Twitter’s ban of QAnon conspiracy theory for vague ‘offline harm’ link only makes them stronger, & the censorship won’t stop there

Helen Buyniski

is an American journalist and political commentator at RT. Follow her on Twitter @velocirapture23

22 Jul, 2020 20:51
Twitter's threat to shadowban accounts and hashtags linked to the pro-Trump ‘QAnon’ psy-op has merely validated followers’ persecution complex and brought them attention - while putting others who buck the establishment on notice.

When the social media giant announced it was “cracking down” on QAnon on Tuesday, barring Q-related topics from trending, blocking URLs associated with the conspiracy theory (really an ecosystem of interlinked conspiracy theories, centered around the cryptic disclosures of a supposedly high-ranking government employee going by the moniker Q), and banning Q-promoting accounts that have violated other Twitter rules, it gave QAnon followers the validation they craved.

Twitter’s thread vowing to “take further action on so-called ‘QAnon’ activity across the service” induced a collective persecution-complex orgasm across the Q community, who mostly interpreted the deplatforming threat as an admission that QAnon was every bit the threat to the ruling power structure they’ve always believed they were. Some even threatened Twitter in return, their faith in “the Plan” – that Trump and a bevy of “white hats” in his administration are rounding up tens of thousands of elite pedophiles and child traffickers (basically all the powerful figures in politics, Big Tech, and Hollywood who oppose Trump, including former president Barack Obama and actor Tom Hanks) and locking them up in Guantanamo Bay – renewed.

Of course, most of these victory dances took place on Twitter, which would seem to give the lie to the platform’s claim it was offloading its sizable Q contingent (as well as Q fans’ claim that they are a persecuted group). Twitter had acknowledged it wasn’t wiping out Q followers at one go, explaining the site had removed “over 7,000 accounts…over the last few weeks” for “violations of [its] multi-account policy, coordinating abuse around individual victims, or…attempting to evade a previous suspension.” But these are existing Twitter regulations that are already grounds for suspension, depending on the popularity (and, too often, political ideology) of the perpetrator.

The lion’s share of the enforcement may be yet to come. The company warned some 150,000 accounts will be affected by the new rule, implying that sharing QAnon content is “behavior that has the potential to lead to offline harm.” Tellingly, they didn’t cite any specific incidents, and mainstream media that have reported on the ban don’t seem to care what “harm” has in fact resulted from the fevered speculation over cryptic Q “breadcrumbs.” Indeed, most are merely complaining Twitter didn’t ban the group sooner, lamenting its content is “causing actual harm to those who use the service.”

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These claims seem to originate with the Anti-Defamation League – arguably the most powerful proponent of censorship in the US and notorious for inflating or outright faking hate crime statistics – which has attempted to link some half-dozen violent incidents to QAnon. However, those links are tenuous at best

If an already-unhinged individual drawn to QAnon because it harmonizes with their existing beliefs commits a crime, they are not necessarily motivated by QAnon. If anything, the movement’s “Trust the Plan” ideology advises proponents to sit on their hands and do nothing, secure in the belief Trump and his “white hats” will swoop into the elite pedophile dens supposedly dotting the country and purge the scourge of child-killers…someday.

The only “offline harm” that can definitively be traced to QAnon is the bilking of its gullible followers by movement superstars. These individuals spend a lot of time explaining why Q’s predictions haven’t come true while exhorting people to “Trust the Plan.” But their grifting is not qualitatively different than the behavior of the many Russiagate conspiracy theorists who sold (and still sell!) books, T-shirts, even prayer candles based on the “certainty” that Trump was/is going to prison for “Russian collusion” any moment now. QAnon resembles nothing so much as a Russiagate cult for conservatives – but don’t expect Twitter to deplatform conspiracy queen Louise Mensch anytime soon. 

QAnon’s claims are so easily debunked that suppressing the group is almost pointless – anyone can look at its track record of predicting earth-shattering events that haven’t happened. Failed presidential candidate Hillary Clinton wasn’t hauled off to prison in 2017, any more than Trump declared martial law in order to facilitate the “draining of the swamp” (multiple times!), or Russiagate special counsel Robert Mueller busted Clinton at the conclusion of his probe (QAnon followers were told to “trust Mueller” and that the Russiagate investigation was just a cover for locking up Clinton and other alleged elite pedos).

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QAnon fanatics are wrong about a lot of things, but they do have one point: censorship makes them stronger. When a powerful corporation like Twitter censors an idea or piece of information, only to inadvertently generate a huge amount of publicity for the suppressed info, the resulting backlash is called the Streisand effect, and it’s a familiar sequence of events for both social media platforms and the proponents of QAnon and other “wrongthink” ideas banned on social media. It’s the same framework that sent virologist Judy Mikovits to number-one on Amazon’s bestseller list and got conservative provocateur Laura Loomer a congressional campaign. One might think tech platforms had learned their lesson by now.

That the narrative managers are reaching for the ban-hammer yet again despite a solid track record of failure seems to indicate they’re very worried about November’s election, even as they parade around poll results that seem to show Democratic challenger Joe Biden mopping the floor with Trump. And as easy as it is to mock the group for their magical thinking and stubborn Plan-trusting, the censorship won’t stop there – already, Twitter and other platforms are taking aim at any non-mainstream content they can smear with the “conspiracy theory” label, using the same flimsy arguments they wield against Q. Those supporting the QAnon ban should know they may be next.

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