Earlier this week, a video of a Hasbro doll of Poppy, Anna Kendrick’s character from the children’s movie Trolls World Tour, started going viral. The video showed a woman examining the doll and pointing out a voice-activation button located on the doll’s crotch. “Stuff has been going on in the world about sex trafficking in kids and things that are thrown in our kids’ faces to groom them,” the woman says, saying she found something about the doll “disturbing.” She then points out a motion-activated sensor on the doll’s crotch, detailing how it made giggling, “gasping” sounds when you push it.
The claim was partially debunked by Facebook after it went viral, with independent fact-checkers labeling it as “partly false” — the button between its legs wasn’t actually a button, but a sensor that was intended to be activated when the doll sat down. Yet the video proliferated across the internet, prompting the creation of a Change.org petition from mom Jessica McManis, demanding Hasbro remove the doll from its shelves. “What will this toy make our innocent, impressionable children think? That it’s fun when someone touches your private area? That pedophilia and child molestation are OK?,” the petition reads. The petition garnered nearly 250,000 signatures and ultimately prompted Hasbro to pull the doll from shelves.
“This feature was designed to react when the doll was seated, but we recognize the placement of the sensor may be perceived as inappropriate,” Hasbro SVP of Global Communications Julie Duffy says in a statement to Rolling Stone. “This was not intentional and we are happy to provide consumers with a replacement Poppy doll of similar value through our Consumer Care team. We are in the process of removing the item for purchase.”
The story of the Trolls 2 doll being removed from shelves was covered by mainstream publications across the country, from the Associated Press to Huffington Post. What few of these stories noted was that the campaign to remove the doll actually took root among conspiracy theorists, including QAnon and Pizzagate believers, who have co-opted the anti-trafficking cause to promote the theory that a cabal of pedophiles is running a massive child sex trafficking ring.
The video was initially uploaded by Jamie Cornaby, a mother from Utah, earlier this week. But it didn’t go viral until it was reposted by @redpillbabe, an Instagram influencer with 116,000 followers who has the QAnon phrase #WW1WGA (“where we go one, we go all”) in her bio. “In what morphed dimension of the simulation IS THIS OK?,” she wrote in the caption accompanied by the hashtags #pizzagateisreal, #billclintonisapedo, #whatisQ, and #wayfairgate. The video has received 1,493,466 views on her account alone.
The Change.org petition created by McManis includes the hashtag #SaveTheChildren, which has as of late been heavily used by conspiracy theorists of all stripes, but especially QAnon and Pizzagate proponents. “#SaveTheChildren is basically QAnon reskinned for Instagram activism,” says Travis View, cohost of the QAnon Anonymous podcast, who recently attended a #SaveTheChildren march in Hollywood and saw countless signs referencing QAnon and Pizzagate. “It’s more activism-focused and downplays the whole ‘secret codes’ element of those conspiracy theories in favor of a more palatable but vague protest against child abuse and human trafficking.”
On her Facebook profile, McManis frequently uses the hashtags #PizzaGate and #PedoGate, with a recent post containing a link to the QAnon documentary The Fall of the Cabal. McManis did not respond to requests for comment at press time.
Some on the fringe took the conspiracy theory even further, such as former Utah Senate candidate Sam Parker. “The doll’s hair & skirt resemble the Trans & Minor-Attracted Person Flags, respectively. Then there’s the Rainbow packaging (#LGBTQ). Between this, the button’s location & sounds, & the lack of info about it on the packaging, it’s hard to call any of this a coincidence,” he cryptically tweeted, in a thread that racked up more than a million impressions. (While the trans flag is very much real, a “minor-attracted person flag” is nothing more than a far-right dog whistle.)
Although child sexual abuse and child trafficking are real and serious issues, the cause has been coopted by QAnon and Pizzagate conspiracy theorists, whose beliefs are predicated on the idea that a cabal of powerful elites is engaging in a massive child trafficking ring. “The Q movement in general is shot through with hysteria over rescuing imaginary children from the horrors of trafficking and pedophilia” says Mike Rothschild, writer of the book The World’s Worst Conspiracies. “[Obviously], pedophilia and sex trafficking are real and horrible and nobody wants those things to happen. But there is no evidence of organized trafficking rings, pedophilic ‘symbols’ being used by such people, or that Q has contributed to the ‘saving’ of any children.”
The mainstreaming of campaigns like #SaveTheChildren and QAnon and Pizzagate could cause real issues for anti-child trafficking advocates, Nola Brantley, the former director of anti-child trafficking organization MISSEY, recently told MEL Magazine. “Can a trend like this cause issues for people that are doing real work, who need funding and support, who now see problems because that funding and support is getting divided and spent on people who aren’t even doing real work on the issue? Yeah, I do think that could be problematic for legitimate organizations, especially if these new accounts end up getting more reach online,” she said.
The viral nature of the Trolls 2 story, and Hasbro’s rapid response to it, underscores how quickly conspiracy theorists’ ideas can permeate the mainstream. Within a few days, a belief that originated on the fringes — that a toy company was promoting child grooming and pedophilia — had resulted in removal of the doll from shelves and coverage by mainstream news organizations.
This response was widely celebrated among conspiracy theorists, such as QAnon influencer Liz Crokin, who posted a link to a mainstream news story about the controversy yesterday. “This is why Q says We Are The News now,” she wrote. “We have the power to stop the sexual exploitation & pedophile grooming of our children. Even with the Fake News & Big Tech censorship, we cannot be stopped. There’s too many of us who are awake — keep fighting patriots! God Wins!”