S1E5: Parler and QAnon - is this the new conservative Twitter?

Podcast published date: 

Aug 13, 2020



people, conspiracy theory, post, biden, anon, mask, misinformation, twitter, Parler, virus, Parler, messages, content, idea, conspiracy, websites, talking, platform, kinds, protests

SPEAKERS: Shawn Walker, Michael Simeone


Michael Simeone: This is Misinfo Weekly, a somewhat weekly program about misinformation in our time. Misinfo Weekly is made by the Unit for Data Science and Analytics at Arizona State University Library. This week we talked a little bit about the QAnon conspiracy theory. And that turns into a conversation about Parler and other kinds of emerging social media platforms that may be playing a kind of broker role for making conspiracy theories and other kinds of misinformation more mainstream. We'll start this week with the conspiracy theory or more like a bundle of conspiracy theories all shrink wrapped together. We're going to talk about QAnon, Shawn. Normally, I'm the one who gets super excited to talk about Q and QAnon but why don't you start off and set the table. What what do you know about QAnon?


Shawn Walker: QAnon is a far right conspiracy theory. And there are really two parts to that. There's Q we no one knows who Q actually is. The theory is that these are high level military officials that are unearthing alleged Deep State fought against President Trump and his supporters. And then there are followers of Q that then find these coded messages, decode them to try to understand their meaning.


Michael Simeone: So Q is actually a group of people embedded in the government. 


Shawn Walker: That's the theory. Yes. 


Michael Simeone: We'll put some asterisks by it. But the theory goes, that these are people embedded in the government, and that the deep state is another part of the government. And that Q is trying to combat the deep state and protect Donald Trump because Donald Trump is taking on the deep state. Is that the general dynamic? 


Shawn Walker: Yes 


Michael Simeone: Spinning a lot of plates here and keeping track of some of the stuff going on with QAnon. So Shawn, you've actually taken a look at how Amazon and some of its services index this site according to the content, according to that service, what goes by a particular name that we won't repeat so everyone's smart devices don't go off in their homes, what's going on on that website, according to Amazon services?


Shawn Walker: So we looked at one of the more popular sites is called Q alerts. But this is actually part of a whole constellation of websites, there's not one single site. And this service Alexa.


Michael Simeone: If anyone is listening to this podcast right now, then their devices at their home probably just went off as a result, it's incredibly confusingly named. 


Shawn Walker: Alexa ranks website traffic and gives a lot of other information about a site. So in the United States, this site ranks around the 16,000 most popular website and 93% of the traffic is from the United States. But interestingly enough, too, it also ranks the site based on the types of keywords that people use to find the site. So they're looking at QAnon drops or Q drops or Q alerts. These are the way that Q provides messages, they call them drops. But we also see top social topics in this site, are God, religion, and world peace, right.


Michael Simeone: Which is I think it's striking that the majority of the words or keywords on that site, create or make it seem like all those messages together that that's the theme is religion and world peace. Some of the bones of the QAnon conspiracy are about really far out things like child sex trafficking, collusion among democrat politicians, and the intelligence agencies, George Soros all colluding together to prey on young children for all kinds of wild and nefarious purposes. Some really disturbing stuff in there, we won't get completely in the weeds about everything, but just to kind of mark how much breadth there is in the QAnon conspiracy theory, that one minute you're reading about how important world peace is and how it's important to pray to God and then on the other hand, unveiling some of the most kind of wild and out there descriptions about what's really going on and in the lives of people in power.


Shawn Walker: And know that some folks that have may think they've never heard of Q and QAnon. One of the more famous conspiracy theories that emerged from Q and the QAnon community was the pizza gate conspiracy that involved Hillary Clinton's campaign manager, Hillary Clinton, and that she was running a basically a sex trafficking ring in the basement of a pizza place called Comic Ping Pong. Which, interestingly enough, the building did not have a basement. And this conspiracy theory and its discussion led to a man going to the pizza place Comic Ping Pong with a gun to try to free these children. When the police came and nothing was found.


Michael Simeone: Yeah, totally. And to this day, even a week ago at different protests and counter protests, what was on people signs, the letter Q or a pizza as an emblem of that same conspiracy.


Shawn Walker: And you're referring to some local protests in the Phoenix area in Scottsdale that happened last week related to anti mask protests when a member of the city council led A protest there against the mask ordinance that was recently put into place. If you look at the images in the news and our local newspaper, Arizona Republic, we saw protesters with signs in the corner. Unless you're looking for you might not see it. But in the corner of a handful of those signs, which was very fairly prominent, you saw Q or this pizza or other things in reference to Q and QAnon. 


