Twitter Banning QAnon Accounts Now May Be Too Little, Too Late
On Tuesday night, Twitter announced that it had deleted more than 7,000 accounts associated with the QAnon conspiracy theory, which holds that Donald Trump is the savior of the world, rescuing millions of children from being turned into sex slaves or (literally) eaten by the deep state and various Hollywood celebrities, and that an insider in his administration is posting clues about this secret mission to the 8kun message board for people on the internet to decode. Belief in QAnon and its adjacent conspiracy theories has skyrocketed during the pandemic, owing to the fact that people are scared, lonely, and spending a lot of time with their computers — often looking for a more satisfying answer to the question "Why is all of this happening?" than just "There is a deadly virus and our president is an idiot."
We’ve been clear that we will take strong enforcement action on behavior that has the potential to lead to offline… https://t.co/xpW9EthmWR— Twitter Safety (@Twitter Safety)1595376006.0
Twitter explained that belief in the conspiracy theory has led to offline harm — which it has. Believers keep getting caught trying to blow up buildings or otherwise hurt people. Those who believe in the QAnon-adjacent Wayfair conspiracy have clogged the National Human Trafficking Hotline, rendering workers unable to support those in real need of help. Additionally, it's caused harm online, with massive numbers of believers swarming celebrities like Chrissy Teigen who they believe are involved in the conspiracy.
So far, the purge of Q accounts has not been exactly exhaustive — many are still around and have not been deleted. Still, it's not a bad idea, though it probably would have been a better idea three years ago, before it had the chance to spread as much as it has.
As someone who has been covering this for the past three years, I have some thoughts on the potential positive effects of this, the potential negatives, and the things it's not going to change at all. So let's just get right to it.
Contrary to the pop-culture image of conspiracy theorists as lone weirdos, the QAnon movement is highly, highly social, which is a large part of its appeal. From swearing themselves in as "digital soldiers" to the slogan "Where We Go One We Go All," to posting "Q Sent Me" in the comments on things referenced in Q drops, it's more cult than conspiracy.
QAnon brings in people who are desperate to belong, to believe in something bigger than themselves, and who just want to feel less lonely. Believers have been frequently rejected by those who know them in real life after constantly trying to "red pill" them, so for many, this is now the only social circle they have. Part of the "fun" is interacting with their pals publicly and also swarming the accounts of celebrities and politicians they believe are involved or writers who cover QAnon who they have decided are witches (that would be me, I am the witch).
Taking that away from them is likely going to be a net positive. The less fun and whirlwind-y it is, the less they repeat the various mantras, the less immediately accessible it is, the less immersed people might get in it — especially those who are new. We've seen this before.
It will also make it less easy for them to harass people, which will certainly improve the user experience of those people no longer being harassed!
This will likely cause many believers to dig their heels in even more.
The people who believe in this shit think they are exposing the real secrets of the "elites," and they are interpreting this as proof that they are actually doing that. They don't think they're being censored because they're harassing people or because they are plotting to blow up buildings, they think they are being censored because of the "truths" they are exposing. This is straight up confirmation for them that they really are onto something.
How Is "Q" Reacting To This?
After weeks of silence (people were starting to not #TrustThePlan!), Q emerged yesterday to comment on the banning — with one post stating merely INFORMATION WARFARE along with an image of a previous drop about how all of his followers are digital soldiers now. Another drop was a meme featuring Trump with the words "In reality, they're not after me, they're after you, I'm just in the way," along with the following nonsensical text, the gist of which appears to be that everyone is censoring them and making up false flag acts of violence because they are threatened by them. (The brackets and bold are Q's; that is what the "drops" look like, and we don't know how people stand it.)
Many thousands of MSDNC direct attacks have failed to control the reach [sway opinion] and prevent growth ['free-thought'].
When direct attacks [use of inserts [cutouts]] fail > censorship [ban] deployed as aggressive method to slow/limit growth.
Next: more 'act of violence' frame-ups
CONTROLLED INFORMATION DISSEMINATION SYSTEM DESIGNED TO CONTROL YOU IS THREATENED.
If you posed no threat [reach and topics] to their control [information dominance] they would not continue to expend ammunition.
They would not care.
