WASHINGTON - A D.C. pizza restaurant has become a target of harassment and negative reviews on social media after it became a victim of fake news stories that went viral just before the presidential election.
Using the hashtag #PizzaGate, many on social media slammed Comet Ping Pong after floating conspiracy theories claimed the pizza shop along with Hillary Clinton and her campaign were involved in child trafficking and satanic rituals.
But all of the claims against the popular Northwest D.C. pizzeria are false and unfounded. The D.C. Police Department said they are not investigating Comet Ping Pong and are instead keeping an eye on those who are threatening the restaurant and employees.
The restaurant’s management also wants people to know the online bullying is having real consequences on the business and its employees.
“These people are putting in hours and hours of work to casually destroy people who I don't think they actually believe we exist,” said Comet Ping Pong general manager Bryce Reh. “And they are doing real harm.”
To make matter worse, some are using legitimate photos of real children from the restaurant's website.
“They are using photos of children where the parents took the photos, and they are trying to say that some sort of abuse is going on,” said Reh.
“It just seems kind of crazy because I go there fairly frequently and it's just like a fun place,” said customer Tricia Hale. “You play ping pong. There are lots of kids and families.”
The harassment is spiraling out of control as Reh said the restaurant’s owner and other gay employees are being targeted.
“Things that I’m not going to repeat because it’s so vile – I wouldn't say it on camera,” Reh told us.
The problems have also gone from the cyber world to the real world.
“Most of the time, when they come in here, it's just weird,” said Reh. “They videotape and ask strange questions.”
In one social media post, someone released the personal information of at least 20 employees online.
In a statement, D.C. police said, “We are monitoring the situation and aware of general threats being made against this establishment. We’ve directed the staff to notify MPD should they receive specific threats or have concerns about their safety.”
“I think that people who don’t actually know the place and know the community ought to just step back and leave everybody here alone,” said customer Jonathan Sinton.
Another bizarre and untrue claim is that the star and moon on the restaurant's sign are satanic symbols. But the actual history regarding the signage goes back decades. It used to belong to The Comet, a liquor store and deli that was in business in Adams Morgan for more than 80 years. When it shut down, the owner of Comet Ping Pong decided to save the sign, which is now a piece of D.C. history.