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Surprisingly, Q didn’t see this one coming.
Twitter announced on Tuesday night that it was taking the unprecedented step of removing or downgrading content and accounts linked to the conspiracy theory known as QAnon.
Twitter said that it had already removed over 7,000 accounts belonging to QAnon adherents and taken actions to stop the spread of the conspiracy theory that will impact some 150,000 accounts.
“We’ve been clear that we will take strong enforcement action on behavior that has the potential to lead to offline harm. In line with this approach, this week we are taking further action on so-called ‘QAnon’ activity across the service,” Twitter announced.
The company says that it will permanently suspend accounts that post about QAnon and are engaged “in violations of our multi-account policy, coordinating abuse around individual victims, or are attempting to evade a previous suspension.”
Twitter said it has seen more of this activity in recent weeks.
As well as suspending accounts, Twitter will no longer push QAnon accounts and content in its trending topics and recommendations. It will downgrade QAnon content in search results and block URLs associated with QAnon from being shared.
QAnon accounts that have not been suspended at already looking at ways of circumventing the ban, using hashtags like #CueAnon or #17Anon to avoid detection.
The Qanon conspiracy theory originated on the imageboard 4Chan, and broadly holds that President Donald Trump is waging a war against a shadowy deep state cabal. It also posits that members of the global elite, such as Bill Gates and Hillary Clinton, are running an underground child sex trafficking ring.
The theory is based on postings from a purported mysterious deep state operative known as Q who has made a series of predictions, like a 2017 post that claimed that Trump was days away from unsealing 25,000 indictments against deep state officials, a move that would trigger “a state of temporary military control.”
While it began as a fringe conspiracy theory, in recent years Qanon has gained more mainstream attention, particularly in Trumpworld, where supporters regularly show up at rallies wearing QAnon t-shirts and waving Q flags.
QAnon followers have also been implicated in armed standoffs, attempted kidnappings, and at least one killing. This has led the FBI to designate the group a potential domestic terrorism threat.
But it is QAnon’s online harassment campaigns that have led to Twitter’s drastic action.
Recently, major QAnon accounts have begun harassment campaigns against celebrities perceived to be opponents of Trump. These accounts then direct their followers to harass the celebrities with coordinated attacks.
TV presenter Chrissy Teigen, who has been repeatedly targeted with harassment by swarms of QAnon followers, hit back at one Twitter account holder who said the move amounted to censorship.
“You don’t have a “right” to coordinate attacks and make death threats. It is not an “opinion” to call people pedophiles who rape and eat children,” she tweeted.
Despite the negative coverage of QAnon, it has gained support among lawmakers. Former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn — who many supporters believe could be the mysterious Q — gave the conspiracy credence recently when he posted a video on July 4 showing him and his family swearing allegiance to QAnon.
There are currently 66 current or former 2020 congressional candidates who have endorsed or given credence to QAnon, according to a list kept by Media Matters. Trump has also retweeted multiple QAnon accounts to his 83 million followers.
But Twitter told CNN that for now, politicians won’t be subject to the new rules.
“Currently candidates and elected officials will not be automatically included in many of these actions broadly,” a Twitter spokesperson said.
As the QAnon conspiracy theory moved from the obscure corners of the internet, social media platforms like Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, and YouTube have helped propel its popularity far beyond what would have been possible otherwise.
“The Q keyword has brought together a networked faction, aided by automation, that continuously spreads misinformation and inspires dangerous behaviors,” Joan Donovan, a disinformation expert and director of technology and social change research at Harvard Kennedy School's Shorenstein Center, tweeted.
While Reddit banned QAnon two years ago, most social media platforms have been too slow to act, Donovan says, pointing out that some companies are not even trying.
“Twitter is late out the gate. Facebook and YouTube aren’t even in the race.”
Cover: A woman holds a QAnon sign as reopen protesters demonstrate at the capitol in Salem, Ore., on May 2, 2020. Governor Kate Brown announced a plan yesterday that could see some parts of the state reopen by May 15. (Photo by Alex Milan Tracy/Sipa USA)(Sipa via AP Images)