Editor’s Note: This is the second part of the “QAnon explained” series.
What was previously considered a marginal community found in the depths of internet forums has turned into a mainstream ideology propagated all over social media, news outlets and even our political system.
QAnon is a far right-wing group that claims President Donald Trump is waging a war against a cabal of pedophiles and Satan worshippers in government and the media. Although the conspiracy theory has circulated the web since 2017, it has recently gained attraction for several reasons like the COVID-19 pandemic and the approaching election.
Daniel Bennett, professor of political science at John Brown University, explains how the conspiracy has easily infiltrated mainstream platforms like Facebook and Instagram. “I think anything that lines up with a preconceived set of beliefs is going to be more popular, and the pandemic is a good example of this,” he said. “The mere existence of the pandemic in the United States and its less-than-ideal response to it has the potential to be uncomfortable for a lot of folks who support the president.”
Despite efforts from social media platforms to restrict QAnon-related content—in August, Facebook removed over 1,500 groups and pages—QAnon continues to hijack virtual spaces. More recently, the movement has also taken over hashtags like #SaveTheChildren on Instagram, matching trending aesthetic posts on the platform.
As the conspiracy theory further spreads into mainstream media, the lines between what is factual and what is fake news get increasingly blurry. Josiah Wallace, associate professor of speech and theatre at JBU, said that “one of the challenges is that more people are susceptible to being curious about these things and sharing them than those of us who know about the conspiracy.” According to an article by Wired, even if the social networks’ policies try to prevent the spread of fake news, Q believers can potentially camouflage their messages or move to other unregulated platforms.
The problem behind QAnon’s increasing popularity becomes more relevant as the election nears its resolution. In order to placate disinformation, social networks place disclaimers for any posts containing political messages. However, QAnon adherents are found everywhere, even in Congress. According to a report by Al Jazeera, at least 24 congressional candidates have publicly supported the theories. “There are people running for Congress who are going to get elected because in their districts are a lot of QAnon believers,” Bennett said. “In that sense, it’s not going to leave our politics anytime soon.”
While QAnon groups discuss alternatives to identify themselves in order to avoid content bans, how can the public distinguish facts from QAnon’s dangerous messages? David Vila, professor of religion and philosophy at JBU, said that it is important to not be gullible. “We ought to speak the truth, and that means doing research and finding where that information comes from,” he said. “If it’s reliable, even if it doesn’t agree with the things that we hold to be true, it’s important to speak truthfully.”
Though it is difficult to tell whether this conspiracy will continue to gain following after the election, Bennett said that critically consuming media is important to stop spreading fake information. “We need to be careful, whether it is QAnon or another belief system that seems to confirm what we have prior held in some way, that we don’t get comfortable with the easy explanations,” he said. “We do owe it to seek truth and not just rely upon information that doesn’t have a lot of credibility behind it.”
Given the Biblical language used in most of QAnon’s messages, such as “Great Awakening” and “Where We Go One, We Go All,” Christians should approach clickbait-y headlines with caution.
Bennett advises using Occam’s Razor principle when discerning sensationalist news. The principle states that, of two explanations that account for all the facts, the simpler one is more likely to be correct. “Oftentimes, explanations of what’s going on in the world are just a vast ring of conspiratorial beliefs,” he said. “For Christians who are called to be witnesses of Jesus, we discredit ourselves as soon as we start to get into this fringy world, and that’s potentially a danger.”
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