Facebook has dramatically increased its efforts to suppress the loosely coordinated conspiracy group QAnon, removing thousands of groups and tens of thousands of accounts throughout its platforms. QAnon had previously run afoul of Facebook’s policy regarding violent organizations, and in August the company pulled thousands of accounts and groups which had advocated violence, whether through official posts or by not moderating comments.
At that point, there were complaints from QAnon adherents, but the culling was thought to be over. It was not.
Facebook has updated its policy to restrict not merely direct support of violent activity but “militarized social movements”. This change shifts the focus from the question of whether a group or individual has promoted violence to whether there has been advocacy in favor of a group that commits or calls for violence. By tightening the restrictions, Facebook is hoping to drastically curtail QAnon activity throughout its platforms.
There has been a special focus on QAnon vice other contemporary activist groups such as the Proud Boys or Antifa because of the pernicious methodology used by QAnon. While other groups can be monitored for actual promotion of violence, QAnon specializes in providing misinformation targeted toward creation of strife. It effectively takes the form of placing kindling and accellerant-soaked paper all around the country, thus to maximize the damage from any sparks of conflict which may arise.
QAnon has been given particular attention since a Phoenix FBI field office named it a “conspiracy theory-driven domestic terror threat”; that assessment has been widely distributed. The recognition of terror activities associated with the group (such as the attempted mail bombings from Cesar Sayoc) has fueled controversy when QAnon has been publicly supported by President Trump and some Republican Congressional candidates.
QAnon advocates worked to keep pace with the changes as the purge happened, passing information along other sites in an effort to change recognition phrases and images to things which would not be recognized by Facebook. Both sides, in this, are doomed to fail if Facebook remains vigilant. It will not be able to stamp out a constantly working core group of advocates and believers who shift to new indicators to allow the continued dissemination of misinformation, but neither will QAnon be able to grow or even maintain its current footprint if casual members find their memes taken away and their conspiracy sites removed.
The news is another blow to the re-election campaign of President Trump, as QAnon forms one of his core constituencies and a major artery for the flow of pro-Trump disinformation. By taking this move in early October, it will put QAnon back on its heels as it regroups for the next few weeks, just when Trump needed it most.