There is an important difference, however. The pizzagate-style rumors in 2016 were largely confined to far-right message boards like 4chan and parts of Reddit. But the Hunter Biden iteration of the same conspiracy theory took off last weekend with the help of speculation from conservative TV hosts and members of Congress. Their theorizing can be traced back to a new website that has been promoted by President Donald Trump and his surrogates.
The path of the conspiracy theory highlights how once-obscure and fringe claims are now able to reach mainstream conservative media and even elected officials in the run-up to the 2020 election.
The disinformation campaign appears to have been successful in its goal of generating a smear against the former vice president’s son. According to Google Trends, “human trafficking” is now the third-most common related search term for “Hunter Biden” in the last year, after “laptop” and “New York Post,” which point to search interest around the unconfirmed allegations that a laptop belonging to Hunter Biden contained evidence of crimes.