QAnon conspiracy: What is it and why has Twitter banned accounts linked to the group?

The far-right conspiracy theory group QAnon has been banned from using Twitter as part of the social media platform’s attempt to crack down on behaviour online that can lead to “offline harm.”

In a statement this week, Twitter said it will permanently suspend accounts tweeting about these topics, and it will no longer serve content and accounts associated with QAnon in Trends and recommendations, and it will block URLs associated with the group from being shared on the platform.

All eyes are now on Facebook to see if it will follow in Twitter’s footsteps in banning the QAnon’s online activities.

But what is QAnon and why is it such a risk? What impact will Twitter’s ban have on the group? Here’s what you need to know.

What is QAnon?

QAnon, as a concept, first popped up on the internet back in October 2017 when an anonymous poster on the platform 4chan, using the account name Q, said it had classified information involving the Trump administration and its opponents in the US.

Essentially, the account Q which spread across different social platforms accused a roster of Democratic politicians, Hollywood actors and other high-ranking officials of being members of an international child sex trafficking ring, such as Hillary Clinton and President Barack Obama amongst others.

In 2016, a gunman opened fire in a pizza restaurant in Washington DC, saying that a child trafficking ring was being run out of the basement and Clinton was involved. Though this took place before the initial launch of QAnon, the two are linked, with QAnon being described as an “offshoot” of Pizzagate. This recently popped up again in the news with Robbie Williams claiming “the right questions haven’t been answered” about the theory, and Chrissie Tiegen saying she is regularly targeting by QAnon conspiracy theorists.

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QAnon is almost like a different version of the Illuminati, in that the general idea is, according to the Washington Post’s Travis View, who also hosts the QAnon Anonymous podcast, that there is “a worldwide cabal of Satan-worshipping pedophiles who rule the world, essentially, and they control everything”, including politicians, the media and Hollywood.

However, this group does not control US president Donald Trump, who apparently knows everything about what the cabal is doing, and wants to put an end to it. Trump has retweeted QAnon accounts in the past.

Why is QAnon seen as a risk?

Supporters of President Donald Trump hold up their phones with messages referring to the QAnon conspiracy theory at a campaign rally at Las Vegas Convention Center on February 21, 2020 (Mario Tama/Getty Images)

In recent months, the conspiracy theory has been linked to spreading coronavirus misinformation and coordinated harassment about individuals they have accused of being linked to child sex rings, according to Wired.

There’s even evidence the group’s actions online have led to real violence, and it’s also been linked to at least one alleged murder: Anthony Comello, who was accused of killing a mob boss in New York, claimed he did so because his victim was a part of the “deep state” and scrawled QAnon-related symbols and phrases on himself for one court appearance.

What are the social platforms doing about it?

As of this week, Twitter is banning and suspending accounts posting about QAnon-related topics. It’s thought the action will affect about 150,000 accounts. In particular, this activity will prohibit “swarming” — when particular individuals are targeted by coordinated harassment campaigns by QAnon followers.

Twitter is far behind some of the other social platforms, such as Reddit which banned the worst threads related to QAnon back in 2018.

All eyes are on Facebook now to see how it will attempt to deal with the conspiracy theorists. There’s thought to be about three million followers of QAnon-related pages and groups on the platform. According to the New York Times, Facebook is preparing to take similar steps to limit the reach of QAnon on the platform and has been coordinating with Twitter and other social media companies on the plans.

However, there are concerns that this won’t be the end of QAnon online. Some Republican candidates running for office in the US are purveyors of the conspiracy theory and Twitter told CNN’s Oliver Darcy that when it comes to its new policy “currently candidates and elected officials will not be automatically included in many of these actions broadly.”


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