10 Days of Darkness, What is Qanon Conspiracy Facebook Twitter News

When a Facebook post detailed a QAnon conspiracy theory regarding "16-year plot to kill America," commentators requested death for those allegedly involved, including former President Barack Obama, former State Secretary Hillary Clinton, and other Democrats.
10 Days of Darkness, What is Qanon Conspiracy Facebook Twitter News
Facebook and Twitter ignored years of warning signals on the aggressive existence of the conspiracy theories
Fears of gripping genuine speech created a 'Frankenstein'

When a Facebook post detailed a QAnon conspiracy theory regarding "16-year plot to kill America," commentators requested death for those allegedly involved, including former President Barack Obama, former State Secretary Hillary Clinton, and other Democrats.

Any Facebook commentators rendered clear demands for justice: "Firing squad — by SHOTGUN! Others only wanted speed: "TREASON = SQAUD [sic] OR Dangling!

NOW PLEASE THAT 'S THE Rule! These posts — from January 2018, only months after QAnon flamed Pizzagate's embers to life, with its unfounded allegations of a Democrats-run child abuse ring from a Washington pizzeria — were among the early indications that the latest conspiracy theory fueled hate and calls for violence on Facebook, Twitter , and other social media. But it would be years before Facebook and Twitter made major moves to curb QAnon 's presence on their platforms, despite serious cases of subsequent online harassment and offline violence, and moves by other social media companies to limit QAnon's lurid and false allegations of pedophilia and other crimes.

One social media company, Reddit, closed forums devoted to conspiracy theory in 2018 due to online harassment and calls for violence, and YouTube removed tens of thousands of QAnon videos and hundreds of related channels in June 2019 as part of a broader crackdown on content that violated its hate speech and other policies, YouTube spokesman Alex Joseph said.

Even, it will be another year before Facebook and Twitter launched large crackdowns against QAnon, attempting to close or restrict the scope of more than 20,000 QAnon-connected accounts and pages following two years of QAnon-fuelled threats of violence and various real-world crimes.

By then, FBI officials had cautioned in an intelligence briefing that QAnon and the U.S. were becoming a possible domestic terrorist threat.

Military Academy's Countering Terrorism Center cautioned that "QAnon poses a challenge to national security with the potential to become a more impactful domestic terror hazard." QAnon followers made full use of the pause, leveraging the influence of these major social media outlets to broaden the phenomenon into what many scholars deem the biggest and most virulent internet conspiracy theory in the world. Feverishly decoding ambiguous "downs" of information from anonymous chief "Q," supporters spread rumors about a variety of apparently unconnected problems, from the Sandy Hook, Conn., school shooting to alleged vaccination threats to the latest Pacific Northwest wildfires.

They dealt in anti-Semitic stereotypes and other hateful content.

"These accusations were so deranged," said researcher Travis View, who co-hosts a podcast called "QAnon Anonymous" and watched the conspiracy theory grow horrified. "I always knew it would get to the point where people would ask: how did it get there?

How got it so bad? A key answer, say researchers who studied QAnon, was Silicon Valley 's fierce reluctance to act as a "arbiter of truth" even as disinformation with potentially dangerous consequences ran wild across its platforms. Mainstream social media companies allowed conspiracy theory to grow in part because they considered it an authentic domestic political speech at a time when President Trump and other Republicans bashed the firms for alleged bias against conservatives, say people familiar with internal debates at the firms. Twitter's site integrity head, Yoel Roth, acknowledged his company was slow.

"Whenever we change our policies, we can look back and wish we'd introduced it earlier. And I think, especially in QAnon 's case, there were signs that I wish we and the entire industry and the world had responded sooner, "he said in an interview.

Facebook spokesman Andy Stone said his company had done everything. "Removing hundreds of QAnon pages and groups, restricting the reach of many more, and soon prohibiting anyone from running ads that praise or support QAnon are not a company's actions that are afraid to upset QAnon supporters," he said. "This is the important work we have done in consultation with outside experts." Facebook and Twitter took action against individual QAnon accounts and pages in the years leading up to the recent crackdown, including in April, when Facebook took down five pages and six QAnon-affiliated groups accumulating over 100,000 members and followers.

