Oakland, October 7
Facebook said it will ban groups that “represent” QAnon, the baseless conspiracy theory that paints President Donald Trump as a secret warrior against a supposed child-trafficking ring run by celebrities and “deep state” government officials.
The company said Tuesday that it will remove Facebook pages, groups and Instagram accounts for “representing QAnon” ---even if they don’t promote violence.
The social network said it will consider a variety of factors to decide if a group meets its criteria for a ban, including its name, the biography or “about” section of the page, and discussions within the page, group or Instagram account.
Mentions of QAnon in a group focused on a different subject won’t necessarily lead to a ban, Facebook said.
Less than two months ago, Facebook said it would stop promoting the group and its adherents, although it faltered with spotty enforcement. It said it would only remove QAnon groups if they promote violence. That is no longer the case.
The company said it started to enforce the policy Tuesday but cautioned that it “will take time and will continue in the coming days and weeks”.
What is QAnon?
QAnon followers espouse an intertwined series of beliefs, based on anonymous Web postings from "Q", who claims to have insider knowledge of the Trump administration.
A core tenet of the conspiracy theory is that US President Donald Trump is secretly fighting a cabal of child-sex predators that includes prominent Democrats, Hollywood elites and "deep state" allies.
QAnon, which borrows some elements from the bogus "pizzagate" theory about a pedophile ring run out of a Washington, DC, restaurant, has become a "big tent" conspiracy theory encompassing misinformation about topics ranging from alien landings to vaccine safety.
Followers of QAnon say a so-called Great Awakening is coming to bring salvation.
The QAnon phenomenon has sprawled across a patchwork of secret Facebook groups, Twitter accounts and YouTube videos in recent years. QAnon has been linked to real-world violence such as criminal reports of kidnapping and dangerous claims that the coronavirus is a hoax.
But the conspiracy theory has also seeped into mainstream politics. Several Republican running for Congress this year are QAnon-friendly.
How has it spread online?
The "Q" posts, which started in 2017 on the message board 4chan, are now posted on 8kun, a rebranded version of the shuttered web board 8chan.
QAnon has been amplified on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and YouTube, the video streaming service of Alphabet Inc's Google.
Media investigations have shown that social media recommendation algorithms can drive people who show an interest in conspiracy theories toward more material.
A report by the Institute for Strategic Dialogue (ISD) found that the number of users engaging in discussion of QAnon on Twitter and Facebook have surged this year, with membership of QAnon groups on Facebook growing by 120 per cent in March.
Researchers say Russian government-supported organisations are playing a small but increasing role in amplifying the conspiracy theories.
QAnon backers helped organise real-life protests against child trafficking in August and were involved in a pro-police demonstration in Portland, Oregon.
QAnon also looks poised to gain a toehold in the US House of Representatives, with at least one Republican candidate who espouses its beliefs on track to win in the November 3 elections.
By the time Facebook and other social media companies began enforcing---however limited--- policies against QAnon, critics said it was largely too late. Reddit, which began banning QAnon groups in 2018, was well ahead, and to date it has largely avoided having a notable QAnon presence on its platform.
Twitter did not immediately respond to a message for comment on Tuesday.
Also on Tuesday, Citigroup Inc. reportedly fired a manager in its technology department after an investigation found that he operated a prominent website dedicated to QAnon.
According to Bloomberg, Jason Gelinas had been placed on paid leave after he was identified on September 10 by a fact-checking site as the operator of the website QMap.pub and its associated mobile apps.
Citi did not immediately respond to a message for comment on Tuesday.
Online marketplace Etsy Inc is removing all QAnon merchandise from its site, a spokeswoman told Reuters on Wednesday, the latest in a series of platform crackdowns on the unfounded and sprawling conspiracy theory.
A spokeswoman for the short-form video app TikTok said QAnon content "frequently contains disinformation and hate speech" and that it has blocked dozens of QAnon hashtags. --- Agencies
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