QAnon Research: February 13, 2023
Sign up for the QAnonference! Plus, some new QAnon research.
Welcome back to the QAnon Research Network newsletter! It’s been a couple months since our last newsletter, so we’ve got quite a bit to catch up on. First things first, a quick reminder to sign-up for the QAnon Research Conference by February 24th. Do it!
In QAnon-related news, the self-proclaimed “Queen of Canada” has instructed followers to murder migrants, Trump (and family) continue to embrace pro-QAnon figures, and QAnon’s influence thrives abroad. In other, non-QAnon, but hopefully relevant news:
Deen Freelon compiled a list of resources for post-API digital data collection.
Kathleen Belew examined the role of women in extreme conservativism, with some great reading recommendations.
UC Berkeley’s Center for Right-Wing Studies released Issue Zero of its new Journal of Right-Wing Studies.
The Conversation published a helpful guide for talking about conspiracy theories.
GNET published an examination of Viking tropes in far-right video game communities.
And then there’s our newsletter. Here are some of the questions asked and answered by this month’s publications:
How many people were exposed to QAnon leading up to the 2020 presidential election?
How can we distinguish online conspiracy theories from one another based on their content?
What does health and wellness have to do with QAnon?
Does YouTube recommend increasingly radical content to users?
Did the Russians influence voting behavior in the 2016 presidential election?
Where do conspiracy theory websites sit within the network of online information?
In addition, we’ve got some incredible special issues and books that have been released, as well as a short list of additional publications for our most studious.
Much of the information posted here would be difficult to find without the contributions of our submitters, so we please ask that you submit to our Google form to keep everyone in the loop. We also encourage people to comment on posts on the website and to always feel free to reach out to us. To grow the community, please invite anyone who might be interested by sending out a link to this newsletter:
We look forward to your submissions. Take care!
“A mixed methods analysis of Americans’ QAnon website consumption” in OSF Preprints [Link]
Ross Dahlke, Ryan Moore, Peter Forberg, and Jeffrey Hancock
Abstract: In an increasingly polarized political environment, heightened focus has been placed on the potentially devastating effects of misinformation on democracy. Emblematic of this concern is the viral conspiracy theory QAnon, which began during the Trump presidency and evolved to become a frequent distributor of misinformation. In this paper, we investigate the extent to which Americans are exposed to QAnon, in what contexts, and to what effect. To do so, we employ a mixed methods review of 21 million website visits from a nationally representative sample of 1,238 U.S. adults collected during the 2020 presidential election. We find that: (1) exposure to QAnon is limited and stratified by political affiliation and news consumption; (2) exposure tends to occur within right-wing media ecosystems that align with QAnon beliefs; and (3) mixed methods approaches to analyzing digital trace data can provide rich insights that contextualize quantitative techniques.
“What do 5G networks, Bill Gates, Agenda 21, and QAnon have in common? Sources, distribution, and characteristics” in New Media & Society [Link]
Itai Himelboim, Porismita Borah, Danielle Ka Lai Lee, Jeonghyun (Janice) Lee, Yan Su, Anastasia Vishnevskaya, and Xizhu Xiao
Abstract: Mounting uncertainties regarding the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic and the popularity of social media created fertile grounds for conspiracy theories to flourish, leading to a global “infodemic.” We examine information sources used to support five popular COVID-19-related conspiracy theories on Twitter to identify (1) their primary building blocks, (2) similarities and dissimilarities across COVID-19 conspiracy theories, and (3) the relationship between type of message content and content distribution. Findings show that statements of belief and of malicious purpose were most popular, followed by conspirators, authentication, and secretive actions. However, only malicious purposes and secretive actions messages successfully predicted higher distribution of content, while, for instance, content authentication showed a negative relation. Furthermore, the type of conspiracy theories matters. Mega-theories, such as Agenda 21 and QAnon, incorporated less statements of Belief. COVID-19 vaccine–related theories focused more on authentication, while QAnon highlighted the conspirators behind the pandemic. Conceptual and practical implications are discussed.