But as of this summer's more systemic action, more than 7,000 QAnon-affiliated accounts spread what Twitter called harmful disinformation on its service. Facebook removed nearly 800 groups and banned 300 hashtags when it acted in August, and placed restrictions on an additional 10,000 Facebook and Instagram accounts. Researchers say these moves somewhat curbed QAnon 's reach, but several asked, "What took so long?"

"I don't think QAnon gets as big as it is without the platforms as an essential piece of infrastructure that holds these communities together," said Joan Donovan, Technology and Social Change Project Director at Harvard Kennedy School's Shorenstein Center. "Early intervention matters."

Unfounded, bizarre claims

At QAnon 's core are groundless allegations that Democratic officials and Hollywood celebrities commit unconscionable crimes, including raping and eating children, while trying to subvert the Constitution. Trump, the conspiracy theory holds, is quietly fighting these evils.

QAnon's "Q" is supposedly a high-level official privy to these secrets due to a top-secret security clearance. The shadowy figure speaks only on site 8kun, a successor to the now-closed 8chan, but information spread almost instantly across mainstream social media platforms, powered by those analyzing Q's pronouncements.

According to monitoring by the liberal polling company Media Matters, over 70 Republican candidates have endorsed or expressed support for at least certain aspects of this year's conspiracy theory, and one open adherent, Marjorie Taylor Greene, is almost guaranteed to secure a seat in Congress in November 's election.

QAnon T-shirts, logos and banners have frequently appeared at Trump appearances since 2018 and when his reelection push escalated this year in campaign advertisements as well. White House social media director Dan Scavino tweeted QAnon-themed imagery. Early this month, Vice President Pence intended to attend a Montana fundraiser organized by a couple who exchanged QAnon messages and memes on social media.

The record of QAnon-inspired abuse is lengthy, and the severe events date back to 2018, when an armed man shouting the conspiracy theory was arrested during a standoff at the Hoover Dam. Another man fixed on QAnon fatally shot a New York Crime Family member in 2019. And last April, police arrested a woman armed with more than a dozen weapons during she declared on Facebook that Clinton was a criminal.

Researchers at Graphika, a network research agency partnering for Facebook and other social networking firms, found that QAnon and Trump's online support overlapped in 2018 to such a degree that the two internet networks were almost inextricable for the purpose of analyzing accounts' relationships. Camille François, the company's chief innovation officer, named the resulting network maps of i.

Now Graphika 's network maps reveal QAnon has expanded past Trump backers, a discovery that correlates with the sprawling conspiracy theory incorporating new topics, including groundless concerns about vaccination and 5 G technology threats.

"QAnon has been like a Frankenstein that defies established definitions of negative network content," François said.

But even as the companies viewed QAnon posts as a largely protected class of free speech, there were often apparent violations of company policies against calls for violence and harassment of individuals. Although the targets were often public figures—including Obama, model Chrissy Teigen and Serbian artist Marina Abramovic—the posts' intensity and hatefulness were as evident in 2018.

In January 2018, the same month that Facebook hosted the article on the "16-Year Plan to Destroy America" and its litany of responses calling for summary executions, Twitter seethed with similar content, said Clemson University researcher Darren Linvill, who found frequent references to "shooting," "hanging" and "firing squad" posts with QAnon.

One image on Twitter, posted on Jan. 5, 2018, depicted an apparently satanic ritual in which a hooded figure prepared to plunge a dagger into an infant as Obama and former presidents George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton looked on, smiling. "We have to hang these assh*les! # qanon," wrote the poster, whose account description says "opposed to progressive liberal indoctrination" and includes the hashtags.

Another tweet from that month, answering a post with # QAnon hashtag and describing Obama behind bars, read: "He deserves the firing squad.