Thursday, February 20, 2020

Q-Anon and the 2020 Presidential Election


wired |  When the notorious online forum 8chan was forced off the internet in August, after being linked to acts of violence including the Christchurch shooting, it looked like a blow to the Qanon conspiracy movement, which had made 8chan its virtual home. Rather than fade away, though, 8chan's Qanon posters migrated to other platforms, where they’re still trying to use social media to influence elections.

The two most popular new homes for Qanon followers are Endchan and 8chan's successor 8kun. In late 2019, Qanon followers on Endchan used Twitter to influence governors' races in Kentucky and Louisiana, posting tweets and memes in favor of Republican candidates and attacking their opponents. They analyzed social media conversations, including popular hashtags, to decide where and how to weigh in. Both Republicans lost in close elections. Now, Qanon adherents are employing the same tactics on the 2020 presidential race.

"We need memes that are funny and mocking of the democrat candidates, but also that are informative and revealing about their policies that are WRONG for the United States of America and the American people,” wrote a poster in a thread titled "Meme War 2020" on 8kun in November 2019. “We also need memes that are PRO-TRUMP, that explain how his policies are RIGHT for the United States of America and the American people, and that can debunk the smears and attacks that are no doubt going to come at POTUS.. again, and again."

Qanon followers have cultivated connections over social media with key Trump allies. President Trump himself has retweeted Qanon-linked accounts at least 72 times, including 20 times in one day in December 2019. Other influential Trump allies also promoted Qanon-linked accounts. For example, on December 23, Trump's personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani retweeted @QAnonWomen4Rudy (the bio of which reads "Patriotic Ladies supporting the sexiest man alive").

The Qanon conspiracy theory is based on the belief that Trump and a mysterious individual known as “Q” are battling against a powerful cabal of elite pedophiles in the media and Democratic Party. Q supposedly communicated with their followers through encoded posts known as ”Q drops” on the quasi-anonymous forum 8chan. After 8chan was taken down, Q, or someone using the Q persona, resumed posting on 8kun.

Beginning early last year, Qanon followers more explicitly embraced concepts of “information warfare,” efforts to shape narratives and people’s beliefs to influence events. The Russian interference in the US elections in 2016 has been described as information warfare. In a February 2019 thread titled "Welcome to Information Warfare" on Endchan's Qanon research forum, a poster exhorted fellow users to "[g]et ready for a new phase in the battle anons: the fight to take back the narrative from the [mainstream media].” Now, Qanon users are trying to wield the same tactics to shape the political narrative for 2020.