A Guardian investigation reported this week found that newly established QAnon groups are gaining popularity and growing rapidly across Facebook.
Following a huge crackdown on the pro-Trump conspiracy theory by Twitter last month, QAnon Believers have a found a new home in Facebook. Twitter originally banned 7000 accounts (with the intention of banning 150 000) and blocked any URLs associated with the conspiracy.
The New York Times reported at the time that an insider had alleged that Facebook was planning to do the same. However, on Tuesday, August 11th, The Guardian reported more than 170 QAnon groups, pages and accounts across Facebook and Instagram with more than 4.5 million aggregate followers and spanning 15 different countries.
According to The Guardian, they have also found 73 novel QAnon groups that were started in May 2020 or later and have amassed at least 1000 followers each, with some of the largest groups hosting some 200 000 members. These groups, according to the investigation, show the spread of QAnon around the globe, with members from the United Kingdom, Northern Ireland, Canada, Australia, Mexico, Brazil, Germany, Poland, the Netherlands, Bulgaria, Hungary, the Czech Republic, Romania, Serbia and Slovenia.
Being stuck inside during lockdown with nothing to do but to read conspiracy theories about 5G causing coronavirus, which has attached itself to the originally singular Q theory, there’s no surprise that many have turned to this dark corner of the web. But it is worrying.
QAnon originated in America, and is based on the unfounded belief that Trump is waging war against “elite Satan-worshipping paedophiles in government, business and the media”. The conspiracy was started on 4Chan by an anonymous user, Q, who claimed to be a government insider. Many Believers – even the ones who weren’t previously Trump supporters – believe that the President is doing heroic things behind the scenes and spread pro-Trump propaganda messages.
QAnon has been called a potential domestic terrorist threat by the FBI, but this doesn’t stop those who have fallen prey to the cult-like conspiracy from hanging on Q’s every word. According to the New York Times, some even believe “that Hillary Clinton and other Democrats are kidnapping and eating children in order to harvest a life-extending chemical from their blood”. But this conspiracy has the potential to be a real threat due to its close ties to the 2016 Pizzagate conspiracy which ended in gunshots.
A Facebook spokesperson told The Guardian that Facebook consistently takes action against QAnon groups, stating, “Just last week, we removed a large Group with QAnon affiliations for violating our content policies, and removed a network of accounts for violating our policies against coordinated inauthentic behavior”. However, The Guardian found that these two groups accounted for merely 208, 800 members in total, and was not part of a larger targeted policy.
This week, the sprawling supporters have co-opted the hashtag #SaveTheChildren, a genuine anti-trafficking campaign related to the Save the Children charity. This is a breeding ground for new members and baseless discussions surrounding who exactly is doing the trafficking.
Will Facebook follow in Twitter’s footsteps and enforce a full crackdown on QAnon? Who knows. But even if they did, I’m sure they’d find a new hole to crawl into and call home until the next crackdown and the next.