A conspiracy theory began circulating on social media in mid-July accusing the furniture retailer Wayfair of human trafficking through its website. The theory, which quickly went viral, claims that Wayfair is using high-priced items on its website as a front for trafficking children. The accusation is based solely on the prices and names of certain items, and there is no evidence to support the conspiracy theory.
At the time, Wayfair issued a statement about the conspiracy, writing in an email to Heavy, “There is, of course, no truth to these claims. The products in question are industrial grade cabinets that are accurately priced.”
The company went on to explain that the items were removed from the site: “Recognizing that the photos and descriptions provided by the supplier did not adequately explain the high price point, we have temporarily removed the products from site to rename them and to provide a more in-depth description and photos that accurately depict the product to clarify the price point.”
On July 20, Polaris, the organization responsible for the National Human Trafficking Hotline, issued a lengthy statement about the theory titled “Polaris Statement on Wayfair Sex Trafficking Claims.”
Here’s what you need to know:
Polaris Thanked Concerned Citizens for Reaching Out but Stated the Volume of Reports Received Has Caused Issues for the Hotline
The Polaris-operated National Human Trafficking Hotline has received several reports referencing child trafficking on Wayfair's site. Please read our statement on the impact of online posts of this nature on the Trafficking Hotline. https://t.co/090lnaNS3W
— Polaris (@Polaris_Project) July 21, 2020
The statement, which is available in full on the Polaris Project website, explains that the National Human Trafficking Hotline received hundreds of reports over the past few days concerning the online furniture retailer. The organization did not indicate exactly how many calls it received but said: “While Polaris treats all calls to the Trafficking Hotline seriously, the extreme volume of these contacts has made it more difficult for the Trafficking Hotline to provide support and attention to others who are in need of help.”
The Trafficking Hotline, Polaris explained, is not law enforcement. Although it collaborates with authorities as needed, its primary role is to connect “victims and survivors of sex and labor trafficking to services and supports that allow them to get help and stay safe.”
The organization wrote that all calls received are confidential but clarified that in the case of the Wayfair claims, “none of the reports we have received involving Wayfair contained any information beyond what has been widely shared online. Nor have any of these reports been made by someone who has a specific connection to any alleged missing children.”
Polaris thanked concerned citizens for reaching out and urged individuals to read more about what human trafficking typically looks like so they can best protect their community.
The Conspiracy Theory Originated on Reddit Before Going Viral on Twitter, Facebook & Instagram
The conspiracy theory appears to have originated in the /r/conspiracy subreddit, where a user pointed out that some cabinets listed on Wayfair’s site were seemingly overpriced — around $13,000 to $14,000 per cabinet — and this could be a front for human trafficking. Twitter users then posted side-by-side photos of the cabinets and news articles about what appeared to be missing children with the same names as the cabinets.
The fact-checking site Snopes pointed out that “while this may seem suspicious to those seeking a pattern, it should be noted that there were more than 400,000 entries for missing juveniles in the FBI’s National Crime Information Center in 2019.” It also shared that some of the cases of missing children referenced in the conspiracy theory have already been solved.