use our organisation’s name as a hashtag to make their point on different issues, we are not affiliated or associated with any of these campaigns."
We have been protecting children around the world for over 100 years.— Save the Children US (@SavetheChildren) August 9, 2020
While many people may choose to use our organization’s name as a hashtag to make their point on different issues, we are not affiliated or associated with any of these campaigns. https://t.co/QDDGLvjDw9
In recent months, #savethechildren has been co-opted by conspiracy theorists who have circulated false claims and misleading data about the scale and root cause of the issue.
There are claims that 800,000 American children are vanishing each year, and that major brands and prominent public figures are driving or participating in child-trafficking rings. (We'll come back to all these claims below.)
Posts on these subjects are being widely circulated on social media, and in some cases have been seeded into parent-focused groups where they've found a particularly engaged audience.
The hashtag #savethechildren has been used more than 600,000 times on Instagram alone. On Facebook, it's become so bloated with misinformation that, last Wednesday, the platform temporarily blocked it for serving "low-quality content". It was restored 24 hours later, but the kibosh on the topic incensed its users and resulted in the hashtag trending on Twitter within a matter of days.
Let's take a look at what #savethechildren has become.
Where #savethechildren started.
What's made many of these posts so successful is that they are rooted in truth. A horrible truth.
Child trafficking is a huge, pressing global issue. While it's impossible to know the precise scale of the problem worldwide, UNICEF points to a 2002 estimate that 1.2 million children are trafficked annually.
The overwhelming majority of people using #savethechildren are almost certainly doing so with good intent. And no doubt many are unaware that the information they are parroting has murky roots.