The Virus of Misinformation. How do we Combat Conspiracy Theories such as Qanon?

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My Interest In Conspiracies and Qanon

 

 

The History of American Conspiracies

Throughout American history, there has been a long list of conspiracy theories all ranging in the topic. There are many reasons for the increasing amount of conspiracies: the many different cultural identities of Americans, the failures of our justice and policing system, and the shady dealings of the American government. During the creation of the United States and before, stonemasons created a fraternity, somewhat like a union of the present-day, called the Freemasons. As the Freemason’s numbers dwindled as a result of the shift to unskilled labor, the group became very radical, believing in ideas such as religious tolerance and social mobility (Barkun). This switch to more radical politics birthed strong opposition, mainly the Anti-Masonic Party.

The Anti-Masonic Party believed that Freemasons were a group of shadowy elites who held far too much power for their revolutionary beliefs (Barkun). The fear of Masonry came to a climax when a fellow Mason, William Morgan, threatened to release all of the secrets and wrongdoings of the Freemasons. This threat angered Freemasons who allegedly kidnapped and murdered him, which sparked major unrest in Anti-Masonic groups (Formisano).  This violence caused a massive spike in Anti-Masonic Party members who sought to take down Freemasonry. Anti-Masons held conservative and nativist viewpoints whilst falsely preaching that Freemasons were a shadowy group of elites controlling society and moving society towards immoral and anti-Christian behaviors (Formisano). These ideas were historically incorrect which is exactly why Anti-Masons were seen as conspiratorial and very paranoid (Barkun). The Anti-Mason conspiracy was self-defeating as it achieved its goal of crushing its opposition, however, its successors were not as successful. After the surge of conspiracy-based political parties in early American history, conspiracy movements lost popularity and never caught major attention until recently. In more recent history conspiracies have become very decentralized, instead of entire political parties they are just more or less one-off beliefs one could hold separately from one’s party beliefs. This is evident when observing the many people who still believe in conspiracies from the mid-1900s such as AIDS conspiracies. People who believe in these new conspiracies are no longer tied to a party and can be on both sides of the political spectrum and believe in conspiracy theories

Qanon and Modern Conspiracies

Like many new-age conspiracy theories, Qanon was founded on the internet during the years leading up to Donald Trump’s presidency. Similar theories to Qanon were spread consistently on early internet forums such as 2chan, 4chan, and most importantly, 8chan (Beene and Greer). These conspiracy theories were more like insider jokes than conspiracy theories during the early stages. Many of the theories were written by people with cover names such as FBI-anon or CIA-anon, who were roleplaying as government insiders (Araujo-Hawkins). One poster, who would write very paranoid and mysterious posts about the government and claimed to have Q level clearance, gained a lot of attention on these platforms and was dubbed Q (Beene and Greer). Q went on to post 60 times over three days regarding a satanic cabal of democratic elites who run a secret child sex trafficking ring to harvest Adrenochrome, a chemical found in humans falsely associated with living longer (Roose). According to NPR, over 17% of Americans believe a core idea of Qanon (Roose), and other polls indicate one-third of Republicans believe Qanon to be mostly true (Beene and Greer).

After many forum users began to believe in Qanon, the theory proliferated into many other platforms, including Reddit, Youtube, Twitter, and Facebook (Roose). These social media platforms have served as a gateway to these dangerous theories by masquerading the theory as preventative action for child trafficking through slogans such as “Save the Children” (Beene and Greer). The posts from Q can now be found in all corners of the internet, making it easier than ever to fall into Qanon’s dark hole. These harmless hashtags and slogans have been efficient at hooking many ordinary people outside of dark internet forums.

 

Solutions and Strategies to Fight Qanon

Many organizations and corporations have attempted to stop the spread of Qanon and other conspiracy theories; however, most have come short of stopping the problem or exacerbated it. Thomas Roulet, author of The Power of Being Divisive: Understanding Negative Social Evaluations, has studied many efforts to prevent conspiracy and has specifically highlighted a change in the Finnish school system as a good model for combatting conspiracy theories (Roulet). In 2014, due to the rise of conspiracy theories in Russia, the Finnish government decided they needed to find a way to combat the inevitable invasion of fake news and conspiracies, so the government decided to implement media literacy classes for students (Roulet). Roulet concluded that media literacy alone, similar to just community action on its own, would not be effective at combating conspiracies due to the community-focused nature of Qanon’s theories (Roulet). Finnish schools were able to combat the longing for communities, on top of the critical thinking skills, by instructing students how to evaluate data points, evidence, or pieces of media depending on their community or country’s standards and morals as a whole (Veermans and Horn). This program, although new, has already seen positive results; in a 2019 poll developed by Stanford University, it was found that Finnish people were substantially better at identifying fake news than their US counterparts (Veermans and Horn).

The Stanford study analyzed the critical thinking skills of U.S school children, IB2 students who were students in their second year and nearing completion of their IBDP studies for high school graduation, and pre-IB students who were in an IB preparation program.

Macro Solutions

  •  On a macro level, educational institutions must adopt critical thinking classes like those in Finland to stop the conspiracy theory epidemic.
  • Additionally, mainstream social media platforms need to ban specific conspiracy theories from their platforms before they rise to prominence

Micro Solutions

  • At a micro-level, it is of utmost importance that people evaluate any form of information with a critical lens and help those who do not have the skills to do so.
  • It is also vital that we foster communities around fellow friends and peers, so people do not feel all alone in their community, which is a crucial gateway to radical groups.

 

How Can You Help?

In the comments below, please let me know?

  1. Have you ever had an interaction with someone who was a conspiracy theorist or believed in Qanon? If so did you try to sway their opinion or change their mind?
  2. How do evaluate your news intake or social media consumption on a daily basis to avoid fake news?
  3. Has your community been affected by the influx of Qanon followers?

Please feel free to respond or comment on any additional thoughts you had.

Additional Resources

Personal Interest Essay:

https://docs.google.com/document/d/1Dr_tIj9CxtqK3Sb_YdIuutsAkOeFIkpA0-qkBlZlw4U/edit?usp=sharing

Historical Background Essay:

https://docs.google.com/document/d/1-amVCTyOfso76Iv0F45qf48EJqasCr8BUbD_9-JsGNQ/edit?usp=sharing

Current Day Problem and Solutions Essay:

https://docs.google.com/document/d/1aoGTDVRTbHboX-O34J72f5a4mjbSoiuAaKUSHEyqoP8/edit?usp=sharing

Bibliography

 

3 Comments
Richard_94

Richard_94

Student at Head-Royce School, Oakland, CA USA

3 comments

  1. Javier

    Buck, I definitely enjoyed your presentation as Qanon is an extremely important topic in today’s world and I think you captured that well. For my comment, I answer the question of How do evaluate your news intake or social media consumption on a daily basis to avoid fake news? During quarantine, I definitely had more free time on my hands than ever before so unfortunately, I was on my phone and social media more often. Being on apps like Instagram and watching the news would see many different opinions and theories. To avoid fake news I try to watch and read more left-leaning journalism like CNN or the New York Times because I found that my values lean more with that side and I haven’t seen as much fake news.

  2. Will

    Ricardo,

    I really liked your question as it instantly drew me in to read more. QAnon and other like-minded groups are extremely important, and I thought your expressed their motives perfectly. However, I was wondering, how could big companies get away with banning certain ideas? I understand most social media platforms are already censored but many right wing conservatives are already pissed off.

  3. Avatar

    I really liked your question, and thoughtful research about Qanon, it lead me to read more and I enjoyed your presentation.

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