Twitter announced a broad crackdown on accounts and content related to the QAnon conspiracy theory on Tuesday, citing its policies against “behavior that has the potential to lead to offline harm”.
The company said it would block URLs associated with QAnon from being shared on the platform, and would no longer recommend content and accounts associated with QAnon or highlight them in search and conversations. These restrictions will affect approximately 150,000 accounts, a Twitter spokesperson confirmed. NBC News first reported the crackdown.
“These accounts are engaging in behavior that is designed to further the spread of content that has resulted in clear and well-documented informational, physical, societal and psychological offline harm,” a spokesperson said in a statement. “We have been monitoring the situation closely and determined that additional action is now required pursuant to the Twitter rules against our policies on spam and platform manipulation as well as abusive behavior.”
Twitter asked that its spokesperson not be named due to the threat of harassment.
QAnon is a baseless internet conspiracy theory whose followers believe that Donald Trump is waging a secret battle against a powerful deep state cabal of Democrats and celebrities engaged in pedophilia and sex trafficking. The small community of QAnon believers has had an outsize impact on political discourse, attracting attention through targeted harassment campaigns and “brigading” social media platforms to make things trend.
Related: Down the rabbit hole: how QAnon conspiracies thrive on Facebook
Numerous QAnon believers have won Republican primary races and will be on local, state and congressional ballots in November.
In May 2019, following numerous incidents of real-world violence, the FBI identified QAnon as a potential domestic terrorism threat.
Joan Donovan, the research director for Harvard’s Shorenstein Center, described Twitter’s action as a “big deal”. “The Q keyword has brought together a networked faction, aided by automation, that continuously spreads misinformation and inspires dangerous behaviors,” she tweeted in response to the news. “Twitter is late out the gate. Facebook and YouTube aren’t even in the race.”
In recent weeks, QAnon followers on Twitter have targeted the model and cookbook author Chrissy Teigen, as well as the furniture company Wayfair. Twitter banned more than 7,000 QAnon accounts in recent weeks for violations of its rules, a Twitter spokesperson said.
QAnon is based on the interpretation of online messages posted by an anonymous figure – “Q” – who claims to have inside knowledge of the workings of the “deep state”. Q’s lurid tale of child exploitation and elite corruption has drawn followers into a kind of digital scavenger hunt that frequently results in intense harassment of perceived enemies or villains.
Followers participate in QAnon in different ways across multiple internet platforms. Q followers congregate in Facebook groups or Discord chats to discuss posts, and QAnon influencers will expound on the theories to large audiences on YouTube. (Reddit enacted a blanket ban of QAnon in 2018, citing its policies against harassment, doxxing and incitement to violence. )
Twitter is particularly useful to QAnon followers as a site for targeted harassment of individuals as well as for media manipulation campaigns.
Teigen, who has more than 13.1m followers on Twitter, has been targeted with harassment for years by QAnon followers baselessly accusing her of child abuse. She had spoken out in recent weeks about the intensity and toll of the harassment, tweeting: “If twitter doesn’t do something about this *actually scary* harassment, I am gonna have to go.
“You don’t have a ‘right’ to coordinate attacks and make death threats,” she tweeted Tuesday in response to the crackdown. “It is not an ‘opinion’ to call people pedophiles who rape and eat children.”