Banning Qanon from social media platforms is a challenge.
The conspiracy theory phenomenon known as “Qanon” developed into more than just the subject of tin-foil hat jokes. The United States House of Representatives is on the cusp of electing a Qanon believer. So, the movement presents multiple problems. Since Qanon relies heavily on social media to spread their message, platforms seek to ban them. But can they?
Will Sommer’s article in The Daily Beast, Inside the Completely Nutso Universe of QAnon, offers a great overview of just who and what these people are. Since the “movement” began on the fringe platform 4Chan, dismissing them was easy. Unlike the usual trolls and pedophiles emerging from the “chan” boards, Qanon grew a large following. Conspiracy theories spark the imagination. Not everyone who follows them believes them. They’re the fodder for stories, novels and screenplays. This group, however, is more than talk. They execute insane plans in the name of Q. Go read the article.
Expanding the movement
Qanon began on 4chan, moving later to 8chan, and now is on 8kun. This progression shows Qanon’s growth. 8chan, before its hosting service shut the site down, was larger than 4chan. The movement found a new home in 8kun, since it’s become a necessity in followers’ lives.
That’s not enough for Qanon. The chan-style sites aren’t easy to navigate. Their original intent, chat/discussion boards for anime fans, limits the audience. Dedicated chan-users start memes, stunts, and even Qanon here. To go more mainstream, these stunts need a foothold in mass-market social media.
It’s not like social media isn’t trying. Sommer writes:
This week, Facebook announced a crackdown of its own targeting QAnon accounts on Facebook and Instagram, including an algorithm ban meant to stop the sites from recommending QAnon content automatically—thereby accidentally sending users down the QAnon rabbit hole.
This is a good step, but it’s nowhere near enough. For example, Qanon loyalists use two hashtags, #qanon and #WWG1WGA (Where We Go 1, We Go All). It’s next to impossible to ban a social media user for simply using a hashtag. This is like schools that ban Google searches on “breast,” only to realize that now students can’t research breast cancer.
Algorithms, trending and harassment, oh my!
The best efforts of popular platforms focus on the technical. Is an account targeting others? Does an account get reported regularly? Social media observers doubt the effectiveness of these moves. It’s easy to create a new accunt when one is banned. There’s no permanence in these accounts. They become the social media equivalent of burner phones. Getting out the message is what’s important. While rank-and-file Qanon believers use their primary Facebook presence to spread the conspiracies, savvy users stick to the “anon” part.
Parallels to Trump
Those who oppose Trump often believe his Twitter feed presents threats to the nation on multiple levels. One tweet from Trump can drive down the stock price of a company. Another lights up loyalists (like qanon), inciting violence. In many cases, the loyalists go beyond what the White House wants. From Sommer again:
In 2018, a QAnon believer with a gun and an improvised armored truck blocked a bridge near the Hoover Dam, demanding that Trump take steps to make a Q prediction “come true.” He ultimately pleaded guilty to one charge of making a terrorist threat, and faces a lengthy prison term.
These nutjobs often act as “lone wolves,” but sometimes these plots involve more than one crazy.
Coming for these people isn’t easy. Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey regularly argues that he can’t ban Trump because others will simply tweet pronouncements and messages posted on other sites. He’s right.
Secret messages and codes
“Q” messages are cryptic, code-like. In World War II, Radio Londres brocast seemingly-inoccuous code phrases broadcast to France. Resistance cells took action when hearing code intended for them. This tactic was shown dramatically in the movie, “The Longest Day.” Code phrases became part of the 1980s movie, “Red Dawn” as well. The cryptic nature of this transmission method makes it difficult to stop. Twitter and Facebook find themselves as frustrated as the Nazis were in 1944. Banning qanon code messages is akin to virus protection. You’re always fixing the last thing, not the next one.
Stemming the tide – banning Qanon
How to stop this insane “resistance?” Trump leaving office reduces the amplification of Qanon. The big question is, will mainstream Republicans drop Qanon in the wake of Trump’s departure. For example, the Republican nominee in Georgia’s 14th District, Marjorie Taylor Greene, repeatedly embraces the movement. Once she’s elected, it’s possible she’ll kick them to the curb. This deep-red district votes Republican regularly. The incumbent representative isn’t likely to face a challenge, even from someone further-right. So, Greene plays to the crazies now, maybe drops them later? Time will tell.
Certainly Twitter and Facebook do not want to be connected to violence perpetrated by Qanon. Even allowing a “John has a long moustache” message in their space may become a risk management problem. Determining what is reasonable free speech and what is shouting-fire-in-a-theater will be with them for years, as banning qanon efforts continue.