Combatting QAnon online
August 10, 2020 10:44 PM   Subscribe

Many of the groups that I am in are being flooded pre-election with QAnon propaganda. It starts off with a relatively harmless #savethechildren and then they're off and trying to bring people into Q. I'd like to have a simple copy/paste list of links explaining a few key points. I'm looking for good, clear links on the following topics:

What is QAnon?
What is the link between QAnon and child trafficking
Numbers to disprove more children are trafficked than people die of COVID (which--- oh my God, but still this is all over)
A pizzagate explainer
Information on why QAnon is suddenly pasting this all over the Interwebz prior to the election
How to spot QAnon propaganda
posted by frumiousb to Society & Culture (11 answers total) 29 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Snopes on pedophile-ring conspiracy theories is my immediate response to people who raise Pizzagate with me.
posted by flabdablet at 2:43 AM on August 11, 2020 [1 favorite]

Best answer: RationalWiki has a not even slightly NPOV QAnon takedown likely to resonate better with those who still know very little about it than the rather drier backgrounder at Wikipedia.
posted by flabdablet at 2:50 AM on August 11, 2020 [5 favorites]

A good explanation I've heard about why it's so popular is by a game designer explaining it seems to function like an ARG (alternate reality game) that people are "playing" by finding imagined clues, solving puzzles, getting rewarded by being the first to guess something, etc.

Here's a NY Times interview with him and here's a longer explanation on his site.
posted by bluecore at 6:10 AM on August 11, 2020 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Don't throw NYT and RationalWiki links at them. They won't consider those reliable sources.

Check out this Conspiracy Theory Handbook for some ideas about how to go at them obliquely, enlisting their own pride in their "independent" and "critical" thinking.
posted by Miko at 8:53 AM on August 11, 2020 [10 favorites]

To be honest, attempting to directly counter Q-believers, no matter what sources you throw at them, is more likely to just make you a target for their ire, which rarely ends well.

Instead of acting unilaterally, I would highly recommend you first start a private discussion with the groups' owners/moderators, to see if they're even aware of what Q is or what's about to happen to their groups once Q get a foothold.
posted by Thorzdad at 9:12 AM on August 11, 2020 [1 favorite]

I guess my question is: are you trying to combat people who buy into the Q conspiracy? Or are you posting for the people who the propaganda is targeting, that is people who are naive to the whole Q thing?
posted by wellifyouinsist at 9:37 AM on August 11, 2020 [1 favorite]

If you want to keep the well from being poisoned you need to ban them post haste if you have that ability. Don't tolerate anything that stinks of Q garbage or they'll get a foothold and be far harder to remove.
posted by Ferreous at 10:22 AM on August 11, 2020 [5 favorites]

Best answer: This is going to be long and will cover a lot, but bear with me. I have a lot of experience combating fascist propaganda online and can tell you bluntly right off the bat whether you're successful in weeding the QAnon garbage out of your groups or not will depend entirely on whether or not they've already got hooks in. If they do, you will likely lose this one. QAnon operates like a cult, reinforcing extreme distrust of out-groups and extreme reliance on the in-group. It is very, very difficult to undo that once the damage has been done.

So. Keep that in mind with the rest of this.

Focus on educating those who are susceptible to QAnon propaganda, but write off true believers as a lost cause. Some of them may eventually crawl back out of that pit, but it's essentially like hate groups or cults. Attempting to convince anyone to leave will feed their persecution complex and backfire hard unless they've initiated steps to disengage. Christian Picciolini is a good general resource for dealing with that. His org Free Radicals is a good direction to point people in if you end up with QAnoners seeking to leave.

Do not try yourself to "reach out" to those eyeballs deep in QAnon/fascist poison. One of their most depressingly common recruiting techniques is to pretend to want to hear opposing viewpoints and cozy up to anyone willing to engage them. The idea isn't necessarily to recruit those engaging but to present themselves as legitimate alternatives worth considering to a public audience. Don't fall for that.

I will also echo that reaching out to the people running the groups as a first step is a good idea. That could go multiple ways; if you get any kind of pushback from them about this, it might indicate they themselves are drinking QAnon Kool Aid. Fascist indoctrination and far right conspiracy theories have really taken root in a lot of online communities, so even if these are outwardly leftist groups, it can't really be ruled out, especially if there's a growing problem with QAnon propaganda circulating. That's not a good sign.

