Guide to spotting misinformation about pedophilia

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Due to the stigma surrounding pedophilia and other minor attractions, many people have limited knowledge of these attractions and the individuals who experience them. As a result, misinformation about minor-attracted people (MAPs) and minor attractions is widespread, and it is easy to encounter false claims and misleading arguments surrounding these topics online. This article will give you the background and resources necessary to identify misinformation about pedophilia when you encounter it.

Why people spread misinformation

There are a variety of reasons people may spread misinformation on subjects related to pedophilia. Content creators and journalists can receive additional advertising revenue if they use clickbait, while malicious "anti-trafficking" organizations can increase their donations by utilizing misleading tactics such as fearmongering. Similarly, bigots often gain supporters and feign legitimacy by sharing inaccurate information. Worst of all, abusers may take advantage of misinformation to redirect attention away from themselves and undermine legitimate child protection efforts.

Whenever a person or organization shares information related to MAPs, minor attractions, or child protection, you should take a moment to evaluate their goals. This can give you a good sense of how likely they are to use misinformation as a tool to achieve those goals. Importantly, this says nothing about someone's risk of unintentionally sharing misleading information, so simply having good goals does not make someone reliable.

Bias check

Despite playing a major role in how we evaluate the content we consume, our biases can be extremely difficult to identify. A good way to quickly check if you have a bias on a certain topic is to apply the claim to a different group. For example, if a YouTube video claims that a certain statistic is true regarding MAPs, ask yourself if you would be less likely to believe that claim at face value if the video was instead talking about gay people. If the answer is yes, you have a bias that makes you more inclined to believe that claim regarding MAPs and should be extra vigilant when checking for evidence that it may be misleading.

Evaluating content

When you encounter non-scientific content (articles, videos, podcasts, etc.) with information about pedophilia or a related topic, you should always stop to assess its trustworthiness. People spreading false information about minor attractions, even unintentionally, often fall into certain patterns that make misinformation easier to identify. Of course, some misleading content is less obvious, and even accurate content may sometimes contain red flags, so always check for additional verification from reliable sources.

Common falsehoods

Certain false claims often accompany misinformation about pedophilia. Several of these are listed below, along with a source disproving each:

  • "MAPs are trying to join the LGBTQ+ community" (disproven)
  • "The term 'MAP' is rebranding pedophiles" (disproven)
  • "Stigma discourages MAPs from offending" (disproven)
  • "MAPs should get therapy to change their attractions" (disproven)
  • "MAPs should suppress their attractions" (disproven)

The presence of any of these claims in a piece of content is a strong indicator that the creator is intentionally spreading stigmatizing misinformation about MAPs, and any other claims made in the content should be viewed very skeptically. You can find sources to discredit additional common false claims on our MAP Facts page.

Terminology

When someone holds stigmatizing views about a group of people, it affects the way they talk about that group. There are a number of common terminology mistakes made by people with inaccurate ideas about MAPs and minor attractions. Many of these reflect a lack of background research and call into question the reliability of an author or content creator.

People who spread misinformation about MAPs often believe that minor attractions are fundamentally different from attractions to adults, and this is often reflected through their use of terms like "urges" or "impulses" or by attempting to link minor attractions with a desire to rape. Researchers have demonstrated that minor attractions function identically to other attractions, including attractions to adults. Language implying that minor attractions are somehow unique or inherently distinct from other types of attractions indicates a deep misunderstanding of MAPs and their attractions

Other common mistakes made by those sharing false information about pedophilia include using "pedophile" and "abuser" or their synonyms interchangeably. Additionally, because pedophilia and other minor attractions are not illegal, phrases such as "convicted pedophile" or "illegal attractions" are misleading at best and suggest that the content creator has not done even basic research regarding the topic.

Appeals to stigma

Another tactic that is commonly associated with misinformation about pedophilia is the appeal to stigma, a logical fallacy in which an author founds their argument on stigma-based assumptions rather than facts or logic, often using claims of "it's common sense" in an effort to discourage others from calling out their manipulative tactics. A blatant use of this tactic is the claim that "we have to stigmatize pedophiles to stop them from raping children." This claim requires the reader to believe that pedophiles inherently want to rape children, despite providing no evidence this is the case. When this claim is applied on a more general scope ("people who aren't ashamed of their sexual thoughts will commit rape") or to a less-stigmatized group ("gay men who aren't oppressed will rape other men"), the lack of logic supporting the claim becomes obvious. In reality, research shows that the risk to children is reduced when minor attractions are destigmatized.

Appeals to stigma can be difficult to recognize at face value, so bias checks are particularly useful for identifying them. Keep an eye out for arguments that expect you to hold certain beliefs, then take the time to check whether there is any evidence supporting those beliefs. In doing so, you not only make yourself a more difficult target for people who spread misinformation, but also gain a more accurate foundation for your own beliefs and views.

Sources and evidence

A reliable piece of content will link directly to several peer-reviewed research papers that back up its claims. Click the links. If most of the citations provided seem to be non-scientific or based on opinions, it's likely that there is little evidence to back up the claims being made. Even when reliable sources are provided, it's important to verify that they actually confirm these claims. People seeking to weaponize the stigma surrounding marginalized groups sometimes share large amounts of loosely-related research, hoping that readers will blindly assume it backs up their argument.

Anecdotes and personal experiences pose additional challenges. One popular disinformation tactic is sharing a small number of examples as "evidence" that trends found in research are not accurate. In the case of MAPs, this might look like someone pointing out one case where a MAP committed a sexual offense and using it as an excuse to ignore the extensive evidence that most MAPs do not offend. Remember that individual experiences can be falsified, and one counterexample is not enough to discredit the results of a large-scale study.

Further research

Finally and most importantly, do your own research on the claim. Scientists are not immune to stigma, and it is possible to cherry-pick outdated and poorly-designed studies that seem to validate certain false claims about pedophiles. This is largely because the existence of non-offending MAPs has only recently become widely known within the research community, so many older studies used samples of offending MAPs and then inaccurately generalized the results to all MAPs. Try to find research that is more recent than the sources provided by the person making the claim, keeping in mind that papers from before 2013 are likely based on an outdated definition of pedophilia that was updated in the 5th edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.

You should also check for common errors made by researchers, such as incorrectly referring to pedophilia as a disorder. Though these types of mistakes do not automatically invalidate the results of the study, they do indicate that the background research contained in the paper was conducted poorly and may have led to a flawed study design. A good way to avoid potentially flawed studies is to start your own investigation using a trusted collection of existing research, such as our Research page, which contains links to additional reputable sources.

Proceed with caution

Whenever you are researching or sharing information on a controversial topic, it is important to look out for potential misinformation so you can avoid being misinformed or unwittingly spreading harmful false claims. In the case of pedophilia and other minor attractions, this is particularly important, as the widespread misunderstanding of these attractions and the people who experience them plays a major role in driving the stigmatization of this marginalized group. Always verify information before sharing it, and make sure to share this post with others so they can learn to do the same.