Michael Simeone: Yeah, and actually, so I'm over on the Q alerts site now. And I'll just read you one and I'll get your reaction to that given given the observations about the presence of QAnon and say, protests locally, or how a lot of these conspiracy theories that spin out of the Q world tend to start to get national profile. I'll read this one to you.


Shawn Walker: This message that you're looking at actually wouldn't be a direct message from Q, the messages encoded and then folks who work to sort of interpret the encoding to then connect all of these separate threads together and fill in the blanks.


Michael Simeone: It is kind of like a bizarre found poem. "Is this about the virus or the election?" Alright, so what I'm going to do is read you one post from the Q alerts board that we're using today, which is not meant to be a coherent message, like a single email passed on to followers, but more like bits of information cobbled together and passed down to people kind of to, to followers who are supposed to make meaning out of this information. So I'm going to read this to you. And at the top of this particular post, there's a link that indicates or that kind of refers to Joe Biden's policy about not really holding rallies while we have a COVID-19 problem. So underneath that link, which kind of the story just summarizes that Biden's made the decision that he's not going to hold rallies. The following text, "How do you prevent public embarrassment regarding lack of crowd size? How do you continue the con regarding Fake polling lead. How do you support mail in ballot election fraud (election was not rigged. All polls showed Biden had double digit lead versus POTUS). Who benefits the most? Is this about the virus or the election?"


Shawn Walker: So besides the fact this is fairly incoherent. And there are pieces that are really seemingly disconnected. So typical of Q messages, you have to make jumps in order to create threads between seemingly disconnected components. This is very much about codeword anti-Biden, so implying that Biden's not having rallies because no one's going to show up because they're not supportive of Biden. So this is disconnected messaging and blaming a lot of what's going on around Biden versus the actual situation around the virus. So saying, basically, the virus is a con. 


Michael Simeone: Right.


Shawn Walker: And a tool for the Biden campaign to attack Trump,


Michael Simeone: It kind of looks like the implication is the virus is here to bail out Joe Biden, that Joe Biden wouldn't have had very good rally size in terms of crowds, that people aren't that excited about him, and that apparently the mail in ballots are going to be part of some kind of scam so that when Biden does win, then it's not a surprise. Notice there's there's three different things going on here. One is the mail in ballots, which are going to be a fraud. That's the implication, then there's going to be a big problem with the way that the polls are reported, so that the polls are all fake because the media is fake. So they're inflating Biden's lead to make it seem to give him cover so that when there is a rigged election through the mail in ballot system, then it will make it look like fulfilled prophecy that the polls were correct. On top of that, what is giving cover there is the virus, so that the virus, which is keeping people from doing all sorts of things, or is a good reason for people to not come to rallies is giving Biden political cover. So you will see that the media, the virus, and Biden are all working together to rig an election.


Shawn Walker: Yes. So the virus basically papers over all of these or hides all of these supposedly flaws in Biden's campaign, which I think it's important to note that, although the empirical research and empirical evidence, for example, with respect to mail in ballads, supports the opposite, to say that melon ballots are secure mail in ballots are legitimate and very safe way to vote. Yet these conspiracy theories ignore that evidence to try to push these lines of saying, well, this deep state wants to push this voting method that's inherently insecure, which all empirical evidence says the exact opposite.


Michael Simeone: Right? And the takeaway is that there's just no reason for Biden to be not having rallies at all. Right that he's actually politically weak, and that this virus is just made up. You know another one. What percentage of total Black Lives Matter donations between June 1 and July one went to the Biden campaign for president. I'll read a couple more lines. "Why is Black Lives Matter push every four years? Who pays Sharpton to fly private? Does Black Lives Matter donated money and up and Sharpton's foundation?" "How do you avoid campaign finance loss? How do you wash clean money? Is this about improving the quality of life for black Americans or something else?"


Shawn Walker:  So in many ways, this looks like a technique where we just throw things at the wall. And the idea is that can we find a space where there's a vacuum we talked about this last week with respect to dashboards in that misinformation loves a vacuum so if there's a vacuum in someone's understanding, or an explanation around, say, Biden, for example, or the Coronavirus Then, this seems like an attempt of I'm going to give you a litany of initial items to fill that void. And if any one of those stick then Q and QAnon now has an in...


Michael Simeone: Yeah, yeah. And it's a similar kind of idea, right, where the previous posts that we talked about the virus was a form of unrest that was covering up for some kind of malfeasance. But here Black Lives Matter is another one of those things where the kind of change that you see in front of you going on across the country, isn't actually legitimate. Right. So notice, there's a kind of cynicism built into this, where you're cynical of the virus because it's a ploy to get Biden elected, you're cynical of black lives matter, because it's a fundraising campaign for the Democrats. So there's an interesting conversion going on where you look at these messages, and it creates this filter, where the news and all this stuff that's going on that's really an incredible and historic struggle is converted into an elaborate mechanism to get the wrong people put in power.


