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QAnon has disappeared from social media -- but it is still hiding

You're less likely to see QAnon catchphrases such as "great awakening," the storm, or "trust my plan" on Facebook these day. Facebook and Twitter removed thousands of accounts that were dedicated to this baseless conspiracy theory. It depicts ex-President Donald Trump as a hero fighting against a sect devil-worshipping group of pedophiles who control Hollywood, big business and the media.

The massive "Stop the Steal", groups that propagated falsehoods about the 2020 U.S. Presidential Elections are gone. Trump has been removed from Twitter permanently, and he was also banned from Facebook for posting until 2023.

However, QAnon is not ending. Federal intelligence officers warned about the possibility that its followers could continue to commit violence, such as the deadly Capitol Insurrection of Jan. 6. was elected to Congress at least once as a supporter of QAnon. QAnon has evolved in the four years since a person calling themselves Q started posting mysterious messages on fringe internet discussion boards.

This is partly because QAnon now includes a variety conspiracy theories. These include evangelical or religious angles, alleged pedophilia at Hollywood, and the Jeffrey Epstein scandal. Jared Holt, a resident fellow with the Atlantic Council's Digital Frontier Research Lab, who focuses on domestic extremeism, stated that this is partly why. He said that Q-specific material is "sort of diminishing." However, the conspiracy theories and worldviews that QAnon absorbed remain with us.

These movements are tied together by a distrust of the powerful, often leftist elite. They include anti-vaccine shills, Trump's Big Lie sworn defenders, and followers of any other worldview that believes that a shadowy group secretly controls the affairs.

Social platforms face a more difficult challenge than ever when dealing with the shifting, anonymous and popular mindset.

Max Rizzuto, another DFRLab researcher, stated that these ideologies have "cement their place and now form part of American folklore." "I don’t believe we will ever see it disappear," said Max Rizzuto, another researcher at DFRLab.

These groups blend in with the background online. You'll no longer see Facebook groups that openly referenced QAnon. Instead, you will now see pages like "Since this was missed in the so-called MSM," which refers to "mainstream media" and boasts over 4,000 followers. It includes links to clips from Fox News' Tucker Carlson as well as articles from right-wing publications like Newsmax and Daily Wire.

The subjects range from rampant crime to unfounded claims about widespread election fraud and an "outright War on Conservatives,"

DFRLab analysed more than 40,000,000 mentions of QAnon catchphrases this spring and related terms on social networks. It found that their popularity had dropped in recent months. DFRLab discovered that QAnon catchphrases had largely disappeared from mainstream websites after peaking in the summer 2020 and briefly on January 6.

While your relatives and friends might not be making wild conspiracy theories about Hillary Clinton drinking children’s blood, they may be making debunked claims like that vaccines can alter your DNA.

There are many reasons Q talk is declining. Trump's loss in the election and the absence of new messages from "Q" are two examples. But the single most important factor seems to be the QAnon crackdown against Facebook and Twitter. The banishment seems to have been successful despite well-documented errors that showed poor enforcement. It is now more difficult to find blatant QAnon accounts via mainstream social media sites, at least if you look at the publicly available data. This does not include hidden Facebook groups or private messages.

Although QAnon pages, groups and core accounts may have disappeared, many of their supporters are still on the major platforms. However, they are now concealing their language and making the most extreme QAnon tenets more palatable.

Angelo Carusone, president and CEO at Media Matters, a liberal research organization that has been following the rise of QAnon, stated, "There was a very clear effort within the QAnon community to camouflage our language." They stopped using many of the codes, triggers, and keywords that were leading to enforcement actions against them.

Other tricks may also have helped. To signal their support for the conspiracy theory, supporters used three asterisks to signify their adherence, rather than repeating Q slogans. This is a nod towards former Trump national security advisor Michael Flynn who was a three-star general.

Facebook claims it has removed approximately 3,300 pages, 10,500 group and 510 events, 18,300 Facebook profiles, 27,300 Instagram accounts, and 510 events for violating its policy against QAnon. The company stated in a statement that it continues to consult experts and to improve its enforcement to respond to harms that may be caused by recidivist organizations.

However, the social media giant will not cut individuals who post about QAnon slack. Citing experts who warn that banning Q adherents could "lead to further social isolation or danger", the company stated. Facebook's response to QAnon continues to evolve. The company claims that it has added many new terms to the Facebook dictionary since August last year, as the movement has changed.

Twitter claims it has taken consistent action against offline harm-causing activity. Twitter began suspending thousands accounts, which it claimed were "primarily dedicated" for sharing dangerous QAnon material, immediately following the Jan. 6 rebellion. Twitter claimed that it had suspended 150,000 of these accounts. The company also stated that its response is evolving, much like Facebook.

However, the crackdown may have been too late. Carusone noted, for example, that Facebook had banned QAnon groups linked to violence six weeks prior to banning QAnon more generally. This effectively gave Facebook followers notice to regroup and camouflage on different platforms.

Rizzuto, DFRLabs, stated that if there was ever a time when a social media company could take a stand regarding QAnon content it would be months ago or years ago.

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