Credit: GG Photographer Ioanna Chrysanthakopoulou (@joan_chriss)

QAnon – from an online mystery to a real-life crisis

By Ananya Venkatesan

How conspiracy theories have translated into anti-mask protests.

Has someone ever told you that the actors, politicians, and celebrity personalities you know and love are part of a global paedophilic, bloodsucking, autocratic syndicate? If not, you clearly haven’t heard QAnon. 

In what seems like a decade ago, the comparatively blissful times of November 2017, YouTube creator Tracy Diaz along with two moderators from 4chan (an online far-right platform), brought to the world another conspiracy – QAnon. Followers of the theory claim that Hillary Clinton along with a series of other Democrats, Hollywood stars, and politicians across the world, are part of a satanic “deep state” – an underground child sex ring that uses children’s blood to elongate their lifespan. “Q”, a high ranking official in the military, gives believers secret messages and clues to reveal the plans of Donald Trump who has been recruited by the military to thwart this organisation and liberate the people of the world from the autocratic control of the “deep state” in “The Great Awakening”. 

Soon after its inception, QAnon moved to Reddit in an effort to gain a larger audience and “spread the message”. Reddit, having forever been a home to questionable conspiracy theories, allowed for the QAnon movement to succeed in its recruitment goals, and they eventually crept into Facebook where they gained a new audience demographic – senior citizens, appealing to many of their right-wing tendencies. Extreme sites like 4chan and 8chan now saw a flood of “Boomers” using their services to connect to other far-right conspiracy theorists, anti-vaxxers, and anti-5G propogandists. 

Being locked up at home with not much but the internet to keep people company has not helped with the situation, and followers of the bizarre QAnon conspiracy have increased exponentially during the pandemic. With thousands of people googling the health crisis in a frenzy, eventually, with the ways in which internet algorithms work, these people are connected to QAnon’s theories. 

An interviewee on MSNBC stated: We saw a lot of groups who were wellness communities, people who were interested in alternate health. The algorithm would sort these people together with the QAnon people. They would say. Alternative health? Maybe they’re into anti-vax. If they’re anti-vax, maybe they’re into Donald Trump! And within one or two clicks, people would go down these very bad paths.”

Not only that, but algorithms also connect conspiracy to conspiracy. The lines between anti-vax, 5G, and COVID deniers is extremely thin, to the point where it might be considered non-existent. The primary reason behind these blurry lines is the common underlying sentiment among them – far-right and anti-establishment rhetoric and, most importantly, widespread hysteria and fear. Although they many display underlying predispositions of subconscious racist, xenophobic, and/or right leaning tendencies, new recruits of unfounded and dangerous conspiracy theories like QAnon aren’t necessarily those who would have bought into these bigoted narratives, if not for the mystery and misinformation that was rampant in the initial days of the coronavirus pandemic – thanks to severe mismanagement of the crisis. One might assume that the grasps of QAnon would not have left the borders of its birthplace – the United States of America – but as 2020’s modus operandi would have it, its phantom claws have reached Britain. How? Social media.

In Facebook, we can find a cesspool of crazy conspiracy memes talking about an international child sex ring run by society’s elites, supplied by schools that have reopened. And now almost everyone from toddlers to grandparents seem to have an account on what was initially to be a college networking site. With Zuckerberg’s “free speech” policies, until recently, there was no filter to the content being spread – and this functioned as a key propagator of the conspiracy and recruitment tool for QAnon. People buying into it believe coronavirus to be a smokescreen to allow for the “deep state” to gain access to their children. 

The problem here is that we are not talking about 10s and 20s, we’re talking about hundreds of people that buy into this rhetoric; these are not just ideas, they have very physical consequences in the real-world. QAnon, anti-vaxxers, COVID deniers, 5G COVID believers all band together in marches – like the protests in London – to “free the children”, or participate anti-mask campaigns, and spread their conspiracies to an already scared and hysteric public. Reports across papers confirm that the protests in London were an amalgamation of conspiracy theorists. It is crucial to note that this is a vicious cycle – mass gatherings of people function as breeding grounds for the virus that has crippled the world, and increased lockdown means more people on the internet which almost certainly leads to a rise in conspiracy believers.

What is particularly sickening to see is that the right-wing leaders like Donald Trump do not condemn the behaviours of these groups but use them as a voting bloc, even accepting the role of the messiah. With QAnon believers getting into public office, and personalities like Piers Corbyn making statements that may not be outright stamps for the conspiracy but sure as hell fuel the principles behind them, protestors are roused to march on the streets endangering not just themselves but also every single person in the country and even the world. These are not just filter bubbles that exist in the dark corners of the web, they are real-world protests; and even if they existed only within the abstract internet, they cannot be ignored. These are real people with the capability to vote, people who have a say in who runs the government and what policies are implemented – legislation that affects thousands and thousands of people’s lives. Now more than ever, when the entire world is battling this pandemic, fighting for a return to normalcy, we must ensure that those in power take into account the threat posed by unchecked conspiracies, and understand the effect misinformation has in enabling these groups.

Next time you read something online, a crazy theory of the mole people or paedophilic sex rings, remind yourself that these may not be the ‘facts’ you should live your life by, perhaps we all need to question what we hear.


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