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This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at VCU chapter.

You may be thinking, “how on earth can memes radicalize people”? Well, the same way that yellow journalism and propaganda have done in the past. However, these memes tend to lean more towards ironic jokes that some people may take more seriously than others. If you have ever seen a Pepe the Frog meme or Wojak meme, those were made popular mostly by right-wingers. If you know anything about QAnon, a lot of its material came from 4chan. Specifically from the /htg/ thread, which stands for, “Human Trafficking General.” This thread implied that Hillary Clinton was involved in a pedophilia ring just like QAnon. In addition, another thread called /pol/ that stands for, “Politically Incorrect,” had a user named, “Q Clearance Patriot.” This user created the idea of a storm, which many believers reference. This storm consists of thousands of “child-eating pedophiles,” getting arrested and imprisoned. Well, how did all of this become mainstream?

In 2017, a handful of Youtubers, who were moderators, began promoting these theories to their audiences; One of which is Patriot’s Soapbox. Then, the QAnon conspiracy theories leaked onto other social media apps such as Reddit, Twitter and eventually Facebook. Soon after that in 2018, Roseanne Barr and Sean Hannity exposed their social media followers to QAnon. Alex Jones, a far-right political commentator, also told his fans that he was in close contact with Q, who is the creator of these conspiracy theories. As many of you know, there was also a lot of talk from Congress saying that Russia meddled in our election. Well, did they?

Wall Street Journal video discussing 8chan, which was made after 4chan.

RT and Sputnik, two Russian media outlets, were found to be spreading these theories across multiple social media platforms. They were eventually banned from Twitter because of the fear that they would meddle in the next election. You may probably be thinking that this is not meddling as there was nothing forcing people to vote the way they did, but propaganda has always swayed people. Yellow journalism, which I referenced earlier, pushed the United States and Spain into a war with Cuba and the Philippines. There are multiple examples of this same journalism on Facebook and Twitter, which pushes people to feed into sensationalism and crude exaggerations. Well, people could never believe stuff that QAnon spreads seriously, can they?

Bad news is that since the height of the pandemic, QAnon activity has tripled on Facebook, doubled on Twitter and Instagram. It has also gone global, reaching the Balkans, the Netherlands and Germany. And after all of this, you are maybe wondering how this all relates to memes still. Well, memes are what all of us tend to share, they make us laugh and smile. Most of these wild conspiracies have been put in meme format and spread like wildfire. One QAnon supporter, Valerie Gilbert, has also been dubbed, “The Meme Queen.” She posts a dozen times a day on Facebook spreading ideas that the world is run by Satanic pedophiles, mostly consisting of the Democratic Party and Hollywood. Another QAnon supporter, who went viral because of his involvement in the Jan. 6 riot, is QAnon Shaman recently was interviewed by Channel 5 on YouTube. So it does not look like any of these people are going anywhere and these ideas will just continue to spread. However, I would like to add there is no reason for arguing with people who have turned into extremists, hence it’s better just to save your sanity and remember to think critically about what you see online.

Kaitlyn Austin is an alumnus of Virginia Commonwealth University, with a bachelor's in political science with a concentration in civil rights. She is passionate about social justice, advocacy, and astrology.