Pizza and cheese emojis are reportedly being used by paedophiles on Instagram to find, sell and trade images of child abuse.
Some online activists and groups fear that the debunked “pizzagate” conspiracy theory which emerged in 2016, may have inspired online abusers to adopt pizza and cheese emojis online as a secret signal to other paedophiles.
The “pizzagate” theory falsely claimed that leaked emails from presidential candidate Hillary Clinton contained coded messages connecting several high-ranking Democratic Party officials and U.S eateries with a child sex and human trafficking ring.
One of the allegedly involved establishments was the Comet Ping Pong pizzeria in Washington, D.C. - hence the title “pizzagate”.
India, who runs anti-child abuse Instagram page PD_Protect told The Metro newspaper that she’s now seen “thousands” of suspected paedophile accounts using pizza and cheese emojis - or references to them - as a way of flagging their interest in images of child abuse.
She told The Metro: “I have seen thousands of accounts with these emojis, they come up all the time. Often the word pizza will be within their username, their bio will be full of pizza emojis, or “I love cheese pizza”, but their picture will be of a child.
“They don’t necessarily share illicit things on their accounts, but they link elsewhere, or they post screenshots of filing systems and invite people to direct message them.
I’ve just sent a list of over 2,000 accounts to Instagram, not all of them pizza related, but with a fair number of them on there. They removed every single one in six plus days”.
While India doesn’t necessarily believe the references are linked to the 2016 “pizzagate” conspiracy theory, the words “cheese pizza” have been theorised to be code for “child pornography” before.
Some of the suspected paedophile accounts are reportedly describing themselves as CP “traders” or “sellers”, providing Telegram or Facebook links in their Instagram bios.
India told The Metro:
“There are different types of accounts, some are very obvious, some post under the guise of sharing pictures of “the most beautiful children”, and then there are ones directing you elsewhere and “trading”.
“I just want to spread awareness of what is happening. It has nothing to do with Pizzagate, it’s purely what I’ve seen. If you come across 150,000 accounts doing the same thing you pick up on a pattern”.
If you come across an account you suspect of participating in this activity, or come across images of child abuse, Instagram has a guide to reporting these accounts here.