Shawn Walker: And there's also a dichotomy in the language that's used. So with respect to say Black Lives Matter on the left, you have protests. You have racism on the right. You have insurgents. So it's basically violent hordes or crowds on the right. And in this this far right language is very much not calling them protesters. It's calling them these like mass hordes versus the mob versus on the left...


Michael Simeone: The liberal mob. 


Shawn Walker: Yes.


Michael Simeone: Yeah. And it's, you know, again, the fear here is there are violent and mass terror organizations. This is another line, right, another one pointing out how the mask order and releasing prisoners from Rikers at the same time is another way to destabilize society. So the prisoners can wear masks and be anonymous. So really spinning up this idea that there are people who are purposefully destabilizing society and that the mask wearing is really a way for people to, you know, on the one hand hide their identity or maybe it can make you sick, right. We talked a little bit about some of these other mask conspiracy theories, but then also that the mask is actually just as you had mentioned before the virus isn't as dangerous. So the mask is just a way of taking away your liberty.


Shawn Walker: They've also taken the line that Trump said we want the cure to not be worse than the virus, especially in the Q community. They've taken that and run with it, in that we consider all the empirical evidence points to math being effective at preventing infection. And social distancing is effective at preventing infection. But the rhetoric around the Q community is very much that masks lower your oxygen levels, empirical evidence says it does not masks your breathing in the virus and recirculating the virus, you can become more infected, it weakens your immune system, it prevents herd immunity, and all those things are false. But they've connected into those sort of gaps in those fears. And then they just heighten it up and keep cranking it up cranking it up cranking it up until you're now in this. What I would say is like an extremist echo chamber.


Michael Simeone: Yeah, fear is a very important thing that QAnon calls out in that fear is something that the liberal radical Deep State uses as a as a tool to control people. And so, you know, one Q post, actually, this is just from a few days ago, "the news, it's fake, the insurgency is real." And this gets at the idea that QAnon followers are part of some kind of insurgency for upcoming war of some kind, right, or the storm or the awakening. And Q conspiracy conversation always comes around this idea that there's an information war, and that the way that people who follow QAnon can really participate is helped to dispel that media narrative, right. So remember from some of these other posts, this idea that the media is really in the tank for The Deep State, and that they're just going to manipulate people however they want. And the way for QAnon to fight back is by providing the right information or to push back against those narratives. And so that's kind of an interesting situation to be in. Right is that we're talking about QAnon from the perspective of it is a mechanism for spreading all kinds of narratives that create misinformation or facilitate misinformation. From the perspective of QAnon, they are trying to fight misinformation.


Shawn Walker: I think the irony of this is that persona that Q and QAnon members are creating is that they're fighting this fear and this misinformation, that the irony is they're using those techniques to propagate their ideas.


Michael Simeone: So when you say they're using those techniques to propagate their ideas, do you mean they're using misinformation techniques?


Shawn Walker: They're using misinformation techniques and fear. Oh, they're saying, wearing a mask is about fear. The mask itself is more dangerous than the virus but then Now the mask itself for the Q and QAnon community becomes a point of fear wearing the mask is something to be afraid of because it's doing --


Michael Simeone: Or in addition to that, that it's the the state is putting its hands all over you by making you wear this mask, so becomes more about your liberty, and not just your liberty in the present moment, right, because according to Q, the idea is that we're going to take away even more liberty in a in a kind of hyper controlling liberal fascism. And so all of the Liberty that's being taken away for these masks through the Q frame is that we're anticipating that the mask is just the first bite and that more and more of your liberty will be consumed in due time.


Shawn Walker: Yeah, the mask becomes a trial in to test the most effective techniques to suppress our freedom. And this is just a taste of what's to come. Yeah. And instead of this is a global pandemic, where people are being harmed and we need to do this for the public health reasons.


Michael Simeone: Yeah, and I think, you know, you mentioned a misinformation technique. And I think the simplest thing that QAnon conspiracy does is repeat the same lie over and over and over again, or repeat the same wrong things over and over and over again, and with a dash of style, and that you leave a lot of it open for people to interpret, or make their own meaning out of it. Right. This is a, this is a tremendously flexible conspiracy community, if we can even call it that, right, where you have some people who are convinced that the mask will reactivate the virus and harm you. You have some people who think that the masks that know what really will hurt you as the carbon dioxide, or that the mask is actually like a psycho social experiment that the government is is kind of going on. There. There's variation there. There's not necessarily unity or coherence, right. That's not necessary for this kind of conspiracy theory. But we do see a lot of repetition, a lot of commitment to this idea of maintaining peace and belief in God. And I think when people talk about QAnon rightly so as a, as a kind of apocalyptic religion, a lot of that is right on.


