Segment from Episode 326 of the Beyond Social Media Show

Transcript: Social Media & The QAnon Cult

David Erickson: We’ll be talking about QAnon for quite a while. We’ve got three QAnon stories.

BL Ochman: Be warned.

David Erickson: This is in Good. So this is before we get into Bad, which you wouldn’t expect from a QAnon story. But there you go.

How Reddit Banned QAnon

David Erickson: This is from an Atlantic article by Kaitlyn Tiffany, who discusses how Reddit managed to deal with QAnon. So Reddit’s problem started several years ago.

But it was before QAnon really became a cultural phenomenon; before it really took off and became something that, you know, normal people had heard about.

Reddit Was On It Early

David Erickson: But they were able to isolate QAnon’s influence because they–Before the community got too large, or they couldn’t do anything about it, which is what Facebook‘s problem is right now, right?

Facebook has to deal with a full-fledged social movement right now. And it reemerges over and over on the site because it’s a thing in society. It’s not just an online conversation.

The article quotes James Grimmelmann, who is a professor of digital and information law at Cornell law school, and “it’s a problem on Facebook, because it’s a problem in society.” Right?

Reddit Infrastructure

David Erickson: The article says that Reddit’s infrastructure plays an important role in containing these, because the conversations on Reddit, though they’re open to any user, they’re siloed into subreddits, right?

So it’s not like Twitter, where it’s everywhere. It’s not like Facebook, where it’s everywhere.

The conversations are contained in a subreddit. And there’s no viral tweets, there’s no trending hashtags. So Reddit has this advantage that because these conversations are discrete entities within its infrastructure, it’s easy to restrict and ban those conversations if they cross the line and violate policies.

That’s not possible on a decentralized platform, like Twitter or Facebook.

Ban Evasion Policy

David Erickson: The company has given itself more enforcement latitude, too, because the most significant rule is a policy on ban evasion. It prohibits people–not just individual users–it prohibits individual users from trying to recreate or…let me say that, again. It prohibits individual users from creating new accounts to try and recreate the community that was banned.

So it can ban the subreddit. By doing so it bans entire communities and the ban evasion allows them to, according their policy, ban any attempt at recreating that community.

That’s not something that Facebook has ever tried. Twitter couldn’t do that because of the nature of the platform. But it gives them a powerful mechanism in order to contain toxic messaging, basically.

Reddit’s Anti-Doxxing Policy

David Erickson: They also have a powerful sitewide norm against doxxing. Because Reddit was founded as a place for people to have pseudonymous?–

BL Ochman: Pseudonymous.

David Erickson: Pseudonymous or anonymous discussions. Doxxing is contrary to that value, right? So they have a strong policy against doxxing. And that’s kind of what QAnon does all the time.

Interesting take and something that, you know, newer platforms are trying to start to learn from, I think. You know, that was one of the things on the previous…Telepath, that they talked about.

Reddit Cleaning Up Its Act

BL Ochman: It took a very long time for Reddit to clean up its act. There were some really dreadful things that were taking place there, initially. And for quite a long time.

And ultimately, I believe somebody new became president or something. There was some big management change at some point. I think they voted out the president at some point but–

David Erickson: I think they went through a quick-cup-of-coffee president and then moved on to somebody else but it is telling that we are talking about Reddit more and more often.

BL Ochman: Exactly.

David Erickson: Which we have never in the past because it’s kind of been a toxic place for marketing, so…

Facebook Purging QAnon

BL Ochman: There’s some very interesting stuff on there. So that brings me to bad news about QAnon. Facebook says they’ve purged QAnon, sort of. They say they’ve completely banned QAnon across all its platforms.

And they’re saying that it’s–they’ve called it a militarized social movement. But it actually hasn’t done that. So this is from–two stories: One from The Verge by Nick Statt and one from Bloomberg by William Turton and Joshua Brustein.

Facebook is still allowing individuals to post QAnon content to their personal Facebook pages. So that’s not exactly a ban.

They had a blog post the other day saying “Starting today, we will remove any Facebook Pages, Groups and Instagram accounts representing QAnon, even if they contain no violent content.” And it said that this is gonna take time, presumably because there’s so much of that content.

What Is QAnon?

BL Ochman: For anybody who doesn’t know, QAnon is a conspiracy theory that believes that high profile Democrats and Hollywood celebrities are members of a child-eating cabal that is secretly being taken down by President Trump and that members of this cabal will soon be marched to their execution. So that has something to do with what happened to the governor of Michigan.

Citigroup Exec Jason Gelinas

BL Ochman: Also this week from the You Can’t Make This Shit Up department: Bloomberg Business broke the news that a QAnon evangelist, QMap creator and former Citigroup exec Jason Gelinas lived a normal suburban life with a plumb Wall Street gig.

He was living in a New Jersey suburb, he was into soccer, Game of Thrones, and the QAnon conspiracy, and he runs their biggest news hub with top–and he claimed in 4Chan, which is another cesspool–that, were the hub began, that he was a government employee with top secret Q-level clearance.

He’s since been fired from his job a City and he took down all his profiles of QMap.

