QAnon followers are scrambling for a new digital home after Facebook on Tuesday issued a blanket ban on movement pages, in what appears to be possibly the largest social media crackdown in the history of the pro-Trump conspiratorial movement.
Faced with a large-scale purge, QAnon followers dreaming of the day Donald Trump orders the mass arrests of his opponents are faced with a choice: flee to another more Trumpian social network, or try to hide on Facebook by dissociating their QAnon groups of the QAnon brand more and more toxic.
Facebook was of unique value to QAnon believers, according to Travis View, a QAnon researcher and co-host of the QAnon Anonymous podcast, as it offered a huge pool of potential followers, as well as a “group” function. for QAnon believers to radicalize one. another.
For years on Facebook, QAnon followers were more or less free to talk about their bizarre beliefs, ranging from the theory that Donald Trump is engaged in a dark war against a cabal of satanic pedophile-cannibals in the media and the Party Democrat on conviction. that Trump will soon order the mass arrests and executions of his enemies.
“There were millions of total subscribers in hundreds of QAnon Facebook groups,” View told The Daily Beast. “It was a huge place, a huge recruiting ground, even, for less tech-savvy QAnon followers.
That changed on Tuesday, when Facebook bundled QAnon into a policy that amounts to a blanket ban on posts by violent social groups. A number of QAnon Pages had managed to survive an earlier, lighter crackdown in August that wiped out nearly 800 groups on Facebook and Instagram. But Tuesday’s purge went much further, wiping out nearly all of QAnon’s major Facebook groups. The new ban also extended to non-English QAnon pages, including a QAnon page in Quebec with more than 77,000 members who broadcast QAnon in Canada and France.
In the face of the purge, “Q”, the anonymous poster behind QAnon, applauded followers saying it was an “INFORMATION WAR” for them because QAnon is about to do so. a breakthrough. But with no real recourse, some QAnon believers began to seek pasture beyond Facebook.
YouTube and Twitter remain comparatively more open to QAnon content, although both platforms have taken steps to limit QAnon’s reach. Instead, some QAnon followers are gearing up to head to Speak or Gab, the two second-tier social networks that have billed themselves as alternatives for conservatives and Trump supporters already banned from major platforms.
Talking already has a thriving QAnon community, with almost 500,000 uses of just two important hashtags related to QAnon. It also received a big boost earlier this year as Tory leaders – accusing Twitter of censoring Trump and other Tories – made a big show about quitting Twitter for Talk, though most between them still continued to post on Twitter.
But the site is more difficult to use than traditional social networks, a constant subject of complaint for conservative figures who are banned there. And it lacks Facebook’s massive user base of unsuspecting mainstream users, ready to be “red-pilled” – the term QAnon to convert a new QAnon believer.
Gab faces many Talking issues, as well as some of his own. Once the main right-wing social media platform, Gab’s reputation has been tainted by his popularity with white supremacists drawn to the site’s hands-on approach to moderation. In 2018, the suspect in the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting reportedly announced the shooting in advance on Gab.
Gab aggressively courted QAnon followers banned from Facebook following Tuesday’s crackdown. The site has a “groups” feature which could replicate Facebook’s own QAnon groups, albeit on a much smaller scale. And in an email to Gab users on Tuesday, Gab founder Andrew Torba positioned the site as a safe haven for QAnon believers exiled from Facebook, writing, “Gab welcomes QAnon to its platforms.
“From what we have observed, they are very good people who love freedom and their country,” Torba wrote. “They are looking for the truth for themselves rather than depending on traditional media or big tech companies to do it for them.”
For QAnon believers trying to survive on Facebook, there might be a way to get past the ban. Even before the Facebook crackdown, top QAnon promoters had urged their fans not to openly use the phrase “QAnon”, both to avoid social media bans and to avoid alienating potential converts.
It seemed to work. QAnon-boosted conspiracy theories about the coronavirus and the “Save The Children” hashtag have gone viral without explicit QAnon connections, providing QAnon supporters with a model to spread their message without the toxic “QAnon” mark.
But Facebook may already be ready for QAnon to change its name or tactics. The statement announcing the ban said the platform will work with experts to track changes to QAnon messaging.
If Facebook keeps the pressure on QAnon, according to View, it will mark a historic moment in the growth of conspiracy theory.
“I think this is an inflection point for the history of the QAnon community,” View said. “Either they fade away or they will become more radical as they are relegated to more extreme platforms.
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