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Facebook, Instagram ban QAnon conspiracy groups

October 7, 2020

Social media giant Facebook has announced that it will ban all groups "representing" QAnon, classifying the conspiracy theory movement as dangerous. The restrictions will also extend to Facebook-owned Instagram.

A person carries a sign supporting the QAnon conspiracy theory at a rally in Olympia, Washington
Image: Ted S. Warren/AP Photo/picture-alliance

US tech giant Facebook announced on Tuesday that it will ban groups that openly support QAnon, a popular conspiracy theory that has led to the spread of misinformation across the United States and other countries. 

"Starting today, we will remove any Facebook Pages, Groups and Instagram accounts representing QAnon, even if they contain no violent content," Facebook said in a blog post. This marks a departure from Facebook’s earlier policy, which said that QAnon groups would be removed only if they promote violence. 

"We aim to combat this more effectively with this update that strengthens and expands our enforcement against the conspiracy theory movement," the company said.

Under the new regulations, Facebook will look at a range of factors to ascertain whether the group should be banned. These include the group’s name, its biography, the "about section," content posted within the group or by the Instagram account.

Facebook will also disable the personal accounts of the administrators of these groups.

Understanding conspiracy theories

"Facebook's decision to ban QAnon from all its platforms is a much needed, if belated, step to purge dangerous conspiracy theories from the platform," said Jonathan Greenblatt, the CEO of the Anti-Defamation League.

"We hope that this is a sincere effort to purge hate and antisemitism from their platform, and not another knee-jerk response to pressure from members of Congress and the public," he added.

Read more: Why the QAnon conspiracy theory is gaining popularity

What is QAnon?

The QAnon movement, born and bred on the Internet, falsely claims that the world is run by an international pedophile elite who are running a global child trafficking ring. 

QAnon supporters also believe that this circle of elites — which includes celebrities and left-leaning political figures — make up the so-called deep state, a form of secret government. They also claim that these figures are attempting to overthrow US President Donald Trump, who is seen as a savior figure.

The movement also overlaps with several other conspiracy myths and mixes its core tenant with long-running theories about vaccines and 5G mobile technology.

QAnon also incorporates white supremacist and anti-Semitic tropes as well as far-right politics.

A QAnon supporter takes part in a protest in Munich
QAnon supporters have increasingly popped up at protests against coronavirus restrictions around the world, including this one in Munich Image: Sachelle Babbar/ZUMA Wire/Imago Images

QAnon got its start in October 2017, when an anonymous user called Q began spreading far-fetched theories on the 4chan messaging board. The movement has since moved from the fringes of the Internet to see growth in mainstream social media platforms across the world, including Facebook, Instagram, YouTube and Twitter.

Read more: One-third of people in Germany believe in conspiracy theories: poll

Spreading misinformation

The so-called movement's rhetoric has had an enormous impact on mainstream politics, and often, resulted in real-world violence.

An FBI report on the conspiracy group last year said that QAnon was one of several movements that could drive "both groups and individual extremists to carry out criminal or violent acts."

Recent incidents include the spreading of misinformation about the origins of wildfires that razed significant areas along the US West Coast. 

Facebook said it has "seen other QAnon content tied to different forms of real world harm, including recent claims that the West Coast wildfires were started by certain groups, which diverted attention of local officials from fighting the fires and protecting the public."

QAnon groups have also spread false information about the coronavirus and about voting — which is particularly crucial ahead of the November 3 US presidential election.

In the past, Facebook has been criticized for providing a platform for fake news and the dissemination of conspiracy theories, especially during the lead up to the 2016 presidential elections in the US, which saw Trump emerging victorious.

see/rs (AP, dpa, Reuters, AFP)

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