The conspiracy-theory group known as QAnon has grown in popularity in recent months. It has spread from fringe message boards to mainstream platforms and has increasingly become a political issue. Here is what we know about QAnon, the conspiracy theory behind it and how it started.
What is QAnon?
QAnon is a far right-wing, loosely organized network and community of believers who embrace a range of unsubstantiated beliefs. These views center around the idea that a cabal of Satan-worshipping pedophiles—mainly consisting of what they see as elitist Democrats, politicians, journalists, entertainment moguls and other institutional figures—have long controlled much of the so-called “deep state” government, which they say seeks to undermine President Trump, mostly with aid of media and entertainment outlets.
What is the QAnon conspiracy theory?
QAnon conspiracy theory alleges that there is a battle between good and evil in which the Republican Mr. Trump is allied with the former. QAnon followers are awaiting two major events: the Storm and the Great Awakening. The Storm is the mass arrest of people in high-power positions who will face a long-awaited reckoning. The Great Awakening involves a single event in which everyone will attain the epiphany that QAnon theory was accurate the whole time. This realization will allow society to enter an age of utopia.
Who is “Q”?
Followers believe that “Q” is a high-ranking government insider, presumably with a military or intelligence background, committed to exposing the hidden truth of what they see as an international bureaucracy scheming against Mr. Trump and his supporters. Some followers believe that “Q” often sends coded signals about his or her existence, using the number 17—the letter Q’s placement in the alphabet. Online posts surrounding QAnon conspiracy theories have often described “Q” as a patriot or saint.
In October 2017, messages on the anonymous online messaging board 4chan attributed to “Q Clearance Patriot” were posted and signed by a user identified as “Q,” referencing the Energy Department’s highest level of security clearance for nuclear weapons, or “Q clearance.” These cryptic messages would later be referred to as “Q drops” or “breadcrumbs,” purportedly clandestine code that often made their way into pro-Trump slogans and messages and were repeated by followers.
The previous year, a man armed with an assault-style rifle fired one or more shots inside Comet Ping Pong, a Washington, D.C., pizza restaurant, and was later arrested. Before the shooting, Trump supporters and white supremacists on social media spread a false conspiracy theory asserting that Hillary Clinton and her former campaign chairman, John Podesta, ran a child sex ring in the basement of a pizzeria. (Comet Ping Pong had no basement.) The shooting has since been considered a precursor to QAnon.
How popular is QAnon?
A new analysis finds that groups perpetuating QAnon conspiracy theory have increased in popularity on Facebook and Instagram since the start of the coronavirus pandemic as more people have spent more time at home and in front of screens. One Facebook group known as “QAnon News & Updates-Intel drops, breadcrumbs, & the war against the Cabal” increased its membership by more than 10 times from Jan. 1 to Aug. 1 of this year.
What are Facebook, YouTube and Twitter doing to address QAnon?
Facebook said in early October that it would remove more groups and pages devoted to QAnon, stepping up its crackdown on the fast-growing conspiracy-theory movement.
The move builds on the social-media company’s efforts announced in August to remove QAnon pages and groups that included discussions of potential violence. The company will now ban any pages or groups dedicated to QAnon across Facebook, as well as Instagram accounts focused on QAnon content. The new policy doesn’t ban individuals from posting about the movement.
Facebook also said it expects renewed attempts to evade detection and that it could update its content policies as needed.
In mid-October, YouTube took action against QAnon, banning videos that call for violence. YouTube—a unit of Google—said in a blog post that it would immediately “prohibit content that targets an individual or group with conspiracy theories that have been used to justify real-world violence.” The development puts Google and parent Alphabet Inc. further into an area the conglomerate has sought to avoid: the outright removal of content.
Twitter has said it would increase enforcement against QAnon conspiracy followers. According to Twitter, the social-media platform has banned more than 7,000 QAnon-related accounts, hoping to limit the reach and distribution of up to 150,000 accounts world-wide. Additionally, the platform will no longer highlight QAnon-related posts in searches or recommendations.
Is QAnon dangerous?
A memo the Federal Bureau of Investigation released in May identified QAnon as a potential domestic terrorism threat, citing at least two incidents connecting QAnon with the planning and execution of violent acts.