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Ciara O'Rourke
By Ciara O'Rourke August 21, 2020

Old photos of Barack Obama misused to fuel baseless child sex-trafficking conspiracy

If Your Time is short

  • The photos of Barack Obama are authentic but the suggestion that they connect him to misconduct are unfounded. 

A collage of three images being shared on Facebook suggest that former President Barack Obama was caught acting inappropriately with a child. But that’s not the case, and such claims feed into a bigger, unfounded conspiracy pushed by QAnon that he and other powerful people are part of a global child sex-trafficking ring. 

One of the photos shows a child who appears to be bound and gagged with tape. Obama is not in this picture. 

Another shows a grid of smaller shots of Obama and the actor George Clooney on a boat with a child. The words, "exposing herself" and an arrow have been scribbled in red on top of one of the images.. 

The third shows Obama with his arms wrapped around a young child who is smiling while seated on his lap. 

This post was flagged as part of Facebook’s efforts to combat false news and misinformation on its News Feed. (Read more about our partnership with Facebook.) 

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We don’t know the origins of the first image, though as early as 2017 it appeared online in connection with a hoax about dead Malaysian children found without organs

We’ve already fact-checked claims about the photo of Obama and Clooney, which was taken on Lake Como in 2019. Though the angle of the photo only shows the two men and a girl, other photos from that day reveal there were many people aboard, including Michelle Obama, Amal Clooney, the president’s daughter, Malia, and other guests. Several media outlets covered the boat ride and nothing nefarious was reported. 

The third image was taken in 2015 by Pete Souza, the White House photographer during the Obama administration. The caption: "The President snuggles with his niece Savita Ng, after his sister Maya Soetoro-Ng, and her family dropped by the Oval Office."

The Baltimore Sun among other news organizations published the image, and Souza posted it on Medium

By posting these images of Obama in connection with a photo that’s hard to look at — of a child seemingly in distress — innocuous photos of the former president take on a new, insidious meaning. But claims connecting him to sexual misconduct with children are completely baseless. This post is consistent with a wide-ranging QAnon conspiracy theory that falsely claims that a cabal of prominent Democrats and movie stars are Satan-worshipping pedophiles. 

We rate this post Pants on Fire. 


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Old photos of Barack Obama misused to fuel baseless child sex-trafficking conspiracy

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