Twitter says it is cracking down on accounts and content related to QAnon, the far-right U.S. conspiracy theory popular among supporters of President Donald Trump.
The measures include banning accounts associated with QAnon content, as well as blocking URLs associated with it from being shared on the platform. Twitter also said that it would stop highlighting and recommending tweets associated with QAnon.
What is it ?
QAnon is a wide-ranging, unfounded conspiracy theory that says that Donald Trump is waging a secret war against elite Satan-worshipping pedophiles in government, business, and the media.
QAnon believers have speculated that this fight will lead to a day of reckoning where prominent people such as Hillary Clinton will be arrested and executed.
That’s the basic story, but there are so many offshoots, detours, and internal debates that the total list of QAnon claims is enormous – and often contradictory. Adherents draw in news events, historical facts, and numerology to develop their own far-fetched conclusions.
A sprawling, endlessly complicated pro-Trump conspiracy theory has jumped from fringe social media sites to mainstream attention.
“We are Q,” read one sign at the event in Florida.
“WHERE WE GO ONE WE GO ALL,” read another.
Others wore T-shirts with the letter “Q” and slogans such as “The Great Awakening”.
All are references to a conspiracy theory gripping fringe pro-Trump activists – albeit a growing number of them, including celebrities, media personalities and influential social media accounts.
It’s nebulous and continuously changing to adapt to current events, but the overarching conspiracy theory has been given a name: “QAnon”.
Where did it all start?
In October 2017, an anonymous user put a series of posts on the message board 4chan. The user signed off as “Q” and claimed to have a level of US security approval known as “Q clearance”.
These messages became known as “Q drops” or “breadcrumbs”, often written in cryptic language peppered with slogans, pledges and pro-Trump themes.
Nobody actually believes it, right?
Actually, thousands do. The amount of traffic to mainstream social networking sites like Facebook, Twitter, Reddit and YouTube has exploded since 2017, and indications are the numbers have gone up further during the coronavirus pandemic.
Judging by social media, there are hundreds of thousands of people who believe in at least some of the bizarre theories offered up by QAnon.
And its popularity hasn’t been diminished by events which would seem to debunk the whole thing. For instance, early Q drops focused on the investigation by special prosecutor Robert Mueller.
QAnon supporters claimed Mr Mueller’s inquiry into Russian interference in the 2016 US election was really an elaborate cover story for an investigation into paedophiles. When it concluded with no such bombshell revelation, the attention of the conspiracy theorists drifted elsewhere.
True believers contend deliberate misinformation is sown into Q’s messages – in their minds making the conspiracy theory impossible to disprove.
What impact has it had?
QAnon supporters drive hashtags and co-ordinate abuse of perceived enemies – the politicians, celebrities and journalists who they believe are covering up for paedophiles.
It’s not just threatening messages online. Twitter says it took action against QAnon because of the potential for “offline harm”.
Several QAnon believers have been arrested after making threats or taking offline action.
Could it have impact on the US election?
Studies indicate that most Americans haven’t heard of QAnon. But for many believers, it forms the foundation of their support for President Trump.
The president has, unwittingly or not, retweeted QAnon supporters, and last month his son Eric Trump posted a QAnon meme on Instagram.
Dozens of QAnon supporters are running for Congress in November. Many have little hope but some, such as Marjorie Taylor Greene in Georgia – appear to have a good chance of winning a seat.
It’s quite likely that a QAnon supporter – or someone sympathetic to the conspiracy theory – will sit in the next US Congress.
The conspiracy theory emerged in a dark corner of the internet but has been creeping into the mainstream political arena. Trump has retweeted QAnon-promoting accounts and its followers flock to his rallies wearing clothes and hats with QAnon symbols and slogans.
Twitter’s move follows in the footsteps of Facebook, which in May also removed several groups, accounts, and pages against QAnon.
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