A new report has pointed to “major spikes” in QAnon activity online since March. The conspiracy theory, which is popular amongst the far right, has seen significant growth in popularity across social media. It’s also highlighted that although the major source of QAnon activity comes from the US, there is evidence that it “is being picked up internationally”.
QAnon devotees argue that a cabal of elites have been ruling the world for decades and are involved in a global paedophile network. It’s also believed that US president Donald Trump is fighting these elites in secret and wants to bring them to justice. Promoters of the conspiracy theory insist that he is engaged in a battle against the “deep state”, which is “a blanket term used to describe those in power working against the president”.
QAnon theories also regularly refer to high-profile individuals, such as the Clintons and Bill Gates, as being involved in the conspiracy. And all of them are involved in an attempt to create a “New World Order”.
Ireland has also seen an increase in QAnon activism. Groups which repeat QAnon talking points and conspiracies about COVID-19 have emerged in recent months.
A “by-product” of lockdown?
The report was authored by Aoife Gallagher, Jacob Davey and Mackenzie Hart for the Institute for Strategic Dialogue (ISD). Analysing “key trends” in QAnon activity for the last three years, the authors noted a large increase in discussion of the conspiracy theory. It’s revealed that in March the number of “unique users” discussing the topic on Facebook rose “from an average of 344 unique users per day between March 2 and 8, to 898 between March 22 and 29”.
A similar increase was seen elsewhere on social media. According to the report the average number of people talking about QAnon on Twitter rose “from 37,302 in the first week [of March] to 89,338 in the last”.
One possible explanation for this spike is that it’s “a by-product of people spending more time on social media as a result of the COVID-19 lockdowns”. Given that people have been forced to remain in their homes, it “created an opportunity for QAnon conspiracy theorists to capitalise on”. Another explanation is that it’s possible “evidence of a coordinated push” to promote the conspiracy theory.
Other peaks in QAnon activity are linked in the report to the French Yellow Vest protests as well as political developments in the US.
The majority of discussion about QAnon is “primarily driven from the US”. From October 2017 to October 2019 the US, on average, “accounted for 89.5% of mentions of Q-related hashtags” on Twitter. But in the last eight months this has dropped slightly. Now the US accounts for 87% of the Twitter discussion about QAnon.
It’s suggested by the authors that this could mean the “conspiracy theory is spreading and taking hold internationally”. Currently, the four countries responsible for the majority of QAnon discussion are the US, UK, Canada, and Australia.
Although Russia was initially amongst the top five countries spreading QAnon content, it was overtaken by Indonesia and then Germany.
The Irish case
In the last 12 months in Ireland there has been a noticeable increase in QAnon activity. As previously reported by The Beacon, a number of anti-lockdown groups were formed in recent months. Using the encrypted messaging service Telegram, they promote conspiracy theories about COVID-19 as well as various QAnon talking points.
One such group, Stand Together, had over 1,000 members in its Telegram group before it shut down.
Members of the group have attempted to link the rollout of 5G technology to the spread of COVID-19. Literature produced by the group also asserts that the virus is a so-called “false flag”. It’s claimed that death certificates are being forged to “inflate” the mortality rates. And that the virus is simply a means to introduce the “New World Order”.
The administrator of the group, Martin Cording, has claimed that Jewish philanthropist George Soros is part of the conspiracy and is funding “antifa”. Cording also told group members that the goal is to “stop this N.W.O from poisoning our kids”. He regularly signed-off his comments by writing WWG1WGA, a popular QAnon phrase.
Members of the group have held protests every Saturday outside the GPO in Dublin calling for the lockdown to end and protesting against the government’s lockdown legislation.
On a number of occasions counter-protestors have been attacked. Last week one counter-protestor suffered a black eye and had some of her hair pulled out by the QAnon protestors.
QAnon supporters have also been filmed following and threatening a counter-protestor. The man had to be protected from the crowd by members of the gardaí.
As a result of the danger it poses, in 2019 the FBI designated QAnon a “domestic terror threat”. It declared that the conspiracy theory has the potential to encourage “‘both groups and individual extremists to carry out criminal or violent acts’”.
It’s not known whether the Irish authorities consider QAnon to be a similar threat. But given the violence directed at counter-protestors in recent weeks, it’s perhaps time that the danger is taken seriously.
Featured image via vpnsrus.com – Mike MacKenzie