Now that it can see how far and wide these conspiracies go, and it's attempting to appear to the public as though it has a conscience or at least something vaguely resembling a moral compass, Facebook is getting a little serious about QAnon, the right-wing conspiracy movement that spuriously claims there is a "Deep State" attempting to defeat Donald Trump. The massive group has been known for aggressively peddling fake medical advice and other conspiracies about COVID-19 and immigration.
Last week, according to The New York Times, Mark Zuckerberg's network finally brought the hammer down on a huge number of groups, pages, accounts, and other content on Facebook related to the lunatic-fringe:
- At least 790 QAnon groups have been removed from the platform
- The company has restricted another 1,950 groups related to the movement
- 440 associated Facebook pages have had their ability to share content curtailed
- Over 10,000 Facebook accounts have been restricted due to their affiliation with QAnon
On top of this, Facebook is blocking hashtags related to QAnon like #TheStorm and #DigitalArmy. Will this help? It would be premature to predict any effectiveness right now, particularly as the conspiracies the group spews aren't limited to social networks: QAnon the ear of political candidates vying for public office.
Twitter tried this too — America's other giant social network, Twitter, has attempted to curb the QAnon spread. The company says it took down at least 7,000 QAnon-related accounts and restricted the outreach of another 150,000. But the work is far from over. Like weeds in a flowerbed, you can pull them out as quickly as you like, but without constant vigilance, they'll be back. It's only a matter of time.
The QAnon movement is deeply entrenched in social media but also politics. One of QAnon's enthusiasts is Marjorie Taylor Green, a Republican, who defeated John Cowan in Georgia's 14th congressional district. According to CNN, Taylor Greene has described QAnon as an individual who is a "patriot." When asked whether she was a QAnon member, Taylor Green gave a conveniently roundabout response:
I am committed to my allegiance to the United States of America. I, like many Americans, am disgusted with the Deep State who have launched an effort to get rid of President Trump. Yes, I'm against all of those things and I will work hard against those issues.
Why now? — It took Facebook months to seriously reckon with QAnon's potential for violence. Even federal agencies like the FBI have noted that fringe conspiracy theories shared by QAnon members have the power to lead to real-world damage and harm.
It's unclear why Zuckerberg's crowd decided to limit some — not all — of the movement's presence on the platform. But it might have to do the fact that the presidential election is only months away and the last thing Facebook needs — particularly as it's already been shown to favor right-wing outlets — is a rabid tinfoil-hat movement using the network to sow even more instability. It's likely not about doing the right thing and protecting democracy, it's just about looking bad. Which, aside from its profitability, is the only thing Facebook cares about.