Goodbye QAnon: Twitter bans 7,000 conspiracy mongers and places limits on 150,000 others
Twitter this morning is brought to you by every letter except “Q,” because after three years of rants about how the world is actually controlled by a high profile cabal of Satan-worshiping pedophiles, the social media platform has finally decided to crack down. In a sweeping action on Tuesday evening, Twitter announced that it was moving to mass-ban the whole Q-community, chopping 7,000 accounts completely and placing limits on content for 150,000 others.
"We've been clear that we will take strong enforcement action on behavior that has the potential to lead to offline harm," said a notice from Twitter's safety team. "In line with this approach, this week we are taking further action on so-called 'QAnon' activity across the service." Twitter will implement tools that halt the recommendation of QAnon contents, limit the use of links to known QAnon sites, and work to keep the conspiracy from appearing in search results and lists of trending items. The action is sure to have Q-conspiracists including Twitter execs on their list of forked-tailed, deep-state, pizza-eating child smugglers, but the reason for the ban actually has less to do with the thousands of false accusations leveled at public figures by the Q faithful. It has much more to do with the misery that QAnon has spread to Twitter and other platforms with their attacks on ordinary people.
QAnon actually got its start on Twitter. Or at least, its “parent” did. On October 30, 2016, a Twitter account—one that had, notably, been posting mostly white supremacist talking points—made a claim that it was actually authored by a New York attorney, and that a big story was about to break. Tweets from this account, over the week leading to the 2016 election, spelled out a conspiracy that was supposedly known to the NYPD in which prominent Democratic officials, including Hillary Clinton, were involved in a pedophilia ring. The tweets connected the breaking announcements about Anthony Weiner’s emails, to supposed “coded messages” planted in emails that had been released by WikiLeaks, especially those belonging to campaign strategist John Podesta. Those key words? Pizza orders.
That was the origin for “Pizzagate,” a story that was expanded to include Satanic rituals in the basement of a business called Comet Ping Pong. And it was the reason a 29-year-old man drove from North Carolina to D.C. to threaten children with an AR-15 rifle while being baffled that Comet Ping Pong has no basement. Despite this debacle, Pizzagate-related conspiracy theories continued to circulate. And in October of 2017, QAnon first emerged from the genuinely hellish depths of the anonymous 4Chan comment board, which has played host to postings from mass shooters and served as a breeding ground for terrorism both foreign and domestic.
Eventually this all became a theory that could absorb anything and turn it into “evidence” that Donald Trump is waging a secret war against sex traffickers. This included how Trump was actually in league with Robert Mueller and started the whole Russia business as a means of luring Hillary Clinton into a trap. Also, there are going to be mass arrests of Democrats right … now. Or … now. Okay … now. Well … soon. Soon-ish.
Since that start, the conspiracy theory has grown from a single post to a huge following so intricately interwoven with the Republican Party that it threatens to take over the party completely. As Dave Neiwert noted last week, there are 64 openly QAnon-touting Republican candidates on the ballot for the fall. At the same time, Donald Trump and members of his White House are increasingly playing to this audience. When the Q conspiracy began, believers sifted every statement from Trump and others, looking for anything that might be considered a connection to their increasingly complex theory. Nowadays, they don’t have to look far, as people like Michael Flynn are embracing the whole thing. Meanwhile, QAnon has absorbed the “Obamagate” conspiracy pushed by Trump and embroidered it with thousands of all-new, all-false details. In many ways, QAnon has become the voice of Donald Trump’s supporters. And Trump has repeatedly retweeted some of their tweets calling for the arrest of Democratic politicians—despite the fact that the FBI designated QAnon as a likely source of domestic terrorism in 2019.
Over the last three years, both the supposed source of the Q information and the growing cadre of believers, have posted completely unfounded accusations against thousands of people. While many of these are public figures, some are just people who, like the poor employees back at that pizza place, managed to find themselves on the periphery of the expanding, nonsensical claims. Being on the wrong side of the Q-community has resulted in people on social media being targeted by thousands of accounts, and finding themselves suddenly accused of being, of course, Satan-worshiping pedophiles. And that’s often just the start.
The “where we go one, we go all” motto of the conspiracy is often very descriptive of tactics involved in these pile-ons. It’s how a conspiracy that is entirely fake, has generated scores of genuine victims, who find their lives upended by thousands of accusations. The level of attack is enough to upend the online presence of even celebrities with millions of followers. Last week, Chrissy Teigen ended up blocking over a million accounts after suffering through days of constant attacks that attempted to link her with a spiraling conspiracy theory involving Jeffrey Epstein.
Twitter officials told The Washington Post that Teigen’s experience was important in making the decision to finally move to block the spreading of false charges by QAnon accounts. It was more visible because of the star’s high profile, and her willingness to speak out rather than run away, but it was only one of many such attacks. Users without a celebrity podium have often been forced to retreat from these large scale “swarms,” especially when they’ve included not so disguised threats.