Twitter Expects QAnon Crackdown to Affect 150,000 Accounts Across Network

Image: Rick Loomis, Getty Images
Image: Rick Loomis, Getty Images

When should Twitter have banned QAnon, the conspiracy theory that has thoroughly convinced people, mainly Trump supporters, of an omnipresent threat of Satanic child abusers? Was it when Reddit banned their QAnon subreddit for making “violent threats” in 2018? Was it when a group of armed Arizona veterans stormed a homeless encampment thinking they’d uncovered a child sex trafficking ring? Was it after a man blockaded a bridge in Arizona with an armoured car loaded with firearms and 900 rounds of ammunition? Was it when a 24-year-old QAnon adherent murdered the alleged Gambino mob boss? Was it when a Colorado mother allegedly plotted to kidnap her own child from outside custody along with a “sniper”? Was it after numerous reports on the conspiracy theory’s devastation of families? Was it when the FBI warned that QAnon poses a domestic terrorism threat? Or when even Facebook removed (some) QAnon pages in May?

Whatever the reason, but also following wildly popular Twitter presence Chrissy Teigen’s threat to leave the platform after a QAnon onslaught, Twitter finally made the move, sort of. In a thread last night, Twitter Safety announced that it’s taking action against “‘Q-Anon’ activity” in line with its policy to block behaviour which can lead to offline harm. It will permanently suspend accounts that are tweeting QAnon topics and are coordinating abuse around individual victims or are attempting to get around Twitter’s moderation rules — “something we’ve seen more of in recent weeks,” they added. Twitter also said that it will be limiting content in search and trends, removing QAnon accounts from follow recommendations, and blocking links to sites associated with QAnon. In other words, it’s not blocking QAnon content altogether, but it will pay special attention to the harassers.

Twitter confirmed to Gizmodo that it has banned 7,000 accounts (not necessarily all QAnon-related) over the last few weeks for violating Twitter’s moderation policies. They expect that the QAnon policy will affect around 150,000 users.

QAnon has not vanished; its motto WWG1WGA, or “Where we go one, we go all” is still easily searchable now along with lots of hate for Twitter and an unfounded theory about Jack which I won’t repeat, but you can guess. “Fkuc you twatter just saying!!!,” one user tweeted. “Yeah a deadly virus alright misinformation this ya pricks!! #WWG1WGA” At the time of this writing, a search for “QAnon” pulls up several blatantly QAnon-themed accounts.

A QAnon-adjacent conspiracy theory, “Wayfair,” made it onto Twitter’s trending topics a few weeks ago, after a redditor posted images of wildly overpriced cabinets from the furniture e-commerce store, supposing that they were vehicles for sex trafficking. Earlier this month, Media Matters found that 66 people currently or recently running for Congress have openly supported QAnon, primarily on Twitter. Most recently, Chrissy Teigen blocked over one million accounts, deleted 60,000 tweets, and went private after QAnon trolls baselessly linked her to Jeffrey Epstein, which she said resulted in accusations that she raped and ate children and death threats. QAnon believers reportedly swarmed her friends. Twitter told Gizmodo that the decision was not directly prompted by Teigen’s case, but it follows a long investigation of QAnon activity which revealed a pattern of accounts swarming across the platform in order to generally derail conversations.

Earlier this month, Teigen tweeted: “I’ve tried everything. every lawyer says it will take many years and not change a fucking thing. because they will ALWAYS be crazy.” The attacks date back to at least October 2019, when Teigen tweeted that she’d been bombarded with daily photoshopped images of her and John Legend on Jeffrey Epstein’s private island. “it’s not just weirdos in random towns,” she tweeted. “these people are all over. I hate what some people have become and what social has done for this kind of reach. it sucks. and now they’ll post this too, and it’ll get even worse. I’m just so fucking tired.”

Twitter can’t stop an amorphous, ever-expanding conspiracy theory that originated from a false prediction, but it can help prevent the president from using his vast mainstream reach to promote it.