Cecilia Kang and Sheera Frenkel
WASHINGTON — Four minutes into a video that was posted on Instagram last month, Justin Bieber leaned in to the camera and adjusted the front of his black knit beanie. For some of his 130 million followers, it was a signal.
In the video, someone had posted a comment asking Bieber to touch his hat if he had been a victim of a child-trafficking ring known as PizzaGate. Thousands of comments were flooding in, and there was no evidence that Bieber had seen that message. But the pop star’s innocuous gesture set off a flurry of online activity, which highlighted the resurgence of one of social media’s early conspiracy theories.
Viewers quickly uploaded hundreds of videos online analyzing Bieber’s action. The videos were translated into Spanish, Portuguese and other languages, amassing millions of views. Fans then left thousands of comments on Bieber’s social media posts asking him if he was safe. Within days, searches for “Justin and PizzaGate” soared on Google, and the hashtag #savebieber started trending.