Matt Venezia is a sophomore biology major with a minor in writing.
Since its inception in Oct. 2017, the conspiracy theory organization has grown from a fairly minor online group to a cult-like movement that’s hundreds of thousands strong. The core tenets of QAnon’s beliefs are that President Trump is fighting a pedophilic, satan-worshipping ring of elites who traffick children and drink blood.
All QAnon accounts will be removed from the media platform. According to a statement by Facebook, “This work will take time and will continue in the coming days and weeks.” Banning accounts that espouse QAnon conspiracies will decrease their spread on Facebook and its other social media platforms, such as Instagram.
This is a step in the right direction. The baseless theories and disinformation spread by QAnon are dangerous. But how detrimental are their baseless theories and has this move by Facebook come too late?
QAnon is a conspiracy theory born off of posts on the online message board 4chan from an anonymous user called “Q.” This user claims he/she/they has “Q clearance” (a term yet to be concretely defined by the user) in the U.S. government. In the posts, many conspiracies have been detailed, the most notable of which is that President Trump is currently fighting a cabal of pedophiles.
This supposed ring is said to include high-ranking Democrats like Hillary Clinton, wealthy elites like George Soros, Hollywood stars like Tom Hanks and even religious leaders like the Dalai Lama and Pope Francis, though there is no evidence for these claims. These beliefs originally stemmed from the posts of “Q” on 4chan and have spread infectiously throughout the social media landscape, evolving and gaining popularity with each share. These conspiracies have fused with others, meaning the umbrella of QAnon also tends to include unrelated and more widespread theories like the anti-vaccination or anti-mask movements and are often associated with anti-semitic and islamophobic rhetoric.
The actions of “patriots,” what QAnon believers call themselves, have spilled from online platforms like 4chan, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and more into the real world. Thus far, numerous QAnon supporters have been arrested for crimes such as attempted assassination and murder. Most notably, a Staten Island man who shot a Gambino family crime boss to death was reportedly obsessed with the theories. He revealed the words “MAGA forever” and “QAnon” scrawled on his hands in pen to those present at his conviction.
As of this month, it’s been three years since the inception of QAnon. In those three years, QAnon has spread far and wide from its original cryptic message board posts and gained significant traction in the American political realm. Today, 47% of Americans have heard of QAnon, according to Pew Research Center. Among registered Republicans who have heard of the group, four in 10 believe it has a net positive impact on the country while fewer than one in 10 registered Democrats believe so. If this statistic is truly representative of our government, then 40% of our Republican congress members and judges are sympathetic to a movement of disinformation and conspiracy. As a result, Americans could be subject to legislation based on the ideas put forth by “patriots” who refuse vaccines and believe the world is run by satanic pedophiles.
Many police officers have also fallen prey to believing in QAnon conspiracy theories; the head of the NYPD union was seen possessing a QAnon mug during an interview with Fox News. If those in positions of power who are sworn to protect our communities believe these conspiracies, the consequences could be deadly for someone on the wrong side of an arrest. Additionally, given the fact that anti-semetic and islamophobic beliefs also come with QAnon, racial and ethnic profiling (which is already a relevant problem in policing) may worsen if these beliefs become widely-held.
Posts by QAnon accounts have gone viral, as was the case with the Wayfair child sex trafficking conspiracy earlier this year. Marjorie Taylor Greene, an affirmed QAnon believer who has spread conspiracies such as questioning the legitimacy of the Parkland shooting and promoting the aforementioned “Democratic pedophile ring” controlling society, has won her Georgia primary election and now may win a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives. She was lauded by President Donald Trump as “a real WINNER!” on Twitter.
QAnon beliefs seeping into our everyday life on social media and potentially affecting policy directly in the House of Representatives is an unsettling reality. Given that Trump, the man who much of QAnon regards as their hero, openly praised a proponent of these baseless theories, this may be a long-term reality.
The damage has already been done. Banning Instagram and Facebook accounts will likely not produce much of an impact on this now well-established movement of disinformation. The baseless theories have already made their mark on peoples’ beliefs. Despite Facebook’s step in the right direction to curtail this spread, the theories have already cemented their place in our society.
To me, there is no clear correct move to combat QAnon. Limiting the spread is difficult and will take time, though other social media platforms would be wise to follow suit with Facebook in banning QAnon. However, there is one man who does have the power to shut it down, and that man is Donald Trump. If he disavows QAnon, which regards him as a hero, that will deal a significant blow to the movement.
Since that likely won’t happen, these conspiracies will likely exist in the minds of hundreds of thousands for years to come. The best way to combat this is to make sure you know what your friends and family are consuming online, to fact check what you read and educate yourself and others about the real danger of these conspiracies.