Facebook’s ban on QAnon was hailed as significant, but it is already planning its next moves.
Facebook announced on Tuesday it was banning all pages, groups, and accounts associated with QAnon, in one of the strongest moves taken against the mass conspiracy movement. This follows a move to disrupt QAnon and other far-right militarised movements in August, which led to the removal of at least 1,500 pages online.
But is it really enough? While hailed as a crippling move against the far-right conspiracy group, the loosely linked QAnon movement has been developing an underground presence since 2017. In many senses, it originated in the deep dark crevices of the internet. With Facebook and Twitter’s crackdown, they’re returning to their usual haunts.
Digging a bit deeper, we went straight to the source of it, and got anonymous takes from actual QAnon members who’ve already set up shops elsewhere.
But what is QAnon and what do they stand for?
In November 2017, a small-time YouTuber and two moderators of 4chan, one of the darkest, extreme message boards on the internet, came together and picked up on an anonymous, cryptic message sent from “Q”.
Suddenly his disciples, an entire movement was generated, as well as a mythology behind “Q”, who claimed to be a high-ranking military officer. In a matter of months, it spread like wildfire throughout the US and even Europe.
At the heart of it, QAnon adherents believe that US President Donald Trump is waging a secret war against a global cabal of criminals, politicians and the rich elite.
For QAnon believers, Trump’s claims of ‘draining the swamp’ is a subtle wink and nod to what “Q” prophesied and detailed.
Devoid of concrete facts, the QAnon community urges its members to follow ‘the crumbs’, and see hidden messages everywhere that can be found by the mentally liberated and worthy.
By suspending disbelief, and paying homage to “Truth”, its adherents find meaning in being part of an ancient, global struggle.
Down the rabbit hole
It wasn’t hard to find QAnon on the web. While 4chan and 8chan were taken down after the Christchurch terrorist shooter shared a link to his livestream there, they have their own established websites.
A quick search turned up four of them. Another five minute search also yielded a private invitation to a hidden Discord server, where QAnon members interact through anonymous accounts.
Discord used to be a gaming-focused social group app, offering a means for gamers to coordinate, play together, and socialise in their downtime. But even Discord is rebranding that image, welcoming niche groups of all kinds.
Shortly after entering, TRT World was required to carry out a stringent series of verifications. Among them was the need to link to other accounts in order to prove we weren’t a shell account, but had an actual social media presence.
The logic behind it is simple. For right-wing groups on Discord, privacy is sacred. A slip-up leading to your actual identity could lead to you being “doxxed”, which refers to when an anonymous tip to law enforcement has your house raided for contraband, weapons or terror-related claims.
It’s no joke at all. People die in these raids. Doxxing also includes hacking, posting private details about you online, or making you the target of rape and death threats.
After verification, we were introduced. Their group held manifestos, discussions of current events, 18+ hate memes, a beginners section for induction, and even a career networking section.
One of the members by the username, “Adolf Hitler” agreed to talk by voice chat. Believing he was inducting us into the higher mysteries, he pleasantly sent us links to the same centralised pages we turned up.
A German white collar worker, and a proud self-described Nazi, “Hitler” explained that QAnon was trying to expose the “Freemasonic Illuminati Globalist Satanic Deep State Cabal.”
Asked how he felt about Facebook’s ban, he neglected to comment. Another individual by the name of ‘Operation Q’, spoke up using a voice distorter. Here’s what he had to say.
“Facebook is aligned with the Chinese pigs anyways. We live in an age of awakening. The world knows the truth, and believers will make their pilgrimage no matter what Zuckie does. Ignorance is the curse. We were ready for this,” they said.
Follow up questions quickly had us challenged, and asked who we worked for.
When claiming to be pursuing the truth, we were advised to read the Q posts, and find it for ourselves.
But not before they left us with a tip on where to begin.
“Follow the trail. The truth will reveal itself to you. Start with Obama. He’s descended from Hitler, and a Rothschild. Angela Merkel and Theresa May are his aunts.”
We didn’t take him up on his offer to read about Obama’s ancestry, but did look into some of the stand-alone websites that guide thousands of QAnon conspiracy theorists.
A collection of all of Q’s posts, they bring together over 4817 cryptic posts commenting on current events, foreign policy, the ‘deep state’, and flat-out supporting Trump.
Why are we being censored? Why are we being attacked daily? Why are we being condemned by Congress? 1984 thoughtcrime? What happens when people are no longer allowed to think freely? What happens when people are no longer allowed to challenge their authority? What happens when people no longer fight back?
Another stand-alone website exists just to draw lines and infer meaning from Q’s posts. Called QResearch, it engages its members in making cryptic comments relevant with heated discussions in forums over what kind of medication Presidential candidate Joe Biden used to remain lucid in his debate over Trump, among many other alternative conspiracy theories.
But another website was perhaps the most eerie of all. Taking QAnon thought to its culmination, it offers live updates on deaths, arrests, indictments and resignations of notable global and US figures, going as far back as June 12, 2019.
The last three deaths it lists? Kuwaiti Emir Sheikh al-Sabah, Former US Supreme Justice Ruth Ginsburg, William H. Gates, Sr father of Bill Gates.
Even these seemingly unrelated deaths offered fuel to discussions on conspiracy boards, reinforcing the narrative that Trump is fighting “the good fight”, “a holy war”, and of course, “draining the swamp.”
With Facebook’s crackdown on QAnon, one thing is clear. QAnon never expected to go mainstream, and it was only due to lax social media monitoring policies that they ever did.
Most internet users are unfamiliar with the darker parts of the web, where QAnon has come to hold sway. With Facebook and Twitter offering them a platform, the genie has in many senses left the bottle.
With praise and legitimisation coming directly from Trump, who described them as “people who love our country” and that they are “saving people from the radical left,” being banished from conventional social media platforms is hardly a hindrance.
Instead, QAnon continues to gather, discuss and spread in overlooked niche platforms like Discord, while following the trodden path of far-right influencers such as Alex Jones in setting up independent websites, podcasts, and crowd-funded Patreons.
This reach hasn’t been insignificant. In a US Congress vote “to condemn the mass delusion” a week ago, 17 Republicans voted against the resolution. For some, QAnon is not only a rising demographic, but also one with the potential to target and do individual harm.
While Facebook and Twitter may have denied QAnon easy access to the public, it has by no means diminished their numbers or capacity.