Shawn Walker: Yes. Even reading excerpts from websites like Q alerts and such. You said, this is a one of many sites like a constellation of sites. Can you talk a little more about what sites Q is connected to?


Michael Simeone: Yeah, so I think that there's just a lot of other. So it used to be applications that you would download for your phone would be tuned in and you'd be able to receive messages in this way. Apple has banned a lot of these apps from the App Store. So now there's a number of different websites that post Q alerts or Q drops, and they all have similar names or variations on those names or URLs. And of course, there's more but the idea is to just give people a source for these kinds of things. Now, another interesting note on this is that people will look at how synchronous things drop from the Q community or from Q. I should say not the Q community, Q community we've been using to designate the folks who follow and interpret QAnon but people will look at the drops, and then look at when President Trump tweets. And they call that a Delta zero, which is there's very little time that elapses between when the update from Q is released to the various message boards, and when President Trump will tweet. And so they'll circle the timestamp. Again, trying to draw any kind of connection they can to the idea that QAnon, or Q and President Trump are on the same side or are part of the same operation in some way these sites are spread across the internet. They've been dispersed in a lot of different ways. But then also there's this effort in these posts, to try to show how whatever's going on and the scattered bits on apps and on all these different websites that they are referring they're anchored to something more mainstream that, yes, look, we are right dialed into President Trump, or President Trump is acting just as we are acting right as Q. And so there's this idea that they are in sync with the mainstream political discourse, even though that they are kind of in hiding away from the mainstream political discourse on all these different kinds of websites. 


Shawn Walker: Are these connected to non Q websites, or popular social media services or emerging social media services? 


Michael Simeone: I would say that on the one hand, you see a lot of embedding of links from newspapers and Twitter. So Q posts will link to Twitter plenty. And actually, you do see some splash right? There's plenty of QAnon activity on Twitter, plenty of viral posts go between Twitter and QAnon but they're kind of in their own circles. And then even when you have the President's children tweeting out memes from QAnon you start to see a normalization of QAnon conspiracy theories. But one thing that I think has been interesting that has kind of come up recently Is Parler. So Parler is this app that you and I have been using for the last sort of...


Shawn Walker: That's branded as the conservative Twitter in response to a recent banning of some very popular ultra -- it's fair to say ultra right wing media figures have been banned from Twitter?


Michael Simeone: I would, I would say that it looks like we have some time so let's talk a little bit about Parler specifically because I think where Twitter you definitely see some exchange of QAnon messages and some trafficking of QAnon content to Twitter and back Parler just seems like an interesting kind of duck. You know more about this than I do Parlers pretty small right?


Shawn Walker: Well, most recent information from a few months ago in June, where last month actually is 1.5 million users. This is self reported. The site launched in August of 2018. It really started to take off in March of 2020. And then in June, you had fairly famous figures on the right like Donald Trump Jr. and Rudy Giuliani, Alex Jones, and Ted Cruz. They joined in June. And so June has been fairly large explosion of users that are starting to use the platform as some of these figures or more than likely. It's not, for example, Rudy Giuliani, he's posting himself, it's his staff.


Michael Simeone: Okay. It's almost like a boutique social media platform. I think people have been calling it conservative Twitter. But I don't know if that's exactly right. Because as you said, like it's, it seems pretty constrained, the content in theirs seems like it's a little bit more like there might be a little bit more agreement among all the folks on there, then...


Shawn Walker: There's a narrow range of voices. So this is our I'm speaking from my experience over the last week. And I know you can even add to that.


Michael Simeone: I too, have had some experiences on Parler. Yes.


Shawn Walker: Yes. So I think that the comparison to Twitter is problematic because a large portion of tweets and Twitter accounts are public. And there are different types of interaction. Twitter has a whole content moderation team, which Content moderation in social media platforms or this idea of content moderation is that platforms are examining content if you violate their policy. So if you post a tweet or something on Facebook, and you say you're going to harm someone that violates their policy, so that would be reported, they would remove that. If you are spreading misinformation about COVID, if it's a platform might delete that or might put a warning versus Parler. It's not public, you have to join. There's no way to collect data from Parler very easily. And their content moderation is fairly non existent, except there are some claims that non right wing voices that have been on the platform have been moderated, but for the most part, it's sort of the wild wild west of a boutique social media service with a very small number of users, you know, 1.5 million, it's ranked you know, again, like we said, about 23,000 in the world versus Facebook is ranked site number four in the world. And Twitter is site 51. In the world as most popular for traffic, it's really sort of comparing apples and oranges in many ways.


Michael Simeone: So I've been looking at this for a week on my phone, and it looks kind of like Twitter, but also not like Twitter at all.


