The 2020 election has been rife with exaggeration and misinformation, turning American politics into a worldwide spectacle. Election anxiety is a real phenomenon, and with lies circulating through social media algorithms as often as truths, it’s hard to know what to believe. The latest conspiracy theory that thousands of Americans subscribe to is centered on a group dubbed “QAnon.” Basically a bundle of misinformation perpetuated by the internet and COVID-19, the group/movement has incited real violence and also garnered support, especially from far-right extremists. Protect yourself against false information and educate your friends & family by having frank conversations about QAnon.
What is QAnon?
The Wall Street Journal describes this shadowy internet group the best: “QAnon is a far right-wing, loosely organized network…[their] views center around the idea that a cabal of Satan-worshipping pedophiles….have long controlled much of the so-called “deep state” government, which they say seeks to undermine President Trump.” These far-right subscribers believe that Trump is a messiah figure and that “Q” is actually a real person in the government who is leaking information about Democractic child sex-trafficking rings. (Sound familiar? QAnon is also linked to the Pizzagate conspiracy, in which Hillary Clinton and John Podesta purportedly operated a child sex ring in the basement of Comet Ping Pong, a DC pizzeria.)
QAnon has been spreading their misinformation on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and most recently LinkedIn. The social media giants’ algorithms initially helped the spread of QAnon content because the headlines were sensational and attention-grabbing, the formula for a viral social post. QAnon also subliminally gains followers by co-opting legitimate hashtags and phrases such as #savethechildren.
Although this conspiracy seems blatantly ridiculous, it does have powerful allies and supporters posting QAnon-related content on identifiable profiles. Trump commented on QAnon by saying, “I’ve heard these are people that love our country.” Equally concerning is Marjorie Taylor Greene, a politician who won the Republican House primary in Georgia and is a known advocate for QAnon. This group isn’t a silly backwater of subreddits or encrypted WhatsApp chats – it’s a legitimate threat to free, factual thinking. The Federal Bureau of Investigation even classifies QAnon as a “potential domestic terrorism threat,” which isn’t something to take lightly.
How do I start a productive conversation about QAnon with friends & family?
As always, facts from credible sources are your best friend. If your loved ones have no idea about QAnon, it’s best to provide educational resources in case they are inadvertently spreading QAnon misinformation. In addition to #savethechildren and #saveourchildren, watch out for terms such as Pizzagate, “Deep State,” and #wwg1wga, the infamous QAnon slogan that stands for “where we go one, we go all.” These words might be meaningless or even altruistic on the surface (i.e #savethechildren is a slogan used by Save the Children, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit), but they only exacerbate the problem.
In general, reading articles before resharing the links or perusing hashtag results before adding them to your post are smart social media practices. Even if you don’t believe in QAnon, you could be inadvertently spreading their message by using deceptive slogans, phrases and wording. Bringing up QAnon is especially relevant during election season because having factual, verifiable information is necessary to a democracy. The internet has made it terribly easy to spread lies, so it’s up to individuals to share content and conversations responsibly.
I first brought up QAnon to my boyfriend by casually mentioning a Wall Street Journal tech podcast I had listened to that morning – I didn’t want to get all “conspiracy theory” on him, but I was curious about his opinion as he is an integrity professional in the tech world. By anchoring on the facts presented in the podcast, we were able to discuss the QAnon story in a productive way. Actually believing in a conspiracy theory and merely parsing out facts from lies are two different things, so don’t feel like you’re crazy for bringing up QAnon in the first place.
What if I know someone who supports QAnon?
Since QAnon support has grown dramatically during the pandemic (we’re all staring at screens for the majority of the day), you might know someone who’s been lured into the QAnon mythology. If a close friend or family member starts spouting off about “Q” or Trump’s savior qualities, then it’s probably time for intervention. I don’t personally know anyone who follows QAnon openly, but according to Forbes, “Some 56% of Republicans believe that QAnon, a far-right conspiracy theory, is mostly or partly true.” Sorry to get mathematical on you, but that means theoretically 45 million Americans partially take QAnon as fact (~257 million eligible voters x 31% Republican vote x 56% QAnon sympathizers) – that frightens me. People are susceptible to outrageous headlines, but elevating violent whispers to popular truth says something about the state of America right now.
I’m not a psychological digital cult expert, but there’s multiple resources on how to rescue a loved one who's “fallen down the rabbit hole” of QAnon. According to Psychology Today, “you might suggest that your loved one ‘do their own research’ and spend more time investigating the identity of “Q” rather than accepting what ‘he’ says at face value.” I learned that people enveloped by conspiracies don’t want to be saved since they have their own version of reality. But to further public discourse and prevent lies from masquerading as far-right truth, I think citizens do have a duty to make sure truth prevails. That might mean uncomfortable conversations with your mom, partner or grandparents, but in the end, these theories do more harm than good.
We’re not alone in fighting QAnon – tech platforms such as Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and Etsy have made concerted efforts to identify and ban QAnon accounts and content (even though they allowed the proliferation of QAnon posts in the first place). If you see a QAnon post, report it to moderators to prevent the ranking algorithms from giving it unwanted attention. On Facebook, you can do this by clicking the three dots in the upper righthand corner and selecting “Find support or report post.” In the screen that pops up, select “Something else” and then “hate speech” to further categorize the post.
Is 2020 over yet?
Saying 2020 has been stressful is the understatement of the century – losing Kobe, enduring COVID-19, having a tumultuous election, California fires, etc. are taking a huge toll on our mental health. It’s easy to see how QAnon is proliferating and praying on our uncertainty and boredness from staying cooped up all day. Despite our global slump, it’s still important to talk about QAnon with your friends & family and distinguish between extremist views and facts. QAnon even published a book, “QAnon: An Invitation to The Great Awakening” and the reviews on Amazon were terrifying. For example:
“In The End Justice Will Be Served
And Freedom For All , Will Prevail
Ty Anons WW for coming together and sharing Truth .
TRUTH SHALL SET US FREEEEEE...???”
I’m scared! I don’t see how anyone can deny that QAnon is a dangerous, anti-democratic group after reading these comments. Let’s get educated and debunk this conspiracy with our friends and family – it’s our duty as 21st century citizens.
Additional Resources for Identifying & Reporting QAnon Misinformation
How to Report Misinformation Online - World Health Organization
Responding to People who Spread Conspiracy Theories - Psychology Today