Social media companies crack down on conspiracy group QAnon

Popular crowd-funding site Patreon has become the latest tech platform to crack down on conspiracy and misinformation group QAnon. 


The company announced in a blog post on Oct. 22 that it would no longer provide a platform for creators that support or advance QAnon misinformation. The move follows Facebook and Twitter’s similar initiatives earlier in the year to deplatform the internet conspiracy group, which was labeled by the FBI as a “potential source of domestic terrorism” in an August 2019 document.


QAnon is the successor to the Pizzagate conspiracy theory, a movement that gained widespread attention in 2016 for its claims that Democratic Party presidential candidate Hillary Clinton was connected to a child sex ring that was being run out of Comet Ping Pong Pizza, a Washington D.C.-based pizzeria. Following Pizzagate, an anonymous 4chan user referenced only as “Q” made a post on the site’s politics forum board /pol/, claiming they were an individual of high standing rooted within the Trump administration. “Q” is a reference to the Department of Energy’s Q clearance, the highest level of security clearance for the department. 


Q later claimed that a cabal of satanic-worshipping pedophiles consisting of multiple members of the Democratic party and Hollywood celebrities was planning a hostile takeover of the United States from President Donald Trump. Q additionally claimed Trump was planning to initiate an event called “The Storm,” in which all members of the cabal would simultaneously commit suicide or be arrested as part of a political judgement day.


Trump has expressed veiled support for the movement, stating in a White House press conference on Aug. 19 that “I don’t know much about the movement, other than I understand they like me very much, which I appreciate.” He later stated “[QAnon supporters] are people that love our country.”


Patreon’s deplatforming of QAnon represents a significant blow to the movement, as it pulls crowd-funded financial support away from significant QAnon advocates, grifters and content creators. Facebook and Twitter’s similar decisions earlier this year to deplatform QAnon by banning thousands of pages and users is an indication of the recent push for social media platforms to possess more accountability by banning problematic and possibly dangerous groups. 


Despite this, both Twitter and Facebook have expressed resistance towards tackling persistent and systemic problems with their platform. On an October 28 C-SPAN hearing with the Senate Commerce Committee, CEOs Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook, Jack Dorsey of Twitter and Sundar Pichai of Alphabet testified against the committee regarding their treatment of political speech on their platforms. Texas Senator Ted Cruz labeled the companies as “the single greatest threat to free speech in America,” criticizing Twitter and Facebook for supposedly censoring conservatives. 


Despite the GOP’s efforts to pin censorship of conservatives on social media platforms, leaked documents from inside Facebook show the company has consistently bypassed fact-checking methodology for alt-right misinformation in order to appear unbiased. Similarly, Twitter CEO Dorsey stated last year the platform would not ban neo-Nazis, despite noting in a TED talk last April that addressing harassment on the site was his greatest concern.


“One of the things that social media does really well is scale. Over time, it’s as if social media has really blanketed the world in this tabloid headline,” said Harvard researcher Dr. Joan Donovan in an Oct. 28 interview with Boston Public Radio. “As the conspiracy scales online, and Facebook, Twitter and Youtube do nothing to dampen it, we end up in this situation where…most of us are at home, looking for information, and we end up finding these rabbit holes.”


As social media has become an integral part of many Americans’ lives, more pressure has been put on social media companies to regulate the type of content that’s being allowed on their platform. “We all recognize the risks to the integrity of our election that Facebook’s lack of action toward misinformation could pose, but few want to discuss the reality that Facebook’s facilitation of extremism and right-wing misinformation is much more a feature than a bug,” said Angelo Carusone, CEO of nonprofit Media Matters for America, in an essay for NBC’s THINK.


“It’s long past time we have an honest and adult conversation about the roles of these big technology companies in our lives,” Carusone said.