Shawn Walker: Yeah, so Parler looks almost like a form of like Twitter, and an intersection of Twitter and a threaded discussion board in a way. So you have a post, and then you have comments to that post. So you have a post, you click on it, and then you can see the comments, as well as they have up votes and other pieces. And an important point is that there are some high profile conservative political figures and media figures on the platform, but they seem to just create post content, and then there's no other interaction that they have with commenters. So for example, President Trump's campaign or Nunez might create a post and then there are hundreds, if not thousands of comments to that post. But, Nunez and his campaign staff, they don't interact in the comments. But then these posts are interspersed with non high profile folks that you just go back and forth. So one post could be from the Trump campaign. And then the next post is from sort of an anonymous username that we don't know. But then each post has a set of comments that go with it.


Michael Simeone: So it has a way of weaving together conversations that Twitter does not.


Shawn Walker: Yes. And also in a in a way that it should forget about Twitter, you have a sort of a tweet, and then you have to click into that tweet doesn't see the reply thread on Parler, you have the main posts, and then you have to open that. And then it's not really threaded replies. It's just a whole host of comments. And those posts are all interspersed so you see one post from a high profile figure another post from an account that was created 24 hours ago, and you're not really picking followers. In this post. This content just gets aggregated and kind of crunched together in in a different way than saying Facebook or Twitter would based on your follower networks.


Michael Simeone: So as I was using Parler this week to I, I kept thinking, oh, is there a way to collect posts off Parler like there is for Twitter? And then I kind of thought to myself Wait, will I need it? I mean, it's kind of tongue in cheek, but like when you research Parler is n of 10, okay? Because it's actually a perfectly representative sample of all of the posts on parler because it's so homogenous. I don't actually know. But this is the impression that I have after being on Parler for a week. But one of the first people to follow me, I'm not going to name the person. This person is a physician who, on one of his posts was claiming that because Barack Obama was not "full black" end quote democrats and liberals were deluding themselves about who he truly was and that he's basically a trophy for the liberal fascist agenda. Here is another post "More truth versus fiction and hysteria. Let's talk about George Floyd. Mainstream Media won't tell you this part because it doesn't fit their leftist anti American agenda. George Soros backed Antifa and was waiting for any opportunity to riot loot, maim and kill. He's a career criminal with an extensive record. Check it out for yourselves."


Shawn Walker:  So what your posts are showing is is actually almost a one to one relationship between some QAnon posts that you've seen in the past. 


Michael Simeone: I think what's going on here is you see the same kinds of ideas, right protests are actually being fueled by elites used to manipulate politics, that race doesn't actually matter in any of these things, that really bad actors are trying to destabilize the peace of the United States. If say for instance, on some of the material for local politicians here who are talking about having a town hall or a forum and inviting people to come out and and participate then it's kind of amazing to see how any conversation about masks? Right? So this is back to the mask side of things. People will say things like masks are propaganda. Just, that's it, right? Or do you have a lot of immigrants in your state? Because that might be why you have a lot of COVID-19. Right? So that's another question or another post which is, when is the pandemic over? We won't consent to masks because we don't know when the pandemic will be over. Also, Fauci has an agenda. Right? Quote, "He's bad for liberty." Quote, "He will get his way and forced vaccinations will be the end." "You will have to get vaccinated for everything to buy and sell the list goes on." "He is already laying the groundwork for forced vaccines by scaring people." "It is the same tactic with masks, fall for masks and then this idea of herd immunity, all your liberty will be gone."


Shawn Walker: There also seem a lot of connections, which eventually we'll probably spend a whole episode on this. But this idea of the Plandemic video or some of the ideas that the Plandemic video brought together, none of these ideas are actually new. They're just sort of represented or reformulated for a COVID pandemic audience. 


Michael Simeone: Yeah. And I mean, I think, personally, I think some there are some conspiracies like the kind of medical conspiracies like Plandemic or COVID 911. I think they have their own flavor to them, but they definitely overlap with some of the stuff that we're that we're talking about here. And certainly, and to your point, none of this stuff started with QAnon. Right, the idea that really wealthy behind the scenes powerful people are using race relations as a way to manipulate and destabilize the government so that they can take over and reign on high by using political correctness as a way to turn everybody into a homogenous and oppressed population that goes way back. Right? That's kind of white supremacy 101 in the United States. That's those are some of the urban myths of white supremacy in the United States. But it is the Venn diagram that we start to see here. If QAnon posts are showing up at protests about masks and COVID, and then QAnon, material is specifically taking up what's going on with masks and COVID. And then it's also harmonizing with some earlier kind of white supremacist ideas, then we're starting to see, to me it looks like QAnon is kind of a supercharger for some of these ideas that are not new, but it's doing a really good job of connecting people with these ideas and kind of bubbling it out into other circles. And I think Parler is an example of where we start to see some of that stuff, where people are making references to QAnon on Parler or when people are kind of almost acting like mouthpieces for the way that QAnon kind of reasons through current events on Parler. So we can start to see that there isn't, there isn't the same kind of independence in terms of thinking between QAnon and other kinds of social media platforms, where at least you might see some variety of what's going on. It feels like the distance between Parler and QAnon is a little close. 


