Late on July 21st, news broke that Twitter was finally taking action against accounts linked to the QAnon conspiracy theory, rolling out a multi-pronged approach to stop harassment and Q-related hashtags from trending. They’re also planning to ban QAnon accounts that engage in targeted attacks on other accounts, gaming hashtags, or trying to evade bans.
Despite having written extensively about Q over the last two years, I would like nothing more than this toxic prophecy cult to disappear for good and release the hold it has on its believers. In that respect, what Twitter has done here is a good thing: it will reduce Q’s visibility, make it harder for disinformation and conspiracy theories to go viral, and hopefully reduce harassment against celebrities and journalists who run afoul of Q.
But is it the end of Q for good? Will whoever has been making the mysterious posts on 8chan over the last two-plus years give up the ghost and reveal themselves? Will people walk away from the movement – or dig themselves in even deeper?
Here are some thoughts I have as a long-time conspiracy theory watcher:
This is a great step toward making Twitter safer for people outside the Q community, that was a long time coming. Mainstream platforms like Twitter and Facebook are the biggest places where Q fans gather to spread their gospel, interpret the drops, push conspiracy theories, and find community. It’s also good for people who have been harassed by Q followers, particularly Chrissy Teigen, who has been the subject of a sustained trolling campaign since 2017. Taking away Twitter (if, indeed, this ban really works) will mean fewer targeted attacks, less viral conspiracy theory mongering, and a big downturn for the popularity of Q-themed videos and books.
Twitter’s crackdown is only as good as its enforcement. The site has banned a lot of Q gurus, only for them to come back again and again until a new account finally sticks. The Q promoter who goes by “ET” has been banned over a dozen times, and always comes back and rebuilds his six figure following. Joe M, who I’ve tangled with many times, was deservedly banned a few months ago, started a new account that got banned, and started another account that now has over 100,000 followers and spews exactly the same conspiracy theories and aggression that Joe M was famous for. Banning someone doesn’t do anything if you don’t stop them from coming back – and Twitter doesn’t do this with any regularity.
Dropping the hammer on Twitter will not be the end of QAnon. QAnon was kicked off Reddit in September 2018, with their 70,000-strong forum banned and mention of the conspiracy theory heavily blocked. Q has only grown stronger since then, and gotten more mainstream coverage. People will find somewhere else to go, or they’ll adapt to Twitter’s new measures. In this case, they’ll almost certainly do the latter. But if it’s not clear by now, nothing makes these people quit on Q. They stuck with it when they lost Reddit, they stuck with it when 8chan was deplatformed last summer, and they’re planning to stick with it even if Joe Biden wins the election. Q might look different after this, but it will still be Q, and it will still be around.
Deplatforming individuals works, but deplatforming movements is a trickier matter. Q has been endorsed by Trump administration officials, celebrities, major figures in right wing media, and there are dozens of federal and state candidates for office that have thrown in with the movement. Yes, deplatforming bad actors one by one works – Alex Jones getting kicked off every major social media service has had an extremely adverse effect on his ability to spread conspiracy theories. Q is probably too mainstream now to be fundamentally damaged by this – and the site has already said that Q-linked politicians won’t be subject to the new rules.
QAnon fans actually like that Twitter is cracking down on them. Q isn’t a person, it’s a movement. And it’s a movement that will take Twitter’s crackdown as confirmation that they’re on the right track – that they’re “over the target,” as Q gurus say. Q believes that Twitter is part of the corrupt deep state information economy that Q serves as an alternative to. So deplatforming it will be seen as a win and a challenge, not a loss and an impediment. This is confirmation that they’re right, that Twitter and its deep state masters are scared, and that they should keep doing what they’re doing – just in a different way.
QAnon followers will do everything they can to evade the ban. They’ve already started, with Q fans trying to push new names like “17Anon” and “CueAnon.” They’ll misspell words, employ memes and gifs that they believe will get past Twitter’s filters, use code names and tone down the overt harassment, and conduct themselves in ways that are too obscure or too anodyne for Twitter to have an excuse to crack down on. Q himself has already chimed in on this, using his first drop since the ban to tout “digital camouflage” as a way to keep the fight going.
And remember, that’s what this is: a fight. QAnon doesn’t see what they’re doing as a conspiracy theory or a game – it’s a battle between good (Q, Trump, patriots) and evil (pretty much everyone else.) You don’t quit on a death struggle with the forces of darkness because they employed one of the tools in their arsenal. You fight back, you dig in deeper, you redouble your efforts.
Twitter cracking down on QAnon isn’t going to stop QAnon from being what it is – even if it was the right thing to do, and it took too long to do it.
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