Ikea effect: QAnon with conspiracy myths on the rise

“The Tofu of Online Movements”: Conspiracy Myths: QAnon on the Rise

A secret elite – says the conspiracy myth – kidnaps children and wants to usurp world domination. Originating in the USA, QAnon is now spreading globally, also in Great Britain and Germany.

They were also there again at the latest anti-corona protests in London, the supporters of the QAnon conspiracy myths. Last Saturday, a good thousand people gathered in Trafalgar Square to demonstrate against the government’s measures to contain the coronavirus. Among other things, they chanted “Choose your side” and held up posters saying “Freedom instead of fear” and “Stop child trafficking”.

“QAnon is the tofu of online movements”

That last slogan is a clear indication of QAnon. Because according to the movement that has emerged on the Internet, an international pedophile elite is kidnapping and abusing children in order to obtain a rejuvenating drug from their blood. Hillary Clinton and the American investor George Soros are said to belong to this elite, and they are allegedly trying to usurp world domination with this drug, among other things. According to the myth, she leads a kind of secret government, also known as the “Deep State”, which steers the politics of the USA and the whole world behind the scenes. On the other, the “good” side, there is US President Donald Trump, who has taken up the fight against “Deep State”.

So much for the central assertions of the QAnon story – which, however, is constantly being spun on and also overlaps with other, often anti-Semitic, conspiracy myths. Jakob Guhl from the London Institute of Strategic Dialogue (ISD) explains: “QAnon is the tofu of online movements. It can take on different tastes – depending on what you mix it with.”

Closing ranks with Alt-Right, imperial citizens and esotericists

The latest example is the amalgamation of QAnon with the movement that believes the corona measures are exaggerated or the virus is just an invention to manipulate the population with vaccines. This was clearly visible in protests in various countries, where anti-vaccination opponents, esotericists and right-wingers also romped about QAnon supporters. According to a new study by the ISD QAnon, the global corona crisis has missed a major boost overall.

From March to June of this year there were more QAnon-related posts on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram than ever before in a comparable period since the conspiracy myth emerged in 2017. The narrative is increasingly playing a role elsewhere than in the country of origin, the USA .

Brits are second most likely to share QAnon content

Guhl explains: “Even though the overwhelming majority of content is still distributed in the US, the international dimension is growing. Recently, the UK was the country where QAnon content was the second most shared, and hashtags were the second most used.” This was followed by Canada, Australia, and already in fifth place Germany – remarkable, as the extremism researcher finds, “because QAnon is very America-focused and also in English. There is speculation that this is large compared to other non-English-speaking countries Spread in Germany is due to the fact that there is already a very well-educated scene of conspiracy narratives and movements like the Reichsbürger, with which QAnon was able to dock well. “

In the corona pandemic, QAnon also found popular followers in singer Xavier Naidoo and celebrity chef Attila Hildmann, who spread the crude theses among their fans. Guhl estimates that “the hard core of believers” in Germany amounts to a few hundred thousand. A certainly much larger group, however, is at least receptive to QAnon content and has already heard of certain elements.

Q, the alleged secret service agent

In October 2017, an anonymous user named Q circulated the conspiracy story on the 4chan Internet forum. In doing so, he spurred on the myth called Pizzagate, which emerged during the US election campaign in 2016, according to which a pizzeria in Washington, DC, was involved in child pornography in which Hillary Clinton was involved – this completely fact-lacking claim was also recently made by British singer Robbie Williams declared credible. At the time, Q claimed that as an intelligence agent he had inside knowledge and that Clinton would soon be arrested. That didn’t happen, but his cryptic posts were still gaining popularity. Since then, Q’s theses have spread almost like a sure-fire success – forums, groups, posts and videos can be found on Telegram, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Youtube.

The intoxicating feeling of being there

QAnon’s narratives each dock with what is locally relevant. QAnon works as “a kind of meta-conspiracy myth” that integrates other things, according to Guhl. In Germany this could be the views of the citizens of the Reich or in Great Britain those of Brexit supporters. For example, QAnon supporters appeared in protests for the UK’s exit from the EU, some of whom see Boris Johnson as an ally of the alleged world savior Trump.

In his weekly column in the news magazine “Der Spiegel”, internet expert Sascha Lobo describes the possibility of further developing QAnon and putting together supposed puzzle pieces as the most important ingredient for the success of “currently the most successful and threatening conspiracy ideology on the net”. He brings up the so-called Ikea effect, which means that people consider a piece of furniture – or, in the case of QAnons, a myth – to be more valuable and better if they helped build it themselves. No matter how crooked and crooked the Billy shelf – or the myth – ends up being.

Mockery is out of place

As absurd and delusional as the QAnon myth may seem, it is far more than just a harmless internet phenomenon. Apart from the presence at anti-Corona and Brexit protests or rallies against sexual violence against children, the movement has spilled into analogue life in other ways: After supporters in the USA had planned and carried out acts of violence, the FBI declared QAnon to be potential in 2019 terrorist threat.

In Germany, the attacker from Hanau presented his racist and conspiratorial worldview in a pamphlet in a pamphlet. Although he does not commit himself to QAnon by name, he reports, among other things, of a global secret service that controls people remotely. The 42-year-old shot and killed nine people in two shisha cafes in Hanau, Hesse, after which he killed his mother and himself.

QAnon Followers – Political Dignitaries?

Not only radicalization and violence are a danger. Expert Guhl points out that in the upcoming US election in November, QAnon supporters are now running for both Republicans and independent candidates for Congress: “People who assume that a secret elite of child molesters wants to overthrow President Trump , may then be elected and have an impact on legislation. “

Facebook and Twitter blocked thousands of accounts of supporters of the movement in the summer. Last week in Germany, the Federal Government’s anti-Semitism commissioner, Felix Klein, called for messenger services to curb the spread of QAnon more strongly.

Jakob Guhl thinks these measures are correct, but points out the fundamental problem with algorithms in social networks, which favor controversial content. In addition, it is important to “strengthen media skills for social media and misinformation” – especially in times of the corona pandemic, which also unsettles many people. However, this is not an easy task.

Author: Ines Eisele, Mirjam Benecke

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* The article “Conspiracy Myths: QAnon on the Rise” is published by Deutsche Welle. Contact the person responsible here.

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