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Twitter Bans QAnon Content. Will It Stop the Conspiracy Theories?

QAnon conspiracy theorists promote Trump

Twitter announced last night that would be removing and blocking content and accounts that promote the QAnon conspiracy theory. Over 7,000 accounts were permanently suspended, and content that spreads and promotes the theory will no longer be allowed to trend, be boosted in emails, or other means that will bring attention to it. Twitter is finally taking a stand, saying that the messages could lead to violation of Twitter policy and real harm. But is it too little too late?

You may have heard the term “QAnon” before and been lucky enough to dismiss it as just another ridiculous bit of internet flotsam, but the conspiracy theory is far more insidious and dangerous than that. For those of you lucky enough not to know, the QAnon conspiracy is vast and the origins of it are murky at best. And it is going mainstream, with political candidates who support Q running for Congress.

One version of the theory started on 4chan in October of 2017, thanks to anonymous posts from a user named Q. Q alleged, among many other things, that there was a deep state conspiracy to unseat President Trump, mainly because he has secretly cracked down on child sex trafficking rings among celebrities and politicians. But this wasn’t a new idea. The bizarre “Pizzagate” conspiracy, that alleged Hillary Clinton and others were running a child sex trafficking ring out of a Washington DC pizza parlor took hold in 2016, and has also been seized upon in recent years by QAnon proponents.

The attraction of this Q idea is clear to those who propound it. It makes Trump a hero and the people that stand against him, especially Hillary Clinton, become pedophiles, murders, human traffickers, and, most importantly, liars who can never be trusted. It gives them a ready excuse to handwave away the President’s seemingly endless array of lies and crimes by suggesting that he is playing a much larger game to entrap the real nefarious criminals. The QAnon slogan “Question everything” sounds solid … until you see that questioning leads to people thinking that 5G cellphone towers cause coronavirus or that Wayfair is selling sex slaves in armoires.

People believe all sorts of conspiracy theories, so why is this one so dangerous? For one, influence. QAnon “believers” have gained influence and converts among conservatives and Republicans and thus, more power in the mainstream and more danger. There are QAnon candidates on the ballot this year, which is horrifying, but then again QAnon’s hero is already the President, who has retweeted messages from QAnon accounts. But this also endangers real people, and when a person, especially a public figure, becomes a target for QAnon theories, it can have real consequences, even as ranging across the border into Canada. And QAnon has become a huge and spreading “movement,” with The Atlantic’s deep dive, “The Prophecies of Q,” essentially predicting that it will become a new American religion.

The FBI considers QAnon to be a potential domestic terrorism threat, and anyone that gets in the crosshairs has a legitimate reason to be afraid of attacks both online and off. But Twitter removing these accounts may not do anything to stop the spread of the theory and its impacts because QAnon is still supported by many influential right-wing wackos and more importantly, thrives on forums like Reddit and Facebook. The QAnon supporters are also used to having their content removed, and have their own message boards and sites.

Just last month, The Guardian reported that QAnon groups and pages have over three million followers and members (though there may be overlap and bots). While the purge of Twitter QAnon content might be a good start, the believers are still out there and they may likely take this move as some kind of proof that they are on to something. That kind of thinking—that everything and everyone is part of the conspiracy to cover up the “truth”—is what makes these theories so hard to stomp out and disprove. Because when you question everything, you end up willing to believe anything that suits your narrative.

This is a good step for Twitter and hopefully will inspire other social media networks to do the same. But it’s hard to imagine the Internet without shadowy places with outlandish theories and users there to spread and be duped by the next terrible conspiracy. Let’s just hope that eventually, reason wins out, but judging by the trajectory of this country’s history where conspiracies are concerned, we won’t be holding our breath.

(via: Mashable, image: Pexels)

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Jessica Mason (she/her) is a writer based in Portland, Oregon with a focus on fandom, queer representation, and amazing women in film and television. She's a trained lawyer and opera singer as well as a mom and author.