Many of us will chalk the hardships of the last year up to difficult circumstances and doing our best to make it through. Others, however, might go looking for answers and wind up caught in a complicated and deeply problematic web of deceit.
If you keep up with American politics, you might be familiar with the term ‘QAnon.’ The QAnon conspiracy theory began in 2017, when an anonymous user calling themselves “Q” posted on 4chan claiming to be a government official with ‘Q-level’ security clearance. The post came to be known as the first ‘Q-drop,’ shorthand for official posts by conspiracy leader Q.
These Q-drops allege to expose the actions of the ‘deep state,’ a narrative which claims that highly influential liberal celebrities and politicians are part of a Satan-worshipping pedophile cult that drinks the blood of children and controls world governments. The final part of the theory claims that Donald Trump has been on a crusade to end this injustice.
It goes without saying that this theory is completely unfounded. Although it’s been difficult to track down who really started the conspiracy, it’s been found that official Q-drops have been written by multiple people, reinforcing that the canon of QAnon is completely nonsensical and has no foundation in reality.
Unfortunately, this hasn’t stopped the calculated spread of the theory from taking over the internet.
QAnon had a small and growing number of believers from late 2017 to 2019, but the conspiracy particularly gained traction last year. In February of 2020, 23 per cent of Americans claimed to have heard about QAnon. By September, that number had jumped to 47 per cent. QAnon has gone mainstream: every popular social media platform now has a slew of QAnon groups and supporters.
In fact, QAnon has grown to become one of the largest and widely-believed conspiracy theories of all-time, joining the ranks of Area 51 and Holocaust Revisionism.
While the QAnon conspiracy may seem so ridiculous that it’s hard to imagine how people buy it, getting sucked into its orbit is easier than it may seem. QAnon believers can begin with good intentions, and the conspiracy exploits those intentions.
QAnon often appeals to popular local concerns in order to spread through an area. For example, people can be sucked into the conspiracy because they are concerned about the levels of child abuse and trafficking in their area; QAnon groups often use the hashtag #SaveTheChildren in promoting their messaging.
Others have dived in looking for answers to tough questions about the pandemic, vaccines, and police brutality, finding easy scapegoats in doing so. To QAnon believers, COVID-19 and the Black Lives Matter civil rights movement are organized myths designed to keep the masses distracted from the QAnon truths.
It’s important to recognize that Canada isn’t immune to the conspiracy. A Facebook group titled “QAnon Canada” has seen a growth of over 1,000 per cent since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Despite Reddit, Facebook, Twitter, and other popular social media websites making an effort to remove groups that promote QAnon, the theories continue to find new homes on other platforms. Controversial website 8kun, formerly 8chan, a platform that boasts having no rules, has seen a huge rise in visitors, particularly from the Baby Boomer generation, who typically have lower media and internet literacy than younger generations, making them more susceptible to fake news and online conspiracies.
It’s not just left-wing politicians and celebrities that are being targeted by QAnon believers—QAnon follows in the long tradition of conspiracies rooted in anti-Semitism. QAnon belief and anti-Semitism have been linked to one another, and QAnon forums online are often full of anti-Semitic rhetoric. In a time when anti-Semitism is on the rise, conspiracies could eventually incite physical violence.
The attempted insurrection on the American Capitol Building on Jan. 6 illustrates just how dangerous QAnon can be. Some of the most violent and determined individuals have been found to support QAnon. These were people who truly believed they were not marching into a building full of regular people who also hold public office, but one full of Satan-loving cannibalistic pedophiles.
Fortunately, the conspiracy theory could be breaking at the seams. After the failure of the Capitol insurrection and the inauguration of President Biden, many former QAnon followers are seeing the cracks in the theory. Feeling abandoned by their supposed savior Donald Trump, some followers are starting to wake up and take back control of their lives.
r/QAnoncausalities, a Reddit thread dedicated to people who have lost family, friends, or themselves to the QAnon conspiracy theory, has exploded in the weeks since Jan. 6.
For those of us watching from the outside, experts say advocating for better media and internet literacy for every generation is a necessary step toward reducing the impact of digital-based conspiracies like QAnon.
QAnon is a tough lesson, but we need to learn to take the potential dangers of internet conspiracies seriously. Though most may seem outlandish, they prey on vulnerable people to sow seeds of unrest that can grow into hatred and violence.
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