Shawn Walker: And you'll see on for-public social media platforms, Twitter, Facebook, other places, you see at least some discussion, not saying that it's friendly discussion, but you have consenting voices.


Michael Simeone: Will people dig up Facebook later on and wonder if this was what we were doing to ourselves by attempting to, quote have discussions on Facebook. Is our people going to laugh at us? They might laugh.


Shawn Walker: Well, let's see if we save any of this information. If it survives, I think it's less likely to survive so...


Michael Simeone: Well, that's that's a happy thought. Yeah, I feel better already.


Shawn Walker: Digital preservation is very difficult process with any of these platforms like you were saying collecting data from Parler is there aren't any mechanisms that collect data that are abide by their terms of service. There are ways to sort of hack it together. But there's no transparency in the same way that, for example, Facebook and Twitter offer hooks for researchers to connect. Parler doesn't offer anything like that.


Michael Simeone: Am I thinking too much like a conspiracy theorist here and in seeing there such a connection between Parler and QAnon?


Shawn Walker: No, I think all of these I would say all these services are connected in that way. So in Parler, I found multiple links to separate few focus videos that don't have a significant number of views. But still, there's a lot of traffic. So some of these videos have about 35,000 views. And they're this montage of Q content. So similar to the messages you were reading in the beginning, where they're these seemingly disconnected pieces that leave you to fill in the gap with whatever you like. I think that Parler is becoming a very safe and sheltered place to share that type of information. In various forums.


Michael Simeone: Yeah, so 35,000 that's not nothing. That's a pretty big audience. It's not like, it's not millions. But I also think that back to this point about the websites that we were making, that I think a lot of the stuff tends to be broken up into lots of different lots of different objects of attention, not just one object of attention, if that makes any sense, right, like the Plandemic video, I don't know how we can ever get a true count of how many times Plandemic was viewed, because it has been unposted and repost it and circulated around the internet in a lot of different venues in all kinds of ways. I suspect it's the same way for that Q video that you saw link that had 35,000 views in what in the version of it that you saw, but I imagine has been posted and reposted cross other networks and also viewed.


Shawn Walker: When the video is one of a sort of cornucopia or a whole ecosystem of Q follower videos. So you have a message from a drop from Q that then gets interpreted and then spread and scattered in these various ways, which makes it very difficult to track. These are similar to the methods that extremist groups and terrorist networks use to spread their messages,


Michael Simeone: Would you say a little bit more about that.


Shawn Walker: So by breaking the messages down into hundreds or thousands of little pieces that gets spread across various websites, content that appears and then is strategically deleted. Shortly thereafter, it's been shared for the amount of time that the poster wanted to, it becomes very difficult to track. And to put all of these pieces together. Similarly, in a way, like the Plandemic video, it keeps being removed. Some social media platforms have might have an idea of the spread, but it's been on YouTube, it's been on private websites have been posted to Facebook, it's been posted to Twitter, and everything in between. So no one entity has any idea of the entire spread of that content. We have bits and pieces of the information ecosystem. But we're missing a lot of those gaps. And in the way that Q and QAnon followers are this distributed network, it's really difficult to get all of these pieces together. So a lot of it's underground in a similar way, to the way that terrorist networks operate their coded messages, it's not obvious. So we might see a message. For example, one of these videos ended with a gentleman. We were talking about this video before we started with a gentleman who is colorblind. And his family gave him the colorblind glasses where you put them on and you can see colors. And at first it might seem, oh, well, that's just a really nice video of this...this man who had never seen colors before...


Michael Simeone: Right student a golden retriever will run up and give him a hug, or something like...


Shawn Walker: Touching, but you're interpreted in a different way. What was your response when I initially told you that?


Michael Simeone: Oh, yeah, it's seen that one that seems like a total allusion to the idea of awakening, which is a big deal for...for QAnon. And that actually comes back to what you were saying, right? There's passing messages to people. It's not as if these messages because there's all different kinds of messages that can be passed along, right. We're not passing along specific instructions, or trying to get everybody to be able to coordinate like a synchronized swimming routine or something like that. Where Everybody has very specific orders. The messages being passed here are more like confirming values, or inspiring people to think a particular way. So the messages that are that QAnon are passing along here, they're not tactical. So it seems even more analogous to what you were talking about before, right? The idea is to build your following, not necessarily give them a specific set of instructions.


