QAnon first surfaced in 2017 with a series of anonymous posts on the internet forum 4chan claiming to reveal high-level government intelligence about crimes by top Democrats. It has since spawned one of the most disturbing and consequential conspiracy theory communities in modern history. Its followers have committed serious crimes, and its online vigilantes have made a sport of harassing and doxxing their perceived enemies. The F.B.I. has cited QAnon as a potential domestic terror threat, and social networks have begun trying to pull QAnon groups off their platforms. Dozens of QAnon-affiliated candidates are running for office this year.
Like any movement, QAnon needs to win over new members. And its most recent growth strategy involves piggybacking on the anti-human-trafficking movement.
The idea, in a nutshell, is to create a groundswell of concern by flooding social media with posts about human trafficking, joining parenting Facebook groups and glomming on to hashtag campaigns like #SaveTheChildren, which began as a legitimate fund-raising campaign for the Save the Children charity. Then followers can shift the conversation to baseless theories about who they believe is doing the trafficking: a cabal of nefarious elites that includes Tom Hanks, Oprah Winfrey and Pope Francis.Antivaxxers have also used this tactic, called "entryism."
Ari Sen and Brandy Zadrozny at NBC:
An internal investigation by Facebook has uncovered thousands of groups and pages, with millions of members and followers, that support the QAnon conspiracy theory, according to internal company documents reviewed by NBC News.
The investigation’s preliminary results, which were provided to NBC News by a Facebook employee, shed new light on the scope of activity and content from the QAnon community on Facebook, a scale previously undisclosed by Facebook and unreported by the news media, because most of the groups are private.
The top 10 groups identified in the investigation collectively contain more than 1 million members, with totals from more top groups and pages pushing the number of members and followers past 3 million. It is not clear how much overlap there is among the groups.
The investigation will likely inform what, if any, action Facebook decides to take against its QAnon community, according to the documents and two current Facebook employees who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly on the matter. The company is considering an option similar to its handling of anti-vaccination content, which is to reject advertising and exclude QAnon groups and pages from search results and recommendations, an action that would reduce the community’s visibility.
An announcement about Facebook’s ultimate decision is also expected to target members of “militias and other violent social movements,” according to the documents and Facebook employees.
Facebook has been key to QAnon's growth, in large part due to the platform's Groups feature, which has also seen a significant uptick in use since the social network began emphasizing it in 2017.