QAnon followers are certain that President Donald Trump won last month’s election. They are certain the pandemic is a fraud. They are certain that the Democrats are running a cannibalistic, Satanic child sex-trafficking ring. And they are certain that “the storm is coming.”
These beliefs are rooted in one single fact: that an anonymous government insider known as Q has been posting cryptic messages for them to decipher since 2017.
But a new textual analysis of Q’s 4,952 posts has found that there were two distinct authors of these so-called “Q drops” — a finding that undermines the entire QAnon belief system.
“Our results very strongly suggest the existence of two different authors behind Q,” Claude Alain Roten, CEO of OrphAnalytics which conducted the research, said in a statement.
“Moreover, these distinct signatures clearly correspond to separate periods in time and different online forums.”
The change in authorship corresponds to Q’s move from posting on the obscure 4chan message board to the even more obscure 8chan message board.
The traditional stylometric approach relies on the interpretation of words, content, or syntax, but OrphAnalytics technology is entirely based on artificial intelligence, comparing frequencies of character patterns to bring out individual signatures, regardless of the text’s meaning.
The technology has been used to provide evidence in several legal cases in Europe and the company is collaborating with the School of Criminal Justice at the University of Lausanne.
The company “cleaned” the 4,592 Q drops posted between Oct. 28, 2017 and Nov. 13, 2020, removing any content deprived of individual syntax including lists, greetings, quotes from personalities, and messages shorter than 50 characters.
Then, they fed the resulting elements to their software and found a clear distinction between messages posted on 4chan and those posted on 8chan.
For years, QAnon remained a relatively obscure conspiracy theory. But in the last 12 months it has become a full-blown cult that has entered the mainstream, thanks in no small part to social media companies like YouTube, Twitter, and Facebook, whose algorithms have super-charged the spread of the conspiracy theory, as well as the tacit support of many right-wing figures — including Trump.
While the identity of Q remains a mystery, adherents have always maintained that the Q drops posted on both 4chan and 8chan came from the same person, and that this person had insider information about the government.
The first cryptic message was posted on 4chan on Oct. 28, 2017 and signed with the letter Q.
It was South African web programmer Paul Furber who initially popularized the posts, claiming the Q signature was evidence that the author was a senior official with clearance level Q clearance, a real designation from the U.S. Department of Energy in charge of nuclear policy. Such clearance would theoretically give the person access to information about the U.S. nuclear arsenal.
After just over a month, the person writing under the Q signature switched from 4chan to 8chan. While the initial Q drops on 8chan were posted on a board managed by Furber, Q quickly switched to the QResearch board, which was controlled by Jim Watkins’ son Ron Watkins — a man who is currently Trump world’s go-to conspiracy whisperer
Since then Q has remained on 8chan, which was renamed 8kun in 2019 when the site was shut down for three months after a mass shooter posted his manifesto on the site.
The OrphAnalytics findings back up the widely held belief among conspiracy theory researchers that the father and son who have run 8kun, and who control who can and cannot post as Q, are deeply involved in QAnon. Jim and Ron Watkins have both denied it multiple times.
Ron Watkins, the son, announced he was retiring as the administrator of 8kun last month and has spent the weeks since incessantly tweeting election disinformation, leveraging the huge following he built among the QAnon community to help boost his profile — to the point that Trump is now retweeting him.
OrphAnalytics says the next step in its analysis is to compare the Q drops with known writings of those who have been suspected of being the author of the messages — including Jim and Ron Watkins.
The company did not immediately respond to a question about when this analysis might be completed.