Shawn Walker: In the case of the video with a gentleman putting on the glasses, and you could now see, that's a bit of a that's a message. A message around Q and QAnon followers are you put the glasses on and so to speak, and that opened your eyes to the deep state and what's really happening? What masks mean...


Michael Simeone: You've been Q'ed right? As soon as... 

Shawn Walker: Yes.

Michael Simeone:  Is what they would say. It occurs to me that with viral content, it's not viral in the same way. If it keeps getting taken down and repost it and taken down and repost it only because the original poster doesn't profit from it in the same way that you might see with more conventional media platforms where Something goes viral. But there's also not the same interest about profiting in that way. So it's actually perfectly acceptable to have that information warfare be more of a guerrilla campaign.


Shawn Walker: Yes. And so is breaking it down into bits make this guerrilla campaign very difficult to follow into decode. In some of these communities. There are some places you can hang out in like some of these QAnon websites, other platforms that we've been discussing. But still, those are lots of pieces to put your information together. You can't go to Trump's election website or Biden's election website to get a handle on what's going on. There's no Q equivalent. It's this distributed network that has bars connections between them, where this information keeps getting transferred from point to point to point, which makes it very difficult to follow.


Michael Simeone: Yeah, until it surfaces in places like Parler, right where you have people who are in the United States Congress with Parler accounts. You have the President of the United States with a Parler account. Those people are rubbing shoulders now. And really, in a smaller kind of environment, as you mentioned, are rubbing shoulders with people who are linking to QAnon right? Or who are spewing QAnon talking points or QAnon messaging. And so whereas, you know, we can talk about how it's kind of underground and conducted in one way, until it's not when it starts to surface in a place like this, right. So as you mentioned, Parler really started to become more popular in June of this year. And now we're looking at the proximity of Q to Parler, but also the proximity of Q to some of the more notable and public politicians, and in Parler as well. And so it's this interesting activity where the flows of misinformation is something that I don't know, we don't always get a chance to talk about when we talk about fake news. We're always talking about the content or the nature of the content. When we're talking about QAnon right? We don't just want to get caught up in some of the outlandish things that people say, but it's also important to pay attention to where this stuff is flowing, right. We talked about the origins and some of these ideas are much older. But now they're flowing into these QAnon conspiracy circles, and they're flowing into slowly but surely more legitimate circles.


Shawn Walker: So I would say, you know, Q is mainstreaming and if you look at Facebook data, for example, mentioning Q and QAnon, Twitter data mentioning Q and QAnon, there's a bit of a cycle of it's posted, the contents are reaching farther across the platform. But then Facebook and Twitter are slowly calling that information and removing it. So it's sort of a it's a rise and fall of this information. You can see there's a bit of a battle from the platforms, and...


Michael Simeone: You don't have to worry about that on Parler. Of course,


Shawn Walker: Threats. But now, for example, we have two officials, you know, who have won their primary.


Michael Simeone: Yeah. Lauren Boebert is one of them, right?


Shawn Walker: Yes. So there's one in Colorado?


Michael Simeone: Boebert is Colorado. Yes. And then...


Shawn Walker: There's another Greene won the Republican credit congressional primary in Georgia. And both of these are open believers of Q.


Michael Simeone: Yeah, this is actually a quote from Boebert, "Everything that I've heard of Q, I hope this is real, because it only means America is getting stronger and better, and people are returning to conservative values. And that's what I'm for. And so everything that I have heard of this movement is only motivating and encouraging and bringing people together stronger. And if this is real, then it could be really great for our country." Now you're talking about mainstreaming? That's it. So even it this this seems to me like the answer to a newspaper equivalent of how Amazon profiles Q drop website, which is yes, it's about God and peace. And that's basically what what Boebert has said is that this is about loving America, and doing good things for our country. Which you really have to squint very hard to think that QAnon is only about those things.


Shawn Walker: And it's also as like a slight aside on Earth, the limitations of an artificial intelligence and machine learning in that this Amazon Alexa service is picking up these key words of God and peace, but has no understanding of the context, or the very specific meaning within the community.


Michael Simeone: Yeah, I mean, that's an embarrassment that I think we'll be lucky if we get to look back on and say, okay, that's a lesson learned. But I think the effect is the same here, which is, if you're able to say, yes, I'm familiar with QAnon, and I hope it's true. And it's all about making our country better. That ambiguity, really stokes, the people who are following Q, because what you'll hear from them as oh, of course, they can't say everything about all the details out loud, they have to be careful because the media so pitched against them. And so this kind of really general response that just tries to resonate with the value with that with the key kind of tentative of Q, which is just to restore peace. Right now, even though peace is part of this entire doublespeak, right that we just, you know, kind of dredged into a little bit about all the devious ways that they think about peace. But nevertheless, here we have someone who's running for elected office saying I completely support the goals of QAnon and I hope it's true. That's pretty mainstream.