“Qanons, anti-vaxxers, and alternative health influencers: a cultural semiotic perspective on the links between conspiracy theories, spirituality, and wellness during the Covid-19 pandemic” in Social Semiotics [Link]
Abstract: Scholars have highlighted the bond between conspiracy theories, new-age spirituality (conspirituality), and wellness. This paper contributes to this scholarship by critically analysing the underlying semiotic mechanisms that govern the overlap between QAnon, antivax, and Covid-19 related conspiracy theories, new age spirituality and wellness. From a Lotmanian perspective, I draw a critical semiotic analysis of the links between these three discursive realms during the Covid-19 pandemic, especially focusing on alternative health influencer Christiane Northrup’s Facebook page. To do this, I rely on Lotman’s concept of translation, as well as its development in the field of cultural semiotics. Combining Lotman’s theory of translation with Greimas’ discursive semiotics, I claim that the bond between conspiracy theories, spirituality, and wellness is based upon the translations of five semiotic cultural elements: (i) basic narratives plots; (ii) themes and thematic roles; (iii) figures; (iv) plastic features; and (v) collective passions. Drawing on this analysis, I also seek to detail how Lotman’s translation works, looking at which semiotic features are exactly translated when two or more semiosphere come into contact, as well as what logics this translation is based on.
“Radical bubbles on YouTube? Revisiting algorithmic extremism with personalised recommendations” in First Monday [Link]
Mark Ledwich, Anna Zaitsev, and Anton Laukemper
Abstract: Radicalisation via algorithmic recommendations on social media is an ongoing concern. Our prior study, Ledwich and Zaitsev (2020), investigated the flow of recommendations presented to anonymous control users with no prior watch history. This study extends our work on the behaviour of the YouTube recommendation algorithm by introducing personalised recommendations via personas: bots with content preferences and watch history. We have extended our prior dataset to include several thousand YouTube channels via a machine learning algorithm used to identify and classify channel data. Each persona was first shown content that corresponded with their preference. A set of YouTube content was then shown to each persona. The study reveals that YouTube generates moderate filter bubbles for most personas. However, the filter bubble effect is weak for personas who engaged in niche content, such as Conspiracy and QAnon channels. Surprisingly, all political personas, excluding the mainstream media persona, are recommended less videos from the mainstream media content category than an anonymous viewer with no personalisation. The study also shows that personalization has a larger influence on the home page rather than the videos recommended in the Up Next recommendations feed.
“Exposure to the Russian Internet Research Agency foreign influence campaign on Twitter in the 2016 US election and its relationship to attitudes and voting behavior” in Nature [Link]
Gregory Eady, Tom Paskhalis, Jan Zilinsky, Richard Bonneau, Jonathan Nagler, and Joshua A. Tucker
Abstract: There is widespread concern that foreign actors are using social media to interfere in elections worldwide. Yet data have been unavailable to investigate links between exposure to foreign influence campaigns and political behavior. Using longitudinal survey data from US respondents linked to their Twitter feeds, we quantify the relationship between exposure to the Russian foreign influence campaign and attitudes and voting behavior in the 2016 US election. We demonstrate, first, that exposure to Russian disinformation accounts was heavily concentrated: only 1% of users accounted for 70% of exposures. Second, exposure was concentrated among users who strongly identified as Republicans. Third, exposure to the Russian influence campaign was eclipsed by content from domestic news media and politicians. Finally, we find no evidence of a meaningful relationship between exposure to the Russian foreign influence campaign and changes in attitudes, polarization, or voting behavior. The results have implications for understanding the limits of election interference campaigns on social media.
“A Golden Age: Conspiracy Theories’ Relationship with Misinformation Outlets, News Media, and the Wider Internet” in arXiv [Link]
Hans W. A. Hanley, Deepak Kumar, and Zakir Durumeric
Abstract: Do we live in a "Golden Age of Conspiracy Theories?" In the last few decades, conspiracy theories have proliferated on the Internet with some having dangerous real-world consequences. A large contingent of those who participated in the January 6th attack on the US Capitol believed fervently in the QAnon conspiracy theory. In this work, we study the relationships amongst five prominent conspiracy theories (QAnon, COVID, UFO/Aliens, 9-11, and Flat-Earth) and each of their respective relationships to the news media, both mainstream and fringe. Identifying and publishing a set of 755 different conspiracy theory websites dedicated to our five conspiracy theories, we find that each set often hyperlinks to the same external domains, with COVID and QAnon conspiracy theory websites largest amount of shared connections. Examining the role of news media, we further find that not only do outlets known for spreading misinformation hyperlink to our set of conspiracy theory websites more often than mainstream websites but this hyperlinking has increased dramatically between 2018 and 2021, with the advent of QAnon and the start of COVID-19 pandemic. Using partial Granger-causality, we uncover several positive correlative relationships between the hyperlinks from misinformation websites and the popularity of conspiracy theory websites, suggesting the prominent role that misinformation news outlets play in popularizing many conspiracy theories.
