Q is missing

Fully Charged

Hi there, it's William Turton on Bloomberg's cybersecurity team. For years, followers of the pro-Trump QAnon conspiracy have preached a mantra: "Trust the plan." The idea being, essentially, if you have unwavering faith in the unhinged conspiracy it will eventually come true. Now, in the wake of Donald Trump's defeat, followers' trust in Q may be shaken.

"There's a lot of questioning of beliefs and admittance for the first time of maybe not understanding what's happening," said Benjamin Decker, founder of digital investigation consultancy Memetica, who has been following the conspiracy since its inception.

The reason Q followers are confused is that their prophet has vanished, as Josh Brustein and I reported in a Bloomberg story on Tuesday. The last time the anonymous person or group of people posing as Q posted on the notorious message board 8kun was at 1:30 a.m. on Election Day. It's not the first time Q has gone silent, but it's happening following Trump's loss at the polls—a time when Q followers need more guidance and affirmation than ever.

Conspiracy theories have abounded in the days since the Nov. 3 election. They range beyond QAnon's theory that a cabal of child molesters runs the world, and cover the gamut of false election-tampering hypotheses, including the idea that Republicans in Arizona were intentionally given a sharpie to mark their ballots and that the Department of Homeland Security itself created ballots.

At the same time, though, major platforms have been fighting misinformation as never before. Twitter Inc. has limited the spread of the president's tweets alleging election fraud, Facebook Inc. shut down a 360,000-person group called "Stop the Steal," and both companies have reined in QAnon content. Decker gives Facebook and Twitter credit for their efforts in banning conspiracy theories before the election as well as afterward. Those actions correlated with what he said was a significant drop-off in QAnon activity.  

Even 8kun seems to be scaling back its support for Q. Adding to the mystery of Q's sudden disappearance, 8kun administrator Ron Watkins announced his resignation on Election Day. Watkins told Bloomberg News he chose Election Day to resign in order to avoid the perception he stepped down in response to whomever won. 

Of course, the lack of platform support doesn't mean digital conspiracy theories will go away, Decker warns. The uptick in oversight could just drive people off mainstream social media platforms. Big Tech's crackdown "is moving people towards sites like Parler," he said. Parler, which bills itself as "non-biased, free speech social media," has been the app of choice for right-wing social media influencers seeking alternatives to Facebook and Twitter. As a result, it's become the No. 1 downloaded app on Apple's App Store, Bloomberg reported Tuesday.

Decker said it was still too soon to say how many purveyors of conspiracies were logging off mainstream sites and heading to more private or less regulated channels. "Something we haven't been able to fully understand is how many people are actually leaving, and if their behaviors are changing much," he said.

But for now at least, radio silence from Q might give its followers some time to evaluate what they really believe. William Turton

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

Apple revealed the first Mac computers built with its own main processor on Tuesday, kicking off the transition away from Intel chips. 

The Xbox Series X is the first video game console born during a worldwide health crisis, meaning its development and launch were far more complicated than normal. Said one Microsoft employee: "Everyone has a plan until a global pandemic punches you in the face."

Airbnb was slated to file for an initial public offering this week, but pushed the long-awaited filing back to Monday or later, citing concerns over lingering fallout from the U.S. election. 


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