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Storytelling is one of the most powerful tools we can use to bring greater clarity and awareness to the issue of human trafficking. News stories, accounts from survivors, and TV and film all play a role in the understanding of trafficking as a business. Hearing a story about an individual can evoke empathy and understanding surrounding a situation. But it is important that we recognise that sensationalism is a risk that comes with propagating information about an often misunderstood issue. 

 

While a greater volume of stories in the mainstream media about trafficking can bring increased awareness and engagement to the cause, they can also be harmful to the very people they serve to protect – as sensationalist narrative and click-bait headlines work to actively spread misinformation. 

As we move further into the digital age, news stories have been commercialised as people find newer and quicker ways to digest information. There is an endless library of information, and inaccuracy, available at our fingertips.  

 

The Wayfair conspiracy is an example of unreliable sources and the hunger for dramatic headlines. A wildfire of misinformation sparked in June of this year when bizarre claims were made, suggesting that furniture brand Wayfair’s cabinets were being used for transporting trafficked children, as well as linking the names of the products to those of missing US children. The rumour started on Twitter and quickly seeped into other forms of social media such as TikTok and Reddit. Millions of individuals worldwide engaged with the fabricated theory, calling out the company and pledging to boycott it. 

 

The problem is that this style of sensationalist storytelling overpowers legitimate accounts of trafficking, spreading misinformation and undermining the real experiences of survivors.  When fabricated stories about kidnapping or the sexual exploitation of children take centre stage, the full range of ways in which individuals are trafficked can be overlooked – and those in more covert trafficking situations may not be able to recognise they are being exploited.

 

It is a difficult balance. Bringing visibility to such a widespread issue is a powerful tool that should not be taken for granted. Educating people via the circulation of accurate information is a key way of preventing trafficking from becoming a reality, as well as bringing an extended readership to the news. 

 

How to stop the sensationalist sharing of trafficking-related stories:

  1. Look for news articles from reputable sources: ask yourself if the story is likely to be rumour, or hearsay. 
  2. Before you share a story on social media, find out if it comes from a legitimate source, and if it is written in a way that is fair and respectful to those who have experienced exploitation. 
  3. Find out about the varied signs and causes of human trafficking, and learn how to report it in your area 
  4. Trust your instincts and report an incident if you feel as though there might be a risk of human trafficking. But try to only contact a human trafficking organisation if you think the account is likely to be true. Be mindful that organisations are often working with limited resources. (Polaris say that a barrage of conspiracy-related reports from people with no direct knowledge of trafficking situations can overwhelm services meant for victims.)

 

At STOP THE TRAFFIK, we use targeted social media campaigns to provide legitimate information and help signpost individuals to relevant support and information. By learning how to #SpotTheSigns, you can effectively work to mitigate risk of trafficking happening in your community.

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