QAnon followers have an increasingly large influence on election-related conversations online, despite social media companies’ efforts to silence them.
In the weeks since President-elect Joe Biden defeated President Donald Trump, the number of QAnon accounts on Twitter has steadily increased and, as the overall number of posts about the election begins to wane, those QAnon accounts make up an increasingly large share of the conversation, according to new research from Advance Democracy Inc., a nonpartisan research group based in Washington, D.C.
The research, shared with VICE News but not made public, shows that as of Nov. 19, there were 96,100 Twitter accounts associated with the baseless conspiracy theory, up from 94,800 on Election Day.
ADI labels QAnon accounts as those who put at least one of a number of major QAnon-linked hashtags in their Twitter bios, meaning this figure does not include any of the accounts actively hiding their affiliations with QAnon.
At 96,100 accounts, QAnon makes up just 0.02% of the total Twitter monthly active user base of 330 million.
But despite being a tiny fraction of total Twitter accounts, QAnon accounts are punching well above their weight when it comes to driving conversation on Twitter — especially when it comes to the election.
According to ADI’s research, QAnon-related accounts constituted 4.5% of the total conversation about the 2020 election on Twitter between Monday, Nov. 16, and Thursday, Nov. 19.
Put another way, approximately 1 in 20 tweets about the election are coming from QAnon-related accounts.
And the situation is even starker for certain hashtags favored by QAnon followers. For example, almost 10% of total posts using the hashtag #fightback were posted by QAnon accounts.
But these conversations are not limited to fringe groups, QAnon has succeeded in boosting several conspiracy theories about election rigging all the way to the White House, where Trump has shared them.
“As President Trump and his most ardent followers continue to post conspiracy theories about the 2020 presidential election, it’s notable that QAnon-related accounts are playing a key role in amplifying the President’s false claims,” Daniel J. Jones, the president of Advance Democracy and a former investigator for the United States Senate and the FBI, told VICE News.
“Just in the last four days, these QAnon accounts have posted about the election more than 1.1 million times, and are responsible for nearly 10% of the amplification of key voter fraud hashtags,” Jones added.
The popularity of QAnon has exploded in the last 12 months as it has spread almost unchecked on social media platforms like Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube. These platforms belatedly took action in recent months to try and limit the movement’s spread.
Twitter was the first to act, when it announced sweeping measures in July to crack down on the QAnon conspiracy theory, including banning thousands of accounts.
Twitter told VICE News that since it took its enforcement action in July, “impressions on this content have dropped by more than 50%, and since that initial announcement, we have seen a sustained decrease in impressions on QAnon-related content.”
But QAnon supporters have been quick to find ways around these bans, and in September the movement’s anonymous leader Q ordered followers to “deploy camouflage” by not explicitly mentioning QAnon or associated hashtags in order to avoid being detected.
But as ADI’s research shows, QAnon followers are still wearing their support as a badge of honor on their accounts, highlighting the work Twitter still has to do.
“Twitter's action against QAnon is arguably the least effective of the major platforms' recent moves,” Aoife Gallagher, an analyst who tracks QAnon at the Institute for Strategic Dialogue (ISD), told VICE News.
“A number of the most high-profile QAnon influencers still have active accounts on Twitter and are operating as usual on the platform. The community has stopped using QAnon-related hashtags, [but] this doesn't stop QAnon content proliferating on the platform; it just means that it's more difficult for the platform to detect it.”
As Trump has become more exasperated at his inability to overturn the result of the election, he has embraced ever-wilder conspiracy theories. Last week, he even tweeted a link to an interview with an administrator of 8kun, the place that Q calls home.
Last week one of Trump’s now-former lawyers Sidney Powell held an unhinged press conference with Rudy Giuliani, where she gave support to several conspiracy theories pulled straight from the QAnon fever swamp (though these views should have come as little surprise given Powell has been closely aligned with QAnon for a number of years).
Trump’s legal team jettisoned Powell on Sunday, but she has already vowed to keep on pursuing unfounded claims of election fraud. On Sunday she released a statement that included several winks toward the QAnon community.
In order to limit the spread of the increasingly wild accusations coming from the Trump camp, Big Tech needs to step up, but so do Republicans, Jones warned.
“It’s not just the social platforms that need to do more,” Jones said. “We need clear and unambiguous denunciations from our community leaders and elected officials— most pointedly Republican officials.”
“Far too many of our politicians on the right are unwilling to speak against blatantly false information, or worse, amplifying election conspiracy theories that are so clearly aimed at dividing the country and undermining our democracy.”