In fact, you might think that the QAnon conspiracy has largely disappeared from major social media sites. But this is not the case.
True, you’re much less likely to find popular QAnon phrases like “big awakening,” “storm,” or “trust the plan” on Facebook these days. Facebook and Twitter have deleted tens of thousands of accounts dedicated to an unfounded conspiracy theory that describes former President Donald Trump as a hero fighting in a secret battle against devil-worshiping pedophiles who rule Hollywood, big business, the media and government.
Gone is the end of the huge Stop Steal groups spreading lies about the 2020 U.S. presidential election. Trump is also gone, has been banned from Twitter permanently and has been suspended from posting on Facebook until 2023.
But QAnon is far from over. Federal intelligence agencies warned recently that its supporters could commit more violence, such as the deadly Capitol uprising on 6 January. There has been at least one open supporter of QAnon elected to Congress. In the four years since someone who called himself Q began to send enigmatic messages to Internet discussion forums, QAnon has grown.
This is partly because QAnon now embraces various conspiracy theories, from an evangelical or religious perspective to alleged pedophilia in Hollywood and the Jeffrey Epstein scandal, said Jared Holt, a DFRLab student at the Atlantic Council who focused on domestic extremism. “Q-specific things are kind of declining,” he said. However, the worldviews and conspiracy theories adopted by QAnon are still involved.
The loose tying of these movements is a general suspicion of a strong, often left-wing elite. Among them are journalists against counterfeit vaccines, proponents of Trump’s “big lie” that the 2020 presidential election was stolen, and believers in almost any other worldview are convinced that the shady cable secretly controls things.
For social platforms, this faceless, transformative, and increasingly popular mindset is a much more complex challenge than before.
These ideologies “have strengthened their place and are now part of American folklore,” said Max Rizzuto, another DFRLab researcher. “I don’t think we’ll ever see it disappear.”
Online, such groups are now merging in the background. Where Facebook groups once openly referred to QAnon, you now see others like “Because you missed this in the so-called MSM”, a page that refers to “mainstream media” and has over 4,000 followers. It has links to clips Fox news’ Tucker Carlson and articles from right-wing publications such as Newsmax and Daily yarn.
Topics range from allegedly explosive crimes to baseless allegations of widespread electoral fraud and “outright war against conservatives.” The goal of such groups is to get Followers deeper by directing them to more information from less regulated sites such as Gab or Parler.
When DFRLab analyzed more than 40 million With the presence of QAnon phrases and related terms on social media this spring, it found that their presence on mainstream platforms has declined significantly in recent months. After the peaks of late summer 2020 and for a moment on January 6, QAnon sentences have largely evaporated from mainstream targets, DFRLab found.
So while your friends and relatives may not send wild conspiracies about Hillary Clinton drinking a child’s blood, they may instead repeat dispelled claims like vaccines can change DNA.
There are several reasons for the decline in Q speech – Trump loses, for example, the presidential election and the absence of new messages from Q. However, the biggest single factor seems to have been the QAnon attack on Facebook and Twitter. Despite being well documented errors it revealed spotted implementation, deportation seems to work largely. These days, it’s harder to encounter blatant QAnon accounts on the most common social media sites, at least from publicly available information that doesn’t include hidden Facebook groups and private messages, for example.
While QAnon groups, pages, and core accounts may be gone, many of their supporters remain on large platforms – only now do they disguise their language and water down QAnon’s extreme principles to make them tastier.
“There was a very, very explicit attempt in the QAnon community to cover up their language,” said Angelo Carusone, CEO of Media Matters, a liberal research group that followed QAnon’s rise. “So they stopped using a lot of codes, triggers, keywords that triggered enforcement action against them.”
Other avoidances may have helped. For example, instead of writing Q slogans, proponents wrote three stars next to their name some time earlier this year to signify adherence to conspiracy theory. (It’s a nod to Trump’s former National Security Adviser, Michael Flynn, a three-star general).
Facebook says it deleted about 3,300 pages, 10,500 groups, 510 events, 18,300 Facebook profiles and 27,300 Instagram accounts in violation of its QAnon policy. “We will continue to consult with experts and improve law enforcement in response to how the injury is evolving, including recurrent groups,” the company said in a statement.
But the social giant is still cutting people interested in QAnon by quoting experts who warn that banning individual Q supporters “could continue to lead to social isolation and danger,” the company said. Facebook’s practices and response to QAnon continue to evolve. Since last August, the company says it has added dozens of new terms as the movement and its language evolve.
Twitter, for its part, says it has consistently taken action against activities that could lead to offline harm. Following the uprising on January 6, the company began to permanently suspend thousands of accounts that said it was primarily dedicated to distributing dangerous QAnon material. Twitter said it has suspended 150,000 such accounts to date. Like Facebook, the company says its response is also evolving.
But the robbery may have come too late. Carusone, for example, noted Facebook QAnon groups were banned from violence six weeks before that bans QAnon more broadly. It gave followers an effective notification to regroup, disguise, and move to different platforms.
“If a social media company had ever had time to take a stand on QAnon content, it would have been like months ago, years ago,” Rizzuto of DFRLabs said.