#2 attacked topic [#1 POTUS].
ALL FOR A 'CONSPIRACY'.
INFILTRATION NOT INVASION.
On the Voat message board for "Q Research," "anons" are discussing plans to merely jump on trending hashtags in order to drop their "facts."
Exactly .... take their hashtag, search Qmap for the topic (if you have to) and find link drops about said hashtag/topic, flood the hashtag and major posters responses with the links. No need to say "q" just dump facts, JPEGs, and links that disrupt the narrative.
So just be on the lookout for that, I suppose.
Has Quarantining/Deplatforming Been Working For Other Messed Up Ideologies?
Kind of! Making things just slightly more difficult to get to does seem to be having an impact, at least in terms of recruitment. The incel message boards are far less active than they were when they were subreddits. The Daily Stormer doesn't get the traffic it used to get since getting kicked off the regular internet, and being barred from using credit card processors of any kind has made it difficult for the site to raise money. The message board created to supplant r/The_Donald is nowhere near as busy as the subreddit was.
For a lot of these groups, proximity to normalcy assisted not only in recruitment but in allowing for the notion that they weren't actually that out there. It also made things less boring. Once they're all by themselves, they usually keep repeating the same things over and over again until even they get bored of themselves. It's why none of the rightwing social media sites ever take off. Without us, they're nothing.
There is always the fear that by quarantining these groups we're making it so those who stay involved get even more radicalized. I've had that fear myself before when this has happened. But the truth is, I haven't really seen that come to pass in the way I thought it might. Those who stay are usually those who were most devoted to begin with, so it's hard to really say if they got further radicalized by being alone.
What It's Not Going To Do
It's probably not going to put a stop to it entirely, at least not any time soon. It's spread well-beyond Twitter and Facebook. Within just a few weeks it's completely overtaken TikTok — with dozens of previously more liberal accounts suddenly getting into Pizzagate and the Wayfair conspiracy and other aspects of QAnon and then starting to add their own mythology to it like a game of exquisite corpse. Instagram influencers are taking breaks from their previously scheduled yoga poses to talk about cannibalism. It's getting weirder and weirder every day, and it's spreading further and further.
If we're lucky, once things start getting back to normal, there will be a drop off in belief in this stuff, but who knows.
The Problem Isn't Just QAnon
It would be super great if the entire issue was just that some LARPer was posting a bunch of bullshit on 8kun and people believing it. It's not that. The fact is, the followers themselves create more of the mythology than Q does. Q never mentioned mole children, never claimed to be JFK Jr., never said anything about Wayfair, never even mentioned adrenochrome. Followers came up with all of that crap themselves, on their own.
A very large chunk of the QAnon mythology comes from the "recovered memories" of a severely disturbed woman who claims to have been Tom Hanks's brainwashed sex slave, whom people just believe for some reason. A lot of it comes from the old-timey Satanic panic stuff and includes many of the same characters and themes. Cathy O'Brien, once a leading figure in the Satanic Ritual Abuse scare, has popped up again. O'Brien has long claimed to be a victim of the non-existent CIA program Project Monarch (which she claimed was a sub-project of MKUltra) who was also brainwashed into being a sex slave for various politicians and country music stars (her daughter, she claims, was Boxcar Willie's personal sex slave). She wrote a book with her husband, Mark Phillips (who claimed to be the former CIA agent who rescued her from all of this), called "TRANCE formation of America," which has become extremely popular again and is now the source of much of the QAnon belief system.
Hell, a lot of it comes from old anti-Semitic conspiracies like blood libel.
It's not just a conspiracy, it is now a way of being. It's a collective lucid dream where they all agree that everything any of them comes up with is true, and it can't be identified solely by themed accounts and hashtags, because they will just keep up making up new ways of identifying themselves online.
What we actually need to fight is this mode of thinking, to help people understand how to separate facts from "crazy talk by weirdos on message boards" before they get into this crap. Because unless we do that, it may not be this, but it will always be something.
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Robyn Pennacchia is a brilliant, fabulously talented and visually stunning angel of a human being, who shrugged off what she is pretty sure would have been a Tony Award-winning career in musical theater in order to write about stuff on the internet. Follow her on Twitter at @RobynElyse