Baseless QAnon conspiracy theories accusing celebrities of horrific child abuse have been a hallmark of online disinformation campaigns for nearly a decade.
Despite the absence of evidence behind allegations that famous public figures are somehow connected to an underground network of child molesters, the theories have permeated online conversations, supporting and drawing attention to former President Donald Trump infamously.
While these bizarre and damaging claims have quieted down in recent years, many still find their way over the parapet, including a false rumor that spread on Twitter this week.
A tweetwhich was posted on November 27 and received more than 35,000 engagements, includes a photo of what appears to be a BBC News story with the headline “Tom Hanks arrested on 135 counts of possession of child pornography”.
The tweet said: “Remember Tom Hanks’ arrest was on the BBC website for a few moments.”
The claim about Tom Hanks is completely false. It is based on a fabricated story by BBC News that was previously circulated on social media.
As Reuters confirmed, the photo is digitally manipulated. The BBC confirmed to Reuters that it had not published the story.
Newsweek found no such stories from other bona fide media outlets about Tom Hanks’ arrest.
The Twitter account it originated from (as well as other sources who shared the baseless rumor) also tweets content related to QAnon and COVID-19 vaccine conspiracies.
Hanks has also been the target of other false and conspiratorial claims related to QAnon, including that he claimed Greek citizenship because child abuse is “classified as a disability.”
While Hanks was granted honorary Greek citizenship in 2020, there is no evidence for the claims of pedophilia, nor that Greece classifies pedophilia as a disability (a previously debunked claim).
QAnon conspiracy theories, characterized by false claims linking public figures to child abuse crimes, have circulated for nearly a decade.
Theories include (among others) that there is a cabal of satanic pedophiles who torture and kill children to harvest adrenochrome.
Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has been persistently associated with this false narrative for several years, with the suggestion that Democrats are involved in a secret child abuse ring, leading to the debunked “Pizzagate” theory that became viral in 2016.
Other celebrities have also been dragged by social media in related claims; Paul Walker, Anne Heche and Anthony Bourdain were falsely said to have investigated child sex rings before they died, a pattern of storytelling that has emerged online following the deaths of famous figures.
Tom Hanks has not been arrested for the crimes alleged in the tweet. The image on which the claim is based is from a fabricated article, made to appear as if it had been published by the British broadcaster.
The BBC previously confirmed it had not published the story and that there was no evidence Hanks was linked to child abuse.
The baseless rumor is believed to stem from QAnon conspiracy theories linking celebrities and other public figures to an underground cabal of child abusers.
FACT CHECK by NewsweekHis fact-checking team