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Misinformation about Human Trafficking and Sexual Exploitation on Viral Teen App

Posted: December 20, 2022

In an increasingly digital age, social media is unmatched in its ability to spread information. Particularly, it can be used as an effective tool in raising human trafficking awareness. However, human trafficking and commercial sexual exploitation are often misunderstood issues that are propagated and sensationalized, especially across social media platforms. Social media feeds can quickly fill up with stories of traffickers snatching children off the street, putting them in shipping crates, or auctioning them online. This spread of misinformation can impair the significant efforts made by advocates, organizations, and legal experts who tirelessly work to combat commercial sexual exploitation and human trafficking.

Recently, false claims of human trafficking and commercial sexual exploitation have plagued social media startups, including Gas App. Gas is a polling platform that allows users to vote anonymously on preset compliments to send to mutual friends. This means that the app lists one of your friends names and a list of compliments which you may choose to select from. Nikita Bier co-founded Gas with Isaiah Turner and David Schatz. They launched the app on August 29, 2022 and quickly became a success. The app was ranked No. 1 in the U.S. App store by October 11, 2022. As the app continued to grow, misinformation quickly spread with it. Specifically, rumors regarding the app’s supposed link to human trafficking started to emerge. Although Gas has never been linked to any form of human trafficking and the structure of the app makes it nearly impossible, the rumors were and still are pervasive. Police Departments, Local TV news, and school districts have all taken a role in spreading this false narrative. Notably, the Piedmont, Oklahoma, police department issued a statement warning parents about Gas App and its potential links to human trafficking. The department later recanted its statement.

In today’s media climate, panic rapidly spreads. According to several Gas users who spoke to the Washington Post, they did not even consider fact-checking the rumors before spreading them further on the internet. This is reflective of how quickly false information is spread online. In a recent 2018 study from MIT, researchers found that false information spreads faster than true stories. In fact, it takes true stories six times as long to reach 1,500 people as it does for false stories to reach the same number.

The CSE Institute encourages people to think critically about information they read on social media platforms, especially regarding human trafficking and commercial sexual exploitation. It is imperative that individuals conduct their own research and examine trustworthy sources before sharing information on social media. This can help to prevent the spread of misinformation. Individuals looking to conduct their own research are encouraged to begin by looking at the creator of the content they are viewing. By doing so, they can determine if they are associated with a legitimate organization or have knowledge of or a background in human trafficking or commercial sexual exploitation prevention. The CSE Institute suggests looking at The CSE Institute website for information regarding commercial sexual exploitation and trafficking, as well as Equal Not Exploited, and World Without Exploitation as a starting point. Most importantly, we can all learn the most from listening to survivors. Survivors’ voices should lead the conversation surrounding trafficking and commercial sexual exploitation.

The CSE Institute shares this critical information in an ongoing effort to debunk the many myths generated by conspiracy theorists surrounding human trafficking, sexual exploitation, and sexual violence, as seen in this Gas App case.

All views expressed herein are personal to the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Villanova University Charles Widger School of Law or of Villanova University. 

Category: News

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