In its ongoing crusade to keep QAnon stans from congealing on its platform, this week Facebook announced new restrictions aimed at limiting the conspiracy movement’s spread online.
Facebook will reject ads that “praise, support or represent militarised social movements” including QAnon, anarchist groups, and self-proclaimed militias (like the violent mob that swarmed Kenosha, Wisconsin, in August following a call to arms on Facebook). Pages and groups that have been restricted but not removed will also have their content pushed down further in their followers’ news feeds. In August, the company reduced the visibility of nearly 2,000 Facebook groups and more than 10,000 Instagram accounts linked to QAnon pending review.
Facebook is also taking additional steps to point users toward credible sources when looking up hashtags related to child safety like #savethechildren, which supporters of QAnon employ as part of their recruitment effort.
“Starting today, we will direct people to credible child safety resources when they search for certain child safety hashtags. In addition, content about QAnon and child safety is eligible for fact checking through our third-party fact-checking program,” the company said in a blog post on Wednesday.
Facebook’s also labelling and down-ranking content that’s been debunked by its third-party fact-checkers, as well as filtering that content out from Facebook’s Explore feed and hashtag search results on Instagram.
For the uninitiated, QAnon is a crackpot group of far-right conspiracy theorists who somehow got it in their heads that a covert network of Hollywood actors, liberal elites, and government operatives are out to get President Donald Trump and his supporters. Adherents allege that this so-called “deep state” worships Satan and operates a child sex ring, hence the co-opting of child safety hashtags. The movement metastasised from posts on 4chan, 8chan, and 8kun from a mysterious figure(s) named “Q” who claimed to possess high-level government intel.
Despite how absolutely ridiculous it sounds, QAnon-related groups on Facebook and Instagram gained an estimated 4.5 million followers over the past two years before Facebook began its crackdown in August. More than a dozen QAnon adherents have run for office, some of which have been endorsed by Trump, who’s also repeatedly pushed the conspiracy theory without evidence.
These changes mark the latest in Facebook’s struggle to preserve the platform’s long-crumbling integrity. But many have criticised the company’s efforts as too little, too late, citing the dangerous and occasionally violent fallout from viral propaganda about the ongoing global pandemic, the presidential election, and widespread protests for police reform.
Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden has accused the platform of complicity with the GOP’s efforts to steal the 2020 election through voting misinformation campaigns. Earlier on Friday, the Senate Commerce Committee elected to subpoena Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg along with the heads of Google and Twitter to testify about Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which shields tech companies from liability for most of the types of content posted by users.