by Melissa Ryan
This week Twitter and TikTok each announced significant action against proponents of the QAnon conspiracy theory. The New York Times reports that Facebook plans to “take similar steps to limit the reach of QAnon content on its platform” soon as well. The Times also reports that Facebook has been coordinating with Twitter and other social media platforms on QAnon.
Twitter banned 7,000 associated accounts, limited the reach of 150,000 additional accounts and “ban QAnon-related terms from appearing in trending topics and the platform’s search feature, ban known QAnon-related URLs and prohibit “swarming” of people who are baselessly targeted by coordinated harassment campaigns pushed by QAnon followers” The classification of QAnon content and activity as “coordinated harmful activity” is new and a reaction to the growing harm and harassment associated with QAnon. Meanwhile, TikTok has disabled two prominent QAnon related hashtags. Videos that use the hashtags are still up but users are unable to search for QAnon content using those hashtags.
As a reminder, QAnon is a mega far-right conspiracy that claims Donald Trump is waging war against an international Satanist sex-trafficking pedophile ring including multiple public figures and celebrities including everyone from Hillary Clinton to Tom Hanks to Chrissy Teigen. Born on 4chan and 8chan in October 2017, QAnon devotees devour frequent posts, called QDrops, from a supposed Trump Administration staffer who goes by the handle ‘Q.’
If you live in the reality-based community QAnon sounds absolutely ridiculous but unfortunately, in the three years it’s existed, QAnon’s reach has exploded. Here’s what you need to know:
QAnon’s growth has accelerated during the pandemic. It now dominates other extremist and conspiracy conversations. Research on misinformation spread during the pandemic from Graphika finds that “over the course of the pandemic, the QAnon community has not only grown in size, but the QAnon content and concepts have taken hold in other communities. Further, our results show that this fringe ideology has spread to broader, more mainstream groups.” Mother Jones also reports that starting in mid-March, “online activity around QAnon and related topics rapidly climbed to all-time highs. Interest in the search terms has yet to return to pre-COVID levels.” Finally, The Global Network on Extremism and Technology has produced research showing that “three formerly distinct online ecosystems — lifestyle/wellness, violent extremism and conspiracy promoting groups — have become intertwined through shared #QAnon related hashtags and conspiracy narratives on vaccines, 5G and the evils of the ‘Deep State’ during this pandemic.”
QAnon supporters are running for office and winning primaries. There are 67 former and current QAnon supporters running for Congress this cycle and Media Matters’ Alex Kaplan reports that “fourteen candidates have secured a spot on the ballot in November by competing in primary elections.” QAnon believer Jo Rae Perkins is the Republican nominee for Senate in Oregon though she’s unlikely to win in November. But we’re likely to see at least two QAnon believers in the House next year: Marjorie Taylor Greene in Georgia’s 14th district and Lauren Boebert in Colorado’s 3rd district, which Cook Political Report ranks as Likely Republican, who primaried a Republican incumbent and won.
QAnon inspires violent crimes and terrorism. The FBI has named QAnon a domestic terrorism threat, and with good reason. A QAnon believer in Arizona has pled guilty to a terrorism charge after blocking the Hoover Dam bridge with an armored truck. A QAnon believer is accused of murdering a Gambino family mob boss. The accused believed the victim was part of the deep state and that killing him would help Donald Trump. Recently a mother and QAnon believer was charged with kidnapping her own children and claiming she was a “sovereign citizen” and therefore the police had no authority over her. Finally, a QAnon believer is accused of starting a wildfire in Southern California.
Trump and MAGA continue to play footsie with QAnon. As I’ve written previously, while President Trump has yet to directly endorse QAnon and is unlikely to do so, he frequently retweets QAnon influencers and accounts on Twitter. Business Insider’s Tom Porter writes that the Trump campaign relies heavily on QAnon to spread conspiracy theories as a “deeply-embedded part of how the Trump campaign operates online.” And The New Republic’s Melissa Gira Grant reports that QAnon is merging with mainstream conservatism.
I’m glad that the tech companies are taking more action to curb the spread of QAnon. Anything that makes it harder for new people to discover QAnon and become radicalized is a positive development. But for those already lost in conspiracy-land, it’s too little too late. QAnon communities exist on every platform and have an extensive infrastructure of private digital spaces as well. Devotees are adept at getting around bans and finding workarounds. QAnon was born from pro-Trump online conversations but has long since eclipsed MAGA and will remain online long after Trump is gone. America will be reckoning with this homegrown conspiracy cult for years to come.
The above article is an excerpt from Ctrl Alt-Right Delete, a newsletter devoted to covering the rise of far-right extremism, white nationalism, disinformation, and online toxicity, delivered on a weekly basis to more than 16,000 subscribers.
Image Credit: Mike MacKenzie
Tags : 5g, Alex Kaplan, Business Insider, congress, Conspiracy Theories, Cook Political Report, Deep State, domestic terrorism, evangelicals, extremists, FBI, followers, Gambino family mob boss, Georgia, Global Network on Extremism and Technology, Graphika, Hoover Dam bridge, Jo Rae Perkins, kidnapping, Marjorie Taylor Greene, mega far-right, Melissa Gira Grant, misinformation, Mother Jones, narratives, New York Times, Pandemic, pedophile, Poorly Educated, Q, Qanon, Social Media, terrorism, threat, TikTok, Tom Porter, Trump, wildfires