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QAnon – a digital cult of conspiracy ousted from Reddit

Connor James Ibbetson, Editor-at-large

What is QANON – and why has his following on Reddit been banned, and what this means for the platform.

Even if you are a die-hard Trump supporter, unless you frequent some deeper conspiracy forums on Reddit and 4Chan, you probably haven’t heard of QAnon.

Who is QAnon?

QAnon rose to prominence following the Trump election in 2016.

A user began posting to /pol/ (the politics section of the popular forum 4Chan) under the username “Q”. 4Chan’s /pol/ is known for being far-right, and famously associated with the Pepe the Frog memes which have been used extensively by Trump supporters online.

(The ‘Anon’ refers to Q being a 4Chan user, who are refer to themselves as anon, not to be confused with the internet activist group Anonymous.)

QAnon began posting messages, claiming to have inside knowledge of the US Government and high-level security clearance. Qanon also claims knowledge of the so-called ‘Deep State’.

Many have taken the posts of QAnon to be proof of the existence of the Deep State that they claim is working against Donald Trump’s efforts as President of the United States and controls the USA.

Messages from QAnon have gone on to envelop everything from the Trump presidency, to North Korea, the Pizzagate conspiracy and Tom Hanks.

Some claim that histeria stemming from QAnon posts has led to real life violence. In December, a gunman entered a restaurant he believed was connected to the bizarre Pizzagate theory, and discharged a weapon, although no one was hurt.

Followers are convinced that Donald Trump is aware of, and follows QAnon, and ‘Q’ signs, slogans and banners are now a common sight at Trump rallies.

Their evidence is flimsy at best. In one video, Donald Trump is seen saying “Thank you” but QAnon followers are convinced the President actually says “Thank Q”. He of course, is saying thank you.

The following has become so extreme, that White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders was forced to comment on QAnon. “The president condemns and denounces any group that would incite violence against another individual and certainly doesn’t support groups that would promote that type of behavior”.

Not the first, and not the last to be banned from Reddit

The bizarre theories and stories surrounding the mysterious QAnon have been thrown up into the limelight, after popular news and social website Reddit banned the forums associated with QAnon. Reddit said the pages were banned for “repeated violations of the terms of [Reddit’s] content policy.”

Reddit has banned many communities from its platform in the past, including r/FPH, a subreddit which targeted hate at overweight people.

Other notable subreddits or pages banned from the site include r/incels, which has banned following a media campaign after the extensive promotion of violence against women.

What’s different this time however, is that all the communities mentioned above were banned following media exposure and pressure.

The ousting of QAnon’s followers subreddits, r/greatawakening and r/The_GreatAwakening, is more of an internal move by the Reddit Team.

Has Reddit finally developed a system for regulation?

The problem that platforms like Reddit suffer with is regulation. Members are quick to rally to cries of ‘censorship’ and ‘thought-control’ when communities like the ones mentioned are banned – believing they should be allowed under free speech.

But when these communities are acting as breeding grounds for dangerous behaviour and hate speech. Behaviour that has leached into the real world, where is the line drawn?

An obvious place to start is the rules, if you break the rules, its a ban for you.

Reporting by The New Yorker suggests that Reddit actively has a list of ‘borderline’ subreddits, if true, subs like r/greatawakening have likely been under observation for some time, and destined for a ban.

Users of these subreddits will claim that many other subreddits violate the Reddit terms of service and use.

Subreddits like r/fuckthealtright often come under fire as promoting harassment of anything remotely right-wing to be found on Reddit, and often link to other subreddits to direct their followers.

Right wing Reddit users often point to this subreddit being left to its devices as evidence the removal of communities like r/greatawakening is politically motivated – playing into the conspiracy fantasy of the Deep State.

You can be sure that users of r/fuckthealtright would be inflamed should their subreddit be banned as well.

Perhaps there is no fix to this problem, and that no matter how many bans are handed out, the problem of hate speech on open and anonymous platforms like Reddit and 4Cchan will always be an issue.

CNET likened the ban to a virus bursting a cell, and now the virus will spread to other cells. Users of r/greatawakening are not going to go away, and will congregate elsewhere, be that on or off platform.

Maybe the answer lies with better, external, non-bias moderation of subreddits. This presents a mammoth task however, certainly for the larger subreddits, which can have millions of users.

Policing of all that content by eye isn’t feasible. Banning communities leads to a backlash elsewhere. If there is an answer to keep everyone happy, and halt hate speech at the same time, we haven’t found it yet.

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