Prettier in Pink: QAnon Hijacked #SelfHelp on Instagram and Got Banned

Prettier in Pink: QAnon Hijacked #SelfHelp on Instagram and Got Banned

10.09.20
Photo: Rick Loomis/Getty Images
10.09.20

Facebook announced Tuesday that it has issued an outright ban on any and all QAnon-related content across all its platforms, including Instagram, calling fans of the conspiracy theory a “militarized social movement.”

The unsubstantiated conspiracy theory — which claims that many top elected officials and celebrities are murderers, cannibals and pedophiles — is known to espouse extremist and violent rhetoric, and has been deemed a domestic terrorist threat by the FBI.

“Starting today, we will remove any Facebook Pages, Groups and Instagram accounts representing QAnon, even if they contain no violent content,” the social network announced in an update to an earlier company blog post.

“We are starting to enforce this updated policy today and are removing content accordingly, but this work will take time and need to continue in the coming days and weeks.”

(Hold up — Need a refresher on what the heck QAnon is? Check out our explainer.)

“The ban is sizable and will no doubt make an impact on the community’s ability to propagate false information,” wrote Julian Feeld, a QAnon researcher who cohosts the “QAnon Anonymous” podcast, in a direct message to YR Media.

The decision to issue a blanket ban comes after months of criticism from conspiracy theory experts, politicians and others saying that Facebook hasn’t done enough to stop the spread of conspiracy theories and other forms of misinformation on its platforms, especially as we head into the 2020 presidential election. 

Experts often warn that the QAnon community has a history of rebranding and using coded language — such as the “SaveTheChildren” hashtag — in order to game social media algorithms and dodge official attempts at moderation, which can make it difficult for Facebook to keep up with the movement’s dynamic messaging.

“It will now become a game of whack-a-mole, as the tardiness of this action on Facebook’s behalf has allowed plenty of time for Q to instruct his followers on how to rebrand to avoid being banned,” Feeld wrote.

QAnon gained much of its early popularity via conservative Facebook groups, but on Instagram, Q-related content often takes the form of softer, more palatable language, displayed via aesthetically pleasing images and stylized memes, spread across brightly colored slideshows. Business Insider reported back in May that QAnon evangelism is known to be popular among many lifestyle influencers on the platform.

When asked to describe QAnon’s presence on Instagram, Feeld said, “…the platform attracts a lot of self help and new age communities which have recently experienced QAnon flaring up. It’s a visual platform, which makes it even more effective for memes, but the population on it leans more female and younger than that of Facebook.”

Marc-André Argentino, a PhD candidate studying how QAnon and other extremist groups use technology, has dubbed this particular trend “pastel QAnon,” referring to the light, soft colors that have become ubiquitous in the Instagram influencer world. 

Here are a few examples of “pastel QAnon” posts, shared by Argentino on Twitter:

In the same blog post, Facebook acknowledged the challenge presented by “pastel QAnon,” #savethechildren, and the many other iterations of the movement by writing, “QAnon messaging changes very quickly and we see networks of supporters build an audience with one message and then quickly pivot to another. We aim to combat this more effectively with this update that strengthens and expands our enforcement against the conspiracy theory movement.”

Still, some experts have argued that the ban might be arriving too late in order to stop the QAnon spread. 

“This is too little, too late in many ways, but at best it will only mitigate symptoms,” Feeld wrote.

“Facebook’s ban on Q content should help stem the tide of new converts to Q and its mythology. But I can’t help but think of it as trying to close the barn doors after the barn has burned down,” said Mike Rothschild, author of the “The World’s Worst Conspiracies,” in an email to YR Media. 

“Facebook had over two years to get a handle on the violent and anarchic content of QAnon groups and promoters, and did nothing about it…I think anyone pronouncing Q dead is going to be in for a very unpleasant surprise.”

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