On Tuesday, Twitter took the rare step of a sweeping crackdown, removing thousands of accounts associated with the quickly growing QAnon conspiracy theory. Twitter said QAnon’s messages violated company policies and could spread harm. The New York Times reports that Facebook could be taking similar action later this month.
We’ve been clear that we will take strong enforcement action on behavior that has the potential to lead to offline harm. In line with this approach, this week we are taking further action on so-called ‘QAnon’ activity across the service.
— Twitter Safety (@TwitterSafety) July 22, 2020
QAnon devotees follow the anonymous posts of a person or group of people known as “Q” who claim to have access to top-secret files detailing President Donald Trump’s secret, classified war against a sinister cabal of politicians, celebrities and billionaires plotting to take American down from within. QAnon has found willing adherents among evangelical groups — one of whom recently fell under scrutiny for peaching some QAnon conspiracies from the pulpit.
“QAnon is not conventional political discourse,” Alice Marwick, an associate professor of communication at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, told the NYT. “It’s a conspiracy theory that makes wild claims and baseless accusations about political actors and innocent people alike.”
While Q’s online posts — known as “Q Drops” — are often vague enough to lend themselves to lots of different wide interpretations, many QAnon adherents believe public figures like the Obamas, the Clintons, Jeff Bezos, Mark Zuckerberg and others are involved in a covert sex scandal at a popular Washington D.C. pizza parlor. That theory, known as “Pizzagate” has been widely debunked, but it nevertheless spawned a movement that now includes theories around the coronavirus pandemic, the Black Lives Matter protests, 5G cell towers, Jeffrey Epstein, vaccines and lots more. And while Twitter’s crackdown may help dispel it on one platform, experts say the movement isn’t likely to lose any momentum.
“These accounts amplify and enable networked harassment on a level that’s clearly against the Twitter terms of service,” Ms. Marwick said. “But this won’t stop QAnon from operating. It’s multiplatform and really good at adapting as media ecosystems change.”