In this handout image provided by Harpo Productions and released on March 5, 2021, Oprah Winfrey interviews Prince Harry and Meghan Markle on A CBS Primetime Special premiering on CBS on March 7, 2021. (Photo by Harpo Productions/Joe Pugliese via Getty Images)
While the rest of the Western world spent Monday fighting over which side to take in the battle between Harry and Meghan vs. the Royal Family, QAnon was fighting its very own internal battle about the pair’s bombshell Sunday interview.Rather than focus on the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, though, the conspiracy movement is arguing over whether Oprah Winfrey was wearing an ankle monitor during the interview, or if she was purely a CGI creation.
Unraveling viral disinformation and explaining where it came from, the harm it's causing, and what we should do about it.
Last year, a false claim swept through the QAnon community that Oprah had been arrested in connection with a global child sex trafficking ring. That claim was revived Monday in a prominent QAnon Telegram channel with almost 200,000 subscribers, when a group moderator posed the question: “Oprah ankle monitor?”This was based on boots she wore during the two-hour interview that bulged slightly around the ankle, and looked—according to QAnon, at least —like she was trying to hide an ankle monitor.The claim was quickly repeated on other platforms like Gab and the QAnon-focused message board GreatAwakenings.win, where one of the top posts on Monday was titled “Nice ankle bracelet you got there Oprah.”
The imaginary ankle monitor is connected to the baseless QAnon theory that Oprah has already been arrested as part of a wide-ranging campaign waged by former President Donald Trump to break up a global, satanic, cannibalistic sex trafficking ring being run by prominent Democrats and Hollywood elite.Last March a viral Facebook post claimed that the coronavirus was a “covert U.S. intelligence operation” to hide the arrests of celebrities and politicians — such as Tom Hanks, Justin Trudeau, and Oprah Winfrey.The post spread so widely that Oprah even tweeted a response to say it wasn’t true.
But not everyone in the QAnon world this week is on board with the claim that Oprah was wearing an ankle monitor in her royal interview.A prominent QAnon influencer, whose Telegram channel has over 225,000 followers, posited the theory that the entire interview was a digital mirage. “The whole interview was CGI. The White Hats threw in the ankle monitor just to get the discussion going,” the influencer wrote. “White Hats” refers to pro-QAnon people who theoretically created the CGI video and included a CGI ankle monitor as a sort of hat-tip to the followers of the conspiracy theory.For a while now, QAnon has explained away events that don’t fit with their worldview by saying they are CGI, and not real. This includes accusations that appearances by President Joe Biden are simply digital creations by a Hollywood studio.
But not everyone within the conspiracy movement agrees with “everything is CGI” theories. The member of the Telegram channel where the original ankle monitor theory appeared hit back, saying that claims about CGI are “irresponsible and people should be wary of those who make these claims without proof.”And without a hint of irony, the same person added: “We no longer live in a world where you can just make shit up. That’s what liberals do. We are better than that.” QAnon is currently in a state of flux. Its anonymous leader Q has now been silent for over three months, and in the wake of Biden’s inauguration in January, which the movement thought would never happen, there has been much discussion about where it goes from here.Right now, any one of a number of the major influencers could use their power within the group to direct followers in whatever direction they wish.The internal struggle over which Oprah conspiracy QAnon followers should believe is likely just the beginning of a much bigger battle about the future of the conspiracy movement.