Imagine it’s Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner, the one where the entire extended family shows up. There’s a little corner of the long dinner table where you put the relatives most likely to be awkward, so they can chat among themselves. You know who they are, the uncle and cousins who go on rants about Trump’s righteous war against an international cabal of pedophiles or Hillary Clinton’s imminent arrest. Everyone else in the family remembers the stir that corner caused when they claimed that Tom Hanks had a sex slave. No one with any sense took them seriously. Picking a fight would sap your energy and divide the clan.
For the most part, social media companies have been content to treat QAnon like those relatives. (And those are actual QAnon beliefs.) None of the tech giants were really happy the amorphous online conspiracy movement was at their party, but it wasn’t worth the trouble to disinvite them. As long as they kept to their own corner of the internet, the QAnon faithful could enjoy turkey and stuffing with everyone else.
But everything has changed. In the annus horribilis of 2020, the social networks can no longer afford to treat QAnon the same way. Why? Because it’s left its corner and is messing with the rest of the table.
Memes emanating from the conspiracy group—which are tenuously united in the discredited belief that there’s a plot to oust Trump from the presidency—have made their way into the social media accounts of everyone from Michael Flynn (who was briefly national security adviser) to White House social media adviser Dan Scavino. Sometimes these memes can be as innocent as an image featuring Trump with a QAnon slogan (as was the case for Scavino), but at other times they take on more sinister overtones such as the oath to QAnon—“Where we go one, we go all”—which Flynn posted on July 4. Trump’s account has been known to retweet accounts aligned with QAnon.
It goes down the political chain. QAnon-sympathetic Republican candidates will be on the ballot for the Senate and the House in November, including Lauren Boebert in Colorado, Jo Rae Perkins in Oregon, and Marjorie Taylor Greene in Georgia (who won an Aug. 11 runoff against an opponent endorsed by the House minority whip). It also seems to be manifesting outside the U.S. In February, in Hanau, Germany, a lone gunman espousing QAnon-like beliefs massacred nine people in bars frequented by immigrants before killing his mother and himself.
The Covid-19 pandemic has only helped the movement expand: Hundreds of thousands of people with nothing else to do have been exposed to the fringe fulminations. The Institute for Strategic Dialogue (ISD), a London think tank, says that from March through June, QAnon-related posts surged on Facebook and Twitter. While its believers were far from the only ones trying to discredit the use of masks or cast doubt on vaccines, they were among the largest groups.
Twitter took action on July 21, announcing measures targeting “so-called ‘QAnon’ activity” across its platform.
“We’ve been clear that we will take strong enforcement action on behavior that has the potential to lead to offline harm,” the company tweeted as it detailed the crackdown. Twitter is suspending accounts for breaking existing rules and will no longer highlight as “trending” or recommend content and accounts associated with QAnon. It will also try to stop the movement from being played up in search. Users will no longer be able to share URLs associated with it.
Continue reading your story on the app
Continue reading your story in the magazine
Got a Tax Question? Don't Call the IRS
Customer service has cratered at the short-staffed, underfunded agency
Big Hot Sauce Wants More Hot Sauce
McCormick, the 132-year-old prince of pumpkin spice, paragon of tarragon, major-domo of marjoram, has taken over an entirely new category
Cyberwar at the White House
Anne Neuberger and the competition to set Biden’s cybersecurity agenda
Covid's Unseen Victims
Extra duties and depleted ranks have pharmacy workers buckling under the pressure
Need a Hug?
Speculative assets lead a market selloff, but corporate cash could put a floor under prices
American-born Eileen Gu is the face of China’s winter sports initiative, a sponsor’s dream, and a teenage daredevil who’s being very careful with controversy
Do Niche News Sites Have The Secret to Success?
Spiffy online news outlets are hot again. Every month seems to welcome a new publication built on an established journalist’s existing audience.
Peering Behind An 18% Yield
Celsius promises big rewards if you let it hold your crypto. The risks you’re taking aren’t clear
Purveyors of clean food are trying a new tactic: Subterfuge.
No place to get sick
In the Mississippi Delta, the stress on hospitals, doctors, and nurses— and patients—just won’t let up
What to Do With ‘No'
“Never take no for an answer,” people say. But is that really true? We asked six founders: How do you know when to keep pushing and when to move on?
GLOBAL GLITCH: SWATHS OF INTERNET GO DOWN AFTER CLOUD OUTAGE
Dozens of websites went down briefly around the globe Tuesday, including CNN, The New York Times and Britain’s government home page, after an outage at the cloud computing service Fastly, illustrating how vital a small number of behind-the-scenes companies have become to running the internet.
The Children Are in Danger!
Across America, well-meaning citizens are raising money and awareness about a child-sex-trafficking epidemic that doesn’t exist.
FROM SQUARE TO BLOCK: ANOTHER TECH COMPANY CHANGES ITS NAME
There’s a new Silicon Valley corporate name change on the block.
NEW TWITTER CEO STEPS FROM BEHIND THE SCENES TO HIGH PROFILE
Newly named Twitter CEO Parag Agrawal has emerged from behind the scenes to take over one of Silicon Valley’s highest-profile and politically volatile jobs.
TWITTER ROLLS OUT REDESIGNED MISINFORMATION WARNING LABELS
Twitter users will soon see new warning labels on false and misleading tweets, redesigned to make them more effective and less confusing.
TRUMP ANNOUNCES LAUNCH OF HIS VERY OWN SOCIAL MEDIA SITE
Nine months after being expelled from social media for his role in inciting the Jan. 6 Capitol insurrection, former President Donald Trump said this week he’s launching a new media company with its own social media platform.
Delete Your Internet Footprint
With spies lurking everywhere, how can you keep yourself safe? Here are 25 smart steps, from the editor of HowtoGeek.com.
Demand for SpaceX's Starlink Satellite Internet Pushes Wait Times to 2023
Demand for SpaceX’s Starlink satellite broadband system may push wait times into 2023.
You Don't Need Millions to Get Started in NFTs
When the Paper Cats project launches, it should be a continually affordable non-fungible token (NFT) avatar.