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QAnon Research: June 12, 2023
Will any of the Q forums add Trump's indictment to their "unsealed indictment" trackers?
Welcome back to another month of QAnon. This month, we were awash in submissions, publications, and news, so let’s keep this brief. This month’s newsletter features three separate feats of incredible reporting from Alex Kaplan, an amazing new site from PERIL, and much-welcomed writing from QAnonference organizers Christopher Conner and Matthew Hannah. Lots of content is prepared for July, so for now, let’s get into the latest with QAnon:
Christopher Conner explained QAnon’s popularity in Salon.
The ADL identified a resurgence in QAnon activity on Twitter.
Reporting from Media Matters (Alex Kaplan, again) convinced crowdfunding site Buy Me a Coffee to stop allowing QAnon accounts to fundraise.
Insider profiled a former conspiracy theorist’s departure from her past beliefs.
A QAnon account helped popularize fake images of an explosion at the Pentagon.
The long-conspiracized Durham investigation seems to have come to an end.
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 and enjoy the rest of the newsletter!
“Information Literacy in the Age of Internet Conspiracism” in the Journal of Information Literacy [Link]
Abstract: The 21st century has been riven by information challenges, from mis/disinformation campaigns, fake news, and propaganda to online conspiracy theories. At a time when more people are literate than perhaps at any other time in history, we still see the rise and viral global spread of unhinged conspiracy theories across the web. The existence of such crowd-sourced conspiracy theories presents unique challenges for scholars and teachers of information literacy (IL), who face intractable challenges in inculcating healthy information practices. This is especially visible when we compare current IL frameworks with principles espoused within these conspiratorial movements. The online conspiracy theory QAnon demonstrates a particularly thorny problem for IL efforts because QAnon operates according to many of the same principles espoused in literacy frameworks. Since its inception in 2017, QAnon has become one of the most complex online conspiracy theories precisely because it relies on a complex set of informational practices enacted by thousands of followers known as anons. In this article, I argue that internet conspiracies such as QAnon weaponise IL through incitement to “do your own research”. I apply a qualitative approach to compare established principles advocated by the Association of College and Research Libraries (ACRL) to social media posts by Q and his anons to demonstrate the striking similarity in orientation toward questions of authority, context, literacy and research. In my analysis, we need new models for IL to combat conspiracism through a better understanding of the political contours of information ecosystems precisely because these similarities preclude effective engagement, and I conclude by gesturing toward future interventions.
“Digital Ethnography: Ethics through the Case of QAnon” in Frontiers in Sociology [Link]
Michelle Cera, email@example.com, NYU Sociology
Abstract: Introduction: Digital ethnography is a relatively new practice with unclear standards and guidelines. As a result, the ethics of the practice remain unclear. