Josephine had almost given up trying to stop her 72-year-old mom, Veronica, from spending her days consuming the wild QAnon conspiracy theories she first began reading about in 2019.
Nothing Josephine tried—not patiently listening to her conspiracies, not angrily arguing with her mother about basic facts—had worked. If anything, it made things worse.
Then Josephine discovered Wordle and told her mom about it.
“I introduced my mom to Wordle recently, almost against her will as she was far too busy watching conspiracy videos and chatting on Telegram,” Josephine wrote on a QAnon help board on Reddit earlier this week. “Now she spends as much as 2 to 3 hours per day playing bootleg Wordle on another site that lets you play as much as you like. I’m not even joking.”
And Veronica's new addiction to Wordle has even improved her relationship with her daughter.
“She has to discuss Wordle issues with me multiple times per day, which has made her more social and less isolated,” Josephine wrote. “She’s always texting me to brag on a score or express frustration. Sometimes she asks me to help her when she’s stuck.”
The story is a rare positive one from the world of QAnon, as Veronica is now spending less time consuming dangerous conspiracy content and Josephine is spending more quality time with her mother.
“She just seems happier,” Josephine told VICE News on Wednesday. “She just kind of lights up when we talk about it, and she feels really satisfied and happy when she gets an answer.”
The names of both women have been changed to protect their privacy.
When QAnon first began, in 2017, Veronica did not get involved immediately because she wasn’t on social media, her daughter said. But in 2019, a relative from California began sending her links to YouTube videos about the conspiracy.
Josephine believes Veronica’s religious beliefs primed her to believe what she was hearing.
“My mom was already a [Christian] evangelical, so she had these fantastical ideas to begin with,” Josephine said. “Now, she is as immersed in QAnon as you can get. She’s on Telegram. She loves Lin Wood and Michael Flynn. Something about her personality made her vulnerable to being conned.”
QAnon has found a natural home within the Christian evangelical community, where some pastors have helped spread the gospel of QAnon from the pulpit.
Initially, Josephine, who has lived with her mother in Gainesville, Florida, since 2017, tried to push back against her mother’s beliefs, arguing with her and trying to debate the details of the conspiracy theories her mother was talking about.
“Over time, I realized that this was futile and it was only gonna cause her to dig in more into her beliefs,” Josephine said. “When you confront somebody and try to show them evidence, and they feel threatened by that, they start defending it and it only strengthens their resolve.”
So over the course of the last year, and especially since her dad died in October, Josephine's tactics have changed, and she started simply spending more time with her mom.
“I've realized that the more time I'm spending with her, the less time she’s online with this stuff,” Josephine said, adding that her mom could spend between two and six hours a day consuming QAnon content online.
A few weeks ago, Jospephine started seeing Wordle trending on Twitter.
The game has become a viral sensation since it was launched in October by James Wardle, a software engineer from Brooklyn who initially built the game just for his girlfriend. This week the New York Times announced it had purchased the game for a price “in the low seven figures.”
The game is pretty simple: It challenges you to guess a five-letter word. Each time you make a guess, the game tells you which letters you picked are in the word and which are in the right place. Players get a total of six guesses to find the solution.
Initially, Josephine’s mom wasn’t interested. “I tried it, it was fun, and I told [my mom] about it,” Josephine said. “But she’s like, ‘I don’t have time for that.’ Really—she's spending all her time on Telegram.”
But after Josephine made several attempts to get her to play it, Veronica gave it a try and she liked it, a lot.
“I wasn’t expecting her to be as into it as she is, but now she's playing a lot of offshoot sites,” Josephine said to VICE News, referencing the many derivations of Wordle that have appeared since the game caught on.
Because Wordle limits players to one new word a day, many fans have migrated to versions of the game that allow you to play as many times as you like. Veronica, however, has gone one further, and is playing a version of the game where you have to solve two words simultaneously.
Families across the U.S. have been struggling to deal with loved ones who’ve been radicalized by QAnon in recent years, finding it difficult, if not impossible, to find help regarding communicating with their family members.
Many of those seeking help have turned to the “QAnon Casualties” channel on Reddit, where members share their anger and frustrations about radicalized loved ones. Josephine was one of those people, frequently venting her frustration about her mom’s actions.
But this week when she shared her positive story about Wordle, members of the Reddit community rejoiced in her success, recommending other games she could introduce her mother to, and saying they’d try getting their own QAnon loved ones into Wordle.
It may seem incongruous that such a simple and wholesome game could have such a dramatic impact on a QAnon follower, but the structure of QAnon–where followers feel part of a community and share their “research” with each other–means the two share a lot in common.
“Wordle appears to have done a very similar thing [to QAnon],” Joe Ondrak, head of investigations for Logically, an organization that combats online misinformation, told VICE News in a message. “A community has assembled, sharing an interest and understanding, who are meeting to discuss strategies and ways of understanding it further.”
This game won’t change QAnon followers’ core beliefs, but it does provide a glimmer of light for family members who are already grieving because they fear their relationships with their QAnon loved ones are over.
“While Wordle won’t roll back the reality-warping effects of QAnon, it opens up a venue for conversation with loved ones and those who can help,” Ondrak said. “It also helps that the social discourse around Wordle has largely been just *nice* and wholesome, and with that as the prevailing mood, conversations about more difficult topics, using Wordle as a way to reconnect, can be had with a little more ease.”
But the success—or at least partial success—of distracting her mother from consuming QAnon content for a couple of hours a day does not eradicate the difficulties Josephine has endured seeing her mother fall down the QAnon rabbit hole, an experience she describes as “heartbreaking” and a “nightmare.”
And while she’s not naive enough to believe this new obsession with Wordle will ultimately change her mother’s outlook, at this point Josephine is willing to take whatever solace she can find.
“My mom may never disavow these views, she may think this stuff for the rest of her life, and I can’t help that, but I can help her maybe to build a life outside of that and not be so isolated.”
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