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How YouTube Bolstered Another Baseless Conspiracy Theory About Pedophile Rings

The ever-growing QAnon conspiracy theory got a big boost from YouTube this week.

Posted on July 30, 2018, at 6:13 p.m. ET

KGC-294 / Star Max / IPx

A baseless conspiracy theory once again shot to prominence on YouTube this week with top search results for “Tom Hanks” including several videos accusing the actor of being a pedophile.

Hanks is the latest target in the ever-growing QAnon conspiracy theory, which posits that powerful figures in government and in the entertainment industry are involved in an array of horrific crimes, including the ritualistic sex abuse of children. One of the YouTube videos about Hanks, which connects him to a “deep state” effort to undermine President Donald Trump, has been viewed more than 280,000 times in less than a week.

A search for Cemex, a Mexican construction company, also returned several results linking the company to pedophilia based on a discredited conspiracy theory about a “child sex camp” in Arizona.

The search results were first highlighted by NBC News reporter Ben Collins.

This is what happens when you search Tom Hanks on YouTube today. Last week, Qanon folks decided he was a pedophile. If you were to search YouTube today, you'd believe it.

In response, YouTube said it was continuing to develop tools to counter misinformation on the platform.

“We’re continuously working to better surface and promote news and authoritative sources to make the best possible information available to YouTube viewers,” a YouTube spokesperson told BuzzFeed News.

The spokesperson noted that YouTube has added prominent “breaking news” and “top news” sections on its website that show users content from reliable sources following major events. The company also started including links to Wikipedia articles on some conspiracy videos.

“This work is still in its early stages, but as these tools start to apply more widely across YouTube, we believe they will make authoritative content readily available and help address these types of results,” the spokesperson said.

YouTube has long been a main online hub for conspiracy theorists. One of the most prominent news channels on YouTube belongs to Alex Jones, the founder of the conspiracy site Infowars, who has claimed that 9/11 was an inside job and that the Sandy Hook school shooting didn’t happen. In February, a video falsely describing a Parkland, Florida, shooting survivor as an “actor” made it onto YouTube’s list of promoted trending videos.

Twitter / Via Twitter: @SaRaAshcraft

The claims about Tom Hanks can be traced back to a single Twitter user named Sarah Ruth Ashcraft, who has been claiming for months that the actor sexually abused her as a teenager while she was under “mind control.”

A representative for Tom Hanks did not immediately respond to a BuzzFeed News request for comment.

Ashcraft has leveled similar accusations of abuse against Hillary Clinton, her own father, and several other people and organizations. She has not provided any evidence for these claims, and she did not immediately respond to interview requests sent to her social media accounts Monday.

Ashcraft recently boasted of having increased her Twitter follower count by 20,000 after her claims were picked up by the wider online community of QAnon conspiracy theorists. She has previously said that her accusations against Hanks and others are true because “if the things I’m saying weren’t the truth, twitter would shut down my page.”

Twitter did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

A BuzzFeed News investigation, in partnership with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, based on thousands of documents the government didn't want you to see.