Qanon beyond Q

Fully Charged

Hi all, it's Eric. The QAnon conspiracy theory is expanding, winning over mainstream converts by focusing on calls to end human trafficking. Attempting to co-opt broader anti-trafficking efforts is a relatively recent shift, one that actually makes QAnon more dangerous, because it gives permission to normal people—and Republican politicians—to jump on board. After all, who can oppose a movement to #SaveTheChildren?

QAnon first emerged on obscure internet forums, and following along meant sifting through an ever-evolving series of cryptic catchphrases and symbology. This made the conspiracy theory appealing to a group of hardcore users, but inaccessible to most others. From there it slowly drifted outward. QAnon symbols began to appear at Trump rallies, and fringe Republican political candidates began professing support. An New York police union leader seemed to show his support with a Q coffee mug.

The tech platforms have begun taking QAnon on directly. On July 21, Twitter started taking down tweets related to QAnon, and targeted posts with its catch phrase "Where We Go One, We Go All," often expressed through the catchy acronym WWG1WGA. A few weeks later, Facebook said it would also crack down on the conspiracy.

Around the same time, QAnon began to evolve. This summer, QAnon adherents began taking over the anti-trafficking hashtag #SaveOurChildren. As the movement grew, an increasingly broad swath of Republican politicians began to signal support for parts of it. Buzzfeed declared Sept. 4 that QAnon was no longer a conspiracy theory but a "collective delusion," reflecting how widespread the set of beliefs was becoming.

QAnon becomes a lot more difficult to tackle or suppress as it merges with the mainstream political debate. Take the response to the Netflix Co. marketing campaign for a film called "Cuties." Netflix said the film itself makes the case against the sexualization of young girls, but an ad showed suggestively posed children, sparking a massive right-wing backlash. Texas Senator Ted Cruz wrote a letter to Netflix condemning the film, which many people shared on social media using the #SaveOurChildren hashtag. Is Cruz standing up for his principles, winking to the QAnon crowd, or unwittingly being drafted to promote the conspiracy theory? 

Another example has been unspooling in California, where Scott Wiener, a Democratic State Senator, introduced legislation to tweak statutory rape laws so that they weren't more punitive for gay offenders than for straight ones. Wiener, who is gay, received waves of death threats and other homophobic abuse after online antagonists latched onto the bill as proof that Democratic politicians support pedophilia.

The accusations came from online trolls and, once again, Cruz. "Today's CA Dems believe we need more adults having sex with children, and when they do, they shouldn't register as sex offenders," tweeted Cruz.

The claim that California Democrats want adults to have sex with children is jaw dropping, and even more so coming from a sitting U.S. Senator. It's also striking that Cruz sees political advantage in making such an argument, whether he believes it or not. There was a time when QAnon could be dismissed as an odd obsession of weird message boards. Not anymore. Eric Newcomer

If you read one thing

Instagram co-founder Kevin Systrom is in talks to lead TikTok, the New York Times reports. If it were to happen it would be an epic tech story, pitting Systrom against his former boss Mark Zuckerberg. Systrom would be replacing former Disney executive Kevin Mayer who stepped away as TikTok parent company ByteDance faces a geopolitical maelstrom. 

And here's what you need to know in global technology news

Facebook cracks down on internal debate. Perhaps it didn't like the leaks.

A celebrity protest against Facebook couldn't convince the company to make changes to it content moderation processes. Instead, it focused on its support for small businesses.

Alphabet's CFO misses a busy office. Ruth Porat spoke in an interview with Bloomberg TV. 


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