Since 2017, the growing conspiracy theory behind QAnon has been garnering a far right-wing following. Trump supporters are primed to deny and resist any election result in November 2020 that does not involve Trump winning the presidency. The QAnon conspiracy is based upon the belief that a mysterious government official, “Q,” is sharing information about a cannibalistic, satanic child sex trafficking ring which includes members from the Hollywood left and the Democratic party. What is particularly disturbing is that QAnon conspiracies are coming from 8kun— a dastardly online forum known for spreading white supremacist literature and propaganda, child pornography, and manifestos from mass shooters. It takes a special kind of degenerate to visit this type of forum.
When Trump was forced to shut the U.S. down in the spring, due to the Coronavirus, it threw the economy into a tailspin. As unemployment skyrocketed, Trump’s chances of re-election in November were already in question. Trump needed to get the economy back up and running, so he resorted to sharing wild and unsubstantiated conspiracies to justify an expedited re-opening of the U.S. economy. The spread of QAnon Coronavirus conspiracy tales inspired anti-mask and anti-lockdown protests by Trump’s base. In some States businesses and schools were being reopened, even though it wasn’t advisable by the medical and scientific community. Despite 217,000 (and counting) Coronavirus deaths in America—clearly, many of Trump’s fans are simply not savvy enough to distinguish lies from truth. He knows this—that is why he shares these conspiracies.
With QAnon siphoning so much social media attention—governments, journalists, and academia must promote careful evaluation and assessment of such dangerous information. Legitimate authorities deserve a legitimate channel that can be relied upon as a source of truth to dispute QAnon’s conspiracy rhetoric. Only when trusted sources provide verifiable facts should important decisions be enacted concerning this information. Unfortunately, social media has been allowing QAnon content to be broadcast to the world unchecked. Facebook, YouTube, and others are certainly responsible for recommending QAnon content to its users, perhaps not intentionally, but via existing algorithms that most social networks have no desire to tweak or alter.
Social media forums profit from the influx of traffic that they can sell ads to, and right now QAnon is driving a lot of traffic. Social media networks will be very resistant to the idea of examining an algorithm to eliminate something that is bringing in money. This affects trust in all digital mediums, and that trust will be hard to regain in the future. Permitting information from two opposing viewpoints to permeate social media without context, makes social media not just the arbiter of disinformation, but complicit in its spread. By presenting QAnon views without contextualizing them, social media is essentially equating lies to truth as if they are equal parts of the same whole.
“Here is what both sides are saying, you decide what’s true” is not journalism nor is it good for the world at large. The only way we can start to fix this epidemic of disinformation is by decentralizing social media—until then, people will be bombarded with dangerous rhetoric on their feeds and unfortunately, many of them will buy into it.