Shawn Walker: Yes. And now we have the emergence of platforms like are there and others that have very little interest in any oversight or moderation of content, where this, these QAnon theories and beliefs can then rub shoulders, increasingly closer ways than they did in the past with existing public officials. So there's, for example, Trump didn't endorse either of these primary winners, the one in Colorado or Georgia.


Michael Simeone: Right. Bafflingly, one of them defeated the candidate that Trump had had back.


Shawn Walker: Yes, but now since they've won, Trump's tweeted out a congratulations. So that...


Michael Simeone: So of course.


Shawn Walker: ...the right of questions them ever closer to very powerful positions in US government.


Michael Simeone: Yeah, and to be fair, when when I say he or you know, when you say mainstreaming, or when I say that's pretty mainstream. We're not talking about being able to go to Costco and buy a QAnon tank top but we are talking about pretty rare air for a conspiracy theory. If If you have people who are running for office now saying that they want it to be true if you have the children of the President tweeting out QAnon memes that is really mainstream, typically this is the book on conspiracy theories is that they're supposed to be a way for people who are out of political power to tell a story, or to make sense of the world or find explanations in a way that might empower them or explain why they are disempowered. QAnon is different when researchers have QAnon remark on what's different about QAnon. And this is one of the things that they point out. This is one of the first times that you have a conspiracy theory that is peddled by the folks who are in power, right. So the President is in charge. He's the one running the country, but the conspiracy theory is about trying to make sure that his power is explained. So this is what makes mainstreaming the QAnon conspiracy. theory a little bit easier or a little bit more ergonomic than other kinds of conspiracy theories.


Shawn Walker: And these services then decrease the distance between these officials, or their staff or whoever, you know, I don't imagine that Trump or Trump's children. And I don't believe that Trump has an official account on Parler. But his campaign does, you know, Ron Paul, Ted Cruz have official accounts, but I don't believe that they're the ones behind the screen typing, it's their staff. But it's, these messages are in the same space. And it's not like we this is a much smaller pool, then sort of the ocean of Twitter or Facebook is pretty much a fish tank of thought, where lots of stuff is swimming really close to each other. And Q is accounts for a lot of the water in the fish tank.


Michael Simeone: Yeah. Well, I mean, back to that idea of where's the information flowing from or where's the misinformation flowing from? And, you know, it really does feel like through some of these different platforms were actually able to get some screen time in much more legitimate places, or get some juxtaposition where we wouldn't have got it before. parler is, is a relatively new manifestation that feels more concentrated. But it's not like Twitter and Facebook didn't help all of this happen beforehand. Can you imagine if someone elected for state office just came out and said, "Yeah, I believe the CIA killed Kennedy. I hope that's true. It helps us root out corruption in the government."? That's unimaginable to me.


Shawn Walker: Well, and there would be a groundswell, or at least there at least be a number of voices. I don't know if I'd say groundswell, but there's at least be a number of voices across the political spectrum that would speak up and denounce that and and wouldn't be just silent like was what happened or sort of endorse content. Like what's happening right here in Parler in with Q.


Michael Simeone: Yeah, yeah. Yeah. So lots of things that I think are new or not new, but at the same time, I feel like got to stand up and pay attention, when we start to see some of these things get closer and closer to each other. And when, again, the vast conspiracy theory starts to bubble up, not just in small places are kind of here and there as people are making communications, but really starting to characterize an entire group of people in terms of some of their core beliefs, and how they're making sense of some of the most dire and pressing challenges that we're all facing today.


Shawn Walker: And it's not to say that the emergence of social networks that are specific to certain ideas and beliefs is a negative is always a negative is actually many of these can be positive. But the issue is that there always has to have some moderation that takes place in these communities and oversight that takes place in these communities or they can often become polluted places. And so the lack of oversight in this community is causing the content to become more and more sort of concentrated or polluted with QAnon ideals.


Michael Simeone: Yeah, I think there's almost a utopian idea that you won't need to moderate content and that people can exchange ideas freely. Unfortunately, given the way that the precedents for misinformation right now and how kind of vulnerable people are to it, it doesn't seem like a feasible way to go right now, if at the same time, you're going to be bringing in high profile politicians and other kinds of public servants onto this platform, legitimizing it, it feels like some kind of rules of the road might be important. Otherwise, it as you mentioned, this is going to get completely eaten up. Yeah, I think that's actually a great place to end to be thinking about how we need to conduct and further revise some of these platforms. This is not the last new platform that's going to come out. And folks certainly aren't happy with the state of play for a lot of platforms that have been existing for a little while.

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