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Home / Tips and Tricks / The following untruths: A reporter’s approach to QAnon

The following untruths: A reporter’s approach to QAnon



We have followed the rise of QAnon-related political candidates, including Marjorie Taylor Greene, a Georgia Republican who is currently on her way to be elected to Congress in November. And we have tried to expose QAnon’s most outrageous and dangerous claims – such as the blatantly false claim that Hillary Clinton and other Democrats literally killed and ate children in order to extract a life-extending chemical from their blood. In the run-up to the election, The Times introduced a feature called Daily Distortions, which is partly aimed at exposing misinformation that has gone viral or caused damage offline.

QAnon is clearly a political story and a story about how internet platforms have amplified dangerous misinformation and conspiracy theories. At the same time, I am a former religion reporter and fascinated by the culture of QAnon. It’s not just a conspiracy theory – it’s a real-time, interactive media collaboration that brings people together, alleviates their sense of helplessness, and unites them on a common mission. I believe mission is dangerous and detached from reality, but I also try to be empathetic and understand the forces that could lead people to participate.

There are plenty of other great reporters covering QAnon, both on The Times and other publications. One particular challenge is that the movement is constantly evolving, expanding and narrowing its boundaries in order to pose as mainstream. QAnon supporters hold rallies on “Save the Children” without mentioning their QAnon connections. QAnon activists infiltrate communities of yoga mothers and natural health fans and sow ideas about a global cabal while downplaying the more extreme parts of their belief system. And they get good at washing ideas into more mainstream conversations.

(A good example is the Trump administration’s recent focus on human trafficking, which has been enthusiastically received by its supporters because it feeds into the QAnon movement’s belief that Mr. Trump is breaking a global pedophile cabal.)

QAnon isn’t always fun to cover – its supporters mistakenly believe that the mainstream media, including The Times, is represented in the global cabal. My colleagues and I were harassed, threatened and ridiculed for this work. As I write this, my inbox is full of people calling me a pedophile for writing about a group of yoga teachers trying to stave off QAnon’s influence in the wellness community.

But this stuff is important to keep track of as QAnon is not a self-contained, inward-looking phenomenon. It’s a growing, shape-changing community that is constantly incorporating new beliefs, attaching itself to new platforms, and hijacking new narratives. For example, many of the most viral misconceptions about Covid-19 and the Black Lives Matter protests were fueled by QAnon groups – one reason I call QAnon a “super-misinformation spreader”.

And it’s a good reminder that not every edge movement is left on the edge. Some of them are actually changing our culture.




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