As far as general primers go, Axios has a bullet point list updated for 2020 that covers the basics. This will be dismissed out of hand by those already in the grip of QAnon (and very likely by those on the fence) but it's a very quick overview that will be helpful for anyone sincerely ignorant and still grounded in reality. An important thing here is to acknowledge that the distrust in US institutions many feel right now is valid, while also correcting far right lies. Attitudes that the system is fine or not in itself deeply dysfunctional - especially that voting blue will bring things back to "normal" - will feed more people to the far right. It's important to acknowledge the real threats of the near future - socioeconomic inequality, economic collapse, global pandemics, climate change, etc. - and that the uncertainty and distrust of institutions people feel is valid. Nothing makes people run right into fascism like telling them their problems aren't real.

The subreddit /r/MassMove might be worth looking into, as well. It's constantly astroturfed, so be aware of that and be critical of anything that seems too pat, but there are a lot of links to useful resources posted there. It can be a quick way to find articles debunking specific aspects of QAnon conspiracies from credible sources - but, again, that kind of information is only useful for people who have not yet embraced the brain poison as the One & Only Truth. If you've got a problem with those in your groups and they've not been banned, confront the group organizers about that. Fascist propaganda has to be removed quickly before it can take root and if that's not happening, it's a big red flag for me. It's 2020, generally everyone in politically motivated groups is familiar with QAnon, the alt-right and contemporary fascism. Ignorance is no longer a plausible excuse.

If you're dealing with primarily video propaganda, Innuendo Studios and Thoughtslime would be good YouTube channels to throw in there for deconstructions of far right propaganda techniques. If these are liberal groups, throwing explicitly leftist and anarchist content into the mix can be a good way to test the waters. If you get significant pushback addled with the usual buzzwords, there's a strong possibility the group has been compromised by fascists. It's infuriating, it sucks but it's constantly happening because this is a game of Whack-a-Mole played on perpetually sinking ships. It's only going to get worse as the US presidential election draws closer.

Since it sounds like so much of the QAnon propaganda showing up in your groups is about child trafficking, it may be worth acknowledging the Epstein/Maxwell case as an ongoing investigation into actual ruling class child trafficking, and emphasizing the collection of documented evidence versus the free-associated hot nonsense of Pizzagate. The idea is to acknowledge that this is a real problem and distrust of the ruling classes is valid while demonstrating that reliance on factual evidence is stronger than vague suspicion. Please be extremely cautious if you decide to go this route. One way QAnon functions is by co-opting events like that into their narrative and hijacking vague distrust of the ruling class into fascist indoctrination. That a small % of their disinfo references actual documented events helps them create a sense that their conspiracies are real and also something "the mainstream" wants to keep secret. Unfortunately, another way QAnon works is by encouraging active suspicion of any and all credible sources of information - you can only trust these random fascist YouTubers! - and infiltrating any groups organized to counter their propaganda. Because of that, including links to documented and factual cases of ruling class human trafficking could potentially backfire. The Snopes link at the top is a good one - there's a very long history of "Satanic ritual abuse" conspiracy theories, many of which are pipelines into antisemitism/Neo Nazism. If you think you can successfully contrast that against real investigations into abuse, it might be worthwhile, otherwise I would advise against this as there are very entrenched roots here. I bring it up mainly as another facet to understand how QAnon functions which is crucial to combating it.

Be aware that publicly combating fascism online will make you some highly obsessive enemies. You or others in the groups could be targeted for mass harassment. There are some good guides for preparing for that here and here. A lot of this might seem like overkill, but it's best to be as safe as possible in the current environment.

My general advice is to understand the process of how QAnon operates as a pipeline into contemporary fascism and use that to evaluate what stage people in your groups are in. That will help inform how you approach this - you can send the Axios link to someone who really has no idea what this is about and wants to understand, but it will backfire and be used to further recruitment if there are true believers. That's the case with all of this, unfortunately. It's very important to stamp this stuff out before it hits a point of no return.