Google, Facebook & Twitter’s Efforts

BL Ochman: Google tried to make it harder to find QAnon sites by keeping them from showing up in searches. Then Facebook and Twitter have blocked links to them through posts.

But posts are easy to find on Facebook and everywhere else, and even on Telegram. So they turn up everywhere. You know, their followers also sometimes spread the word by writing their URLs on signs and holding them up at Trump rallies.

Militant QAnon

BL Ochman: It turns out that the militia that planned to kidnap the governor Gretchen Whitmer was doing much of their planning on Facebook and bragging about it and they shared photos and videos of their so-called militia training. And they’re unsuccessful, thank goodness, attempts to make explosive devices.

Cults Thriving In Age Of Disbelief

BL Ochman: Janja Lalich, who is a professor emeritus of sociology at California State University, who studied cults for decades says cults are thriving now in our society because we have leadership that’s tried very hard to change the relationship we have with reality. And people are grasping at straws. And you have something about this later on.

Then the last four years have been very precedent-setting in terms of creating this whole atmosphere of disbelief. You don’t know what to believe anymore and most people do not have the skills to vet their sources.

Returning from that collective delusion, she says, is not going to be easy. It’s horrible.

Facebook Efforts Could Be Significant

David Erickson: Yeah, no, it’s gonna be with us for a long time, I suspect. What Facebook is doing is…I think it’ll actually have a significant effect if they actually do it fully.

But because, you know, groups and pages are the centers of gravity where this information is spread out to everywhere else. I mean, groups and especially the algo–I mean, what they’re doing is…what they’ve been doing is hijacking Facebook’s algorithm.

You know, by getting everybody into a group together and posting content to the group, then all the other members of that group start sharing and commenting. It triggers the algorithm makes it spread more widely.

So I think cutting that part out of it, people are still going to be posting their own profiles and everything. But I think it will dramatically–I mean, if they do it that way–it’ll dramatically reduce the reach of that content.

BL Ochman: You can only hope. I mean, you know, can you have 2000 followers on Facebook? What is the number of followers where they cut off your followers? It’s a pretty significant number.

And, you know, they’ll find a way because they do; or they’ll go back to 4Chan or they’ll start some other network. I mean, you know, they’ll find a way.

Horrific Consequences Of QAnon

David Erickson: So this is another QAnon–

BL Ochman: More QAnon!

David Erickson: More QAnon! This is from Jane Lytvynenko at BuzzFeed News. And you know, we’ve been talking about how how QAnon is spreading disinformation, misinformation, conspiracy theories in the information ecosphere.

This is a story about the consequences of consuming that information. And it’s fascinating. So BuzzFeed–I won’t go through what QAnon is, you already just did that.

BuzzFeed asked their readers for stories of friends and family members who they know that have bought into QAnon, basically, become QAnon adherents. Almost 200 people told them or responded of what it’s like to lose a loved one to the mass delusion, is how they phrased it.

BL Ochman: It’s a cult.

4 In 10 Republicans Approve Of QAnon

David Erickson: Yeah. A Pew Research Center survey cited in the article says roughly half of us adults were aware of QAnon but four in 10 Republicans who had heard of it, said it was good for the country. So you know, that’s significant, to say the least.

Significant Others Devastated By QAnon

David Erickson: So anyway, they asked the readers, they responded, and we’ll just cite some of these. They said nearly 200 people did; respondents who mostly live in the United States, ranged in age from 16 to 82. And I’m just going to read some quotes from it.

“Once my mom lost her job in March due to the pandemic, she started spending most of her time watching YouTube videos, and reading tweets about and from QAnon believers,” wrote Katie, 29, who lives in Alaska. “It’s disturbing the things she now believes.”

“My cousin is divorcing her husband over his obsession with QAnon. It ruined their relationship and became a huge wedge between them.”

BL Ochman: My goodness.

David Erickson: “It is 100% a digital cult and it’s very dangerous. I’m worried about what it will lead to not only for our own family, but for our society as a whole. It’s really scary.”

And then a woman from Belgium said this:

“This poison is troubling our relationship [she’s talking about her own relationship with her significant other] so we avoid the subject. But this is not the right thing to do. I would like her to wake up from this bad dream and face the world like it is. I hope that we in Europe will not turn like the Americans and I sincerely hope for the US that the country will take another path.”

BL Ochman: Wow. That’s really scary stuff.

Cambridge Analytica & Pizzagate

David Erickson: Yeah, I’ll put a link to it in the show notes, obviously, and it’s worth a read for you know; that was just a sampling of the quotes. But it’s scary because–I mean even before QAnon became such a huge thing, in the wake of Cambridge Analytica and the Pizzagate thing–that was the first instance of it.

BL Ochman: The Pizzagate thing, yeah.

David Erickson: I was like: Oh my God. What Cambridge Analytica did was profile people based on their psychological profile. They understood that people are a certain way and you can feed information to them based on what their character, their personality profile was like.

It seemed to me that it’s not much of a stretch from doing that to activating crazy people to do crazy shit.

BL Ochman: Yeah, and it’s clearly happening all around us.

David Erickson: Yeah.

BL Ochman: And, and I can tell you about somebody who’s 98 with those beliefs.

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