Special Issue: Anti-Government Extremism in Perspectives on Terrorism [Link]
Edited by Tore Bjørgo and Kurt Braddock
Introduction: The theme of anti-government extremism could hardly be more topical, following the recent discovery of a conspiracy to overthrow the German government by the so-called Reichsbürgers—a right-wing movement which also contains (former) members of police and military. While some observers might dismiss this particular incident as a farce which should not be taken too seriously, it deserves, in our view, careful attention and in-depth study, while also recognizing that this event took place too recenlty to be analysed in this issue. Several of the articles in this Special Issue focus on the situation in Germany. Not only in Germany but elsewhere in Europe and North America, elements of extreme right-wing ideologies have gone mainstream in the wake of populist demagoguery around the Covid-19 pandemic and in the wake of renewed migration pressures caused by repressive regimes, economic hardship and climate change in other parts of the world. Perspectives on Terrorism will publish several articles on this topic in 2023.
The QAnon Security Threat: A Linguistic Fusion-Based Violence Risk Assessment
Driven by Conspiracies: The Justification of Violence among “Reichsbürger” and other Conspiracy-Ideological Sovereignists in Contemporary Germany
Strategies of Narrative Coherence: How Militias Justify Embracing State Power
Book: Covid Conspiracy Theories in Global Perspective [Link]
Edited by Michael Butter and Peter Knight
Description: Covid conspiracy theories have attracted considerable attention from researchers, journalists, and politicians, not least because conspiracy beliefs have the potential to negatively affect adherence to public health measures. While most of this focus has been on the United States and Western Europe, this collection provides a unique global perspective on the emergence and development of conspiracy theories through a series of case studies…The chapters present case studies on how Covid conspiracism has played out (some focused on a single country, others on regions), using a range of methods from a variety of disciplinary perspectives, including history, politics, sociology, anthropology, and psychology. Collectively, the authors reveal that, although there are many narratives that have spread virally, they have been adapted for different uses and take on different meanings in local contexts.
"The Communavirus Is Here": Anti-Communist Conspiracy Theories in Brazil’s Response to the Covid-19 Pandemic
A (Cold) War for Vaccines: Retro-Conspiracism in Kremlin-Aligned Russian Discourse on Sputnik V
Covid Origins, Nationalism and Diasporic Heterogeneity: China, Chineseness and Covid-19
Book: The Palgrave Handbook of Media Misinformation [Link]
Edited by Karen Fowler-Watt and Julian McDougall
Description: The Palgrave Handbook of Media Misinformation provides a comprehensive and cutting-edge resource on the critical debates surrounding fake news and misinformation online. Spanning all continents and linking academic, journalistic, and educational communities, this collection offers authoritative coverage of conspiracy theories, the post-Trump and Brexit landscape, and the role of big tech in threats to democracy and free speech. The collection moves through a diagnosis of misinformation and its impacts on democracy and civic societies, the 'mainstreaming' of conspiracy theory, the impacts of misinformation on health and science, and the increasing significance of data visualization. Following these diagnoses, the handbook moves to responses from two communities of practice – the world of journalism and the field of media literacy.
SAVE ME WHITE JESUS! Conspiracy and the Spectre of a Folkloric, Alt-right Masculine Ideal
Fake News: Problems with—and Alternatives to—the Media Literacy Project
Gaslighting: Fake Climate News and Big Carbon’s Network of Denial
News Can Help! The Impact of News Media and Digital Platforms on Awareness of and Belief in Misinformation [Link]
Bad Gateway: How Deplatforming Affects Extremist Websites [Link]
Pandemic Nationalism: Use of Government Social Media for Political Information and Belief in COVID-19 Conspiracy Theories in China [Link]
Exploring vaccine hesitancy: the twofold role of critical thinking [Link]
Third Person Perceptions About the Ability to Detect Fake News: The Role of Media Diet and Conspiracy Theories [Link]
From #BlackLivesMatter to #StopAsianHate: Examining Network Agenda-Setting Effects of Hashtag Activism on Twitter [Link]