Fingers crossed, though, and good luck.
posted by Lonnrot at 11:36 AM on August 11, 2020 [72 favorites]

I think it'd help to clarify whether you're trying to inoculate the existing members of the group that don't have inclinations toward or against QAnon conspiracies against their tactics and misinformation, or trying to go after the spreaders themselves. I'd argue that it's only worth engaging with the former group and that deplatforming the people doing the propaganda spreading wherever you can is the only worthwhile approach there.
posted by Aleyn at 12:36 PM on August 11, 2020

Response by poster: To clarify— inoculate the existing members of the group who do not believe the nice lady posting about child trafficking could be bad.
posted by frumiousb at 3:04 PM on August 11, 2020

Response by poster: Thank you for the links, this is what I ended up posting. If people have better links to contribute, I would appreciate it.

So what is QAnon anyhow?

QAnon is an extreme right wing conspiracy theory started on the hacker collective 4chan and dedicated to keeping Donald Trump in office and undermining our belief in government organisations.

What does that have to do with this group?

In the run up to the 2020 election, trolls from Eastern Europe are once again trying to influence the elections in favor of Donald Trump. They know he is deeply unpopular and people are banding together to support movements like #BLM and to organize around the COVID failure. The QAnon trolls have coopted hashtags relating to saving the children to dilute the messages around #blm and COVID. You will often see phrases like “child trafficking is the real pandemic” or fake statistics which assert that your child has a better chance of being trafficked than dying from COVID.

Isn’t child trafficking bad?

Yes, it’s terrible. And it’s a scourge worldwide. However, the child trafficking which QAnon refers to are not real children. They are pushing a conspiracy view about a government-sanctioned satanic cult which is trading trafficked children. Posting about this does nothing at all to defend the children at actual risk of being trafficked, who are generally the terribly poor. In fact, QAnon often plays on the fears of its white audience for their own children. Rather than make changes which will protect the poorest and the most vulnerable, they focus on dangerous conspiracy theories like #pizzagate and Wayfair which have resulted in people dying when the lies were believed.

But I care about child trafficking! How can I tell the difference?

There are many legitimate organisations which are working with the victims of child trafficking. is one. If there is a post which is just posting generic hashtags or making outlandish claims without association with one of these organisations, beware.

How can I tell if it is QAnon?

QAnon trolls refer to themselves as bakers, and the posts as breadcrumbs. They want you to click down to their profile and draw you deeper into the cult.

I’ll give you a real example from a large #blm oriented group to which I belong.

An apparently white female member who has been around for a while posting generic #blm memes and activities, suddenly posts something out of keeping with the group about saving the children. The people in the group care about children, so they respond. She/It starts signing its posts #BLM and #SavetheChildren

In its next posting (I’m calling this one it because it was clearly a troll of some kind, not a real person) it posts a meme about saving the children, reposted from a more openly QAnon source.

If you click down to her profile and to the source’s profile, you see a lot of references to “pizzagate” and government conspiracies and how COVID is a lie with links to dodgy youtube videos. The baker was laying crumbs.

In this case, we’ve had so many of them that the moderators immediately banned the poster. They recognised the pattern.

What are the patterns?

Talking about child trafficking in a strange way not in line with the group topic.

If questioned about, for instance, pizzagate, they will nearly always respond “Are you going to let politics get in the way of saving the children”?

Talking about a great awakening and implying that more and more people are waking up to the truth.

Citing pizzagate in any way shape or form.

Making assertions like that child trafficking is much more common than racism or that COVID figures are a lie and child trafficking is the real pandemic.

Answering assertions with “I’ve done my research.” There are a couple of copypasta phrases which will pop up constantly.

Links to youtube videos which claim to show the truth in (for instance) Disney videos, commercial dolls, Wayfair, whatever. Their evidence will not be any organisations who really work with trafficked children. They will almost all be YouTube.

In the case of the argument earlier, the OP from the shared meme was a clearly fake account of a young woman sporting a tattoo which said “Follow the White Rabbit”. QAnon trolls and believers often reference the Matrix or redpill.

Isn’t this just a matter of opinion?

No. These groups are dangerous. They are deliberately trying to destablise the country and throw the election for Donald Trump. There may be people who are just innocent believers, but there are an awful lot of fake accounts which are very difficult to spot when you only get to know people online.
posted by frumiousb at 6:41 PM on August 11, 2020 [22 favorites]

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