Let the game of whack-a-mole begin. I’ve been wondering what would happen to the QAnon movement for weeks. Since the eruption of violence at the U.S. Capitol, it feels like we’ve all been watching and waiting to see where the destructive ideologies that carried out the assault would go next.
What’s their next move? We all know the rest of us can’t find peace until these ideologies dampen and lose their grip on the countless millions of Americans they’ve caught ahold of.
Would they fray and fizzle out like a cult that had lost its leader? Would they stand around, each person looking to the next, shoulders shrugged as they raised empty flattened hands wondering what to do next and who they look to for guidance?
Or would they morph? Would they evolve? Would they grow? Would they transform into something different altogether?
The answer seems to be a mixture of both.
Some QAnon and other worrisome conspiracy theorists seem to be fizzling out. As Drew Harwell said for the Washington Post:
When one QAnon channel on the chat app Telegram posted a new theory that suggested Biden himself was “part of the plan,” a number of followers shifted into open rebellion: “This will never happen.” “Just stfu already!” “It’s over. It is sadly, sadly over.” “What a fraud!”
After the insurrection, there were a lot of people in these movements who felt that the proverbial hill was lost. While they still held out hope and manufactured new conspiracy after new conspiracy to keep them from confronting the uncomfortable reality that Joe Biden rightfully won the election.
And that’s what these conspiracies are all about. Not having to face reality.
But this was merely postponing the inevitable. When the last-ditch conspiracy that claimed that Biden would be overthrown at the inauguration failed to manifest, they were forced to make a decision. To abandon the movement and accept reality, or to continue believing that somehow their savior could still be president.
On the other side of the fence, we have the side that’s evolving. QAnon, the white nationalist organizations who took part in the Capitol riot, and other adamant Trump supporters, have morphed and are finding new places to spread the gospel.
After QAnon was banned from Facebook in 2020 and Trump was subsequently banned from Facebook and Twitter for the violent insurrection, Trump supporters turned to the enclosed echo chamber of Parler. But when Parker, the right-wing social media site with a penchant for violent extremism was cut off by Amazon Web Services (who hosted the site on its servers), these conspiratorial movements had to look elsewhere.
This has made Nextdoor the newest tech battleground in the war on disinformation and violence. Nextdoor moderators had long been sounding the alarms behind the scenes, long before the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol took place.
Makena Kelly broke the story for The Verge recently that tipped us off to the fact that moderators had been begging the company to make sweeping changes to the moderation policy since at least October.
Moderators use a forum where they discuss events that take place on the platform. They’ve been “bumping” threads to the top of the conversation that had to do with the QAnon phenomenon.
QAnon had been flooding the platform for months but it especially happened after posts relating to the conspiracy theory were banned from other tech sites and social media networks.
Nextdoor is a particularly vulnerable platform to these kinds of conspiracies. QAnon believers truly believe they’re combatting sex trafficking and child exploitation. It makes sense then that they’d want to scan their neighborhoods and be vigilant of threats.
The problem lies in the fact that QAnon supporters, as well as other conspiratorial believers of the Trump religion, have shown us time and again that they lack the critical thinking capabilities to discern a real threat from a nonexistent one.
Once you buy the moral panic that is the conspiracy of Q, that Trump is a savior who’s come to stomp out a global network of Satan-worshipping cannibal pedophiles who are eating children, and that Tom Hanks of all people is a part of this group, safe to say you’ve traded in your critical thinking skills for morally indignant delusions.
On January 13th, 2021, Nextdoor took action and subsequently confirmed that it classifies QAnon as a hate group after Facebook had already taken the bold step of banning posts that mention #stopthesteal and other conspiracies that have proven themselves instrumental in the attempted overthrow of the U.S. Government. Now they need your help flagging posts that give the conspiracy theory oxygen.
All of this reminds me how far we have to go and how much more responsibility tech platforms need to take for their own contributions to the devastating problems that have devoured our societies from within.
QAnon and Nextdoor mixed together strikes me as a recipe for disaster. If there’s anything we’ve learned about the people who subscribe to these beliefs, it’s that they’re defenseless against the suggestions of a moral panic.
I can’t think of a more direct way to incentivize the kinds of vigilant justice that America has spent all its life trying to get away from. One can’t help but harken back to the images of the lynch mobs of old and the picture becomes clearer.
The QAnon movement is led by an anonymous internet persona known only by the pseudonym Q. We believe it’s a man named Jim Watkins, the ex-pat creator of the fringe site 8Chan who now lives in the Philippines.
Whoever Q is, he controls millions of people and has persuaded them to become extremely destructive on his behalf. Q has managed to cause an uproar and build a loyal, devout following that even went so far as to attempt to overthrow the U.S. Government. It’s a threat to be taken seriously.
Some writers and journalists have been sounding the alarm over the bans that have taken place on social media platforms as desperate as Facebook, Twitter, and Nextdoor, wondering if tech companies should have this much power.
But let’s flip that question on its head.
Are you comfortable with Q having that much power and having the full endorsement of tech companies hiding under the vague banner of free speech? Because that’s the central question at hand. Critics of the very understandable (and hopefully tip-of-the-iceberg) bans by tech companies of dangerous ideologies haven’t answered that question.
If the problem is one of control, the solution isn’t just to free up speech to the maximum degree and suddenly expect nobody to be controlled by anyone else. Can you imagine a world living under a QAnon dictatorship, with Q in charge of the world’s most prolific nuclear stockpile? Could you imagine had they succeeded at the U.S. Capitol and managed to execute a few members of congress like they intended to do?
Unfortunately, there’s no easy way to wiggle ourselves out of this and just “go back to normal” now that the conspiracy cat has been let out of the Trumpian bag. We can’t just snap our fingers and expect that all the people who’ve come to believe gravely dangerous things will suddenly snap out of the trace, at least not all of them, and especially not while those movements can use the biggest platforms in the world — and the ones closest to home — to recruit.
Banning obviously toxic and violent ideologies by hate groups pales in comparison to the destruction that’s been carried out this month and the long road to healing we have ahead of us. And, if the Nextdoor plight teaches us anything, it’s that we still have a long way to go.
That’s my take. Here’s another take you might be interested in from Will Oremus on OneZero: