- Jun 1, 2020
- Reaction score
Tracking QAnon: how Trump turned conspiracy-theory research upside down
By taking fringe ideas mainstream, the former US president taught new and dangerous lessons about manipulating social and mass media.
During his presidency, Trump frequently retweeted followers linked to the notorious conspiracy theory QAnon, a narrative that originated in 2017 and claimed that a powerful cabal of Democrats and elites are trafficking and abusing children — and that Trump is fighting them. Although Trump never endorsed QAnon, he repeatedly refused to condemn the conspiracy theory in interviews and once praised its followers for their support.
One debate in the conspiracy-theory research community is whether Trump has pushed more people into QAnon, or whether he just emboldened those who already believed. Polling suggests that QAnon adherents remain a small, if increasingly vocal, minority, says Joseph Uscinski, a political scientist at the University of Miami in Florida who has been tracking public support for several years. Others argue that polls don't necessarily capture radicalization at the extremes.
QAnon has clearly gained ground under Trump in recent years, says Joan Donovan, a disinformation researcher at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts. The activity that she and her team monitor online, as well as the real-world protests and political rallies taking place, add up to “a growing interest in or dedication to these ideas”, she argues.
-----Researchers like Donovan knew QAnon was primed to embrace the theory that the 2020 US presidential election was rigged. They had already watched QAnon merge with the anti-vaccine movement to back theories that the coronavirus was engineered to earn money for vaccine makers.
Trump began pushing the idea that the election would be illegitimate when he suggested that postal ballots can be falsified. Things came to a head at a 6 January rally, when Trump told attendees, “If you don’t fight like hell, you’re not going to have a country anymore.” He then called for them to march to the US Capitol, just as Congress was preparing to certify Democrat Joe Biden as the next US president.
(So, 82% Right Wing and 8% Left Wing) -- notice that the Left suspensions are borderline left who have the strongest interaction with the right (what we used to call centrists?), and thus perhaps 'friendly fire'. There was also a heavily concentrated wing of the Left that was purged as well. [Qanon had the ability to hop from Right to Left without necessarily changing the 'browsing' habits of those involved].750 pro-Trump and Qanon accounts disappeared, along with 654 right-wing and 124 left-wing accounts.
One thing not well borne out by the data presented is the narrative 'that Qanon on Twitter was an age/Boomer thing' -- unless you are going with the thesis that the Yellow swatch below is mostly older folk. In my experience, older folk tend to align well with either the Blue or Red Uniparty, which despite the 'colour' acts more as a single team. Yellow was much more likely what we called, four years ago 'alt right' and a much younger phenomenon, though of course well-seeded with populist dissidents of all generations.
“We see this interplay between the elites and their audiences, who are actually collaborating with each other to create false narratives,” says Starbird. Social media becomes a testing ground for ideas that then gain momentum and are often picked up by conservative media outlets such as Fox News, she adds. “What we’re learning is that mass media and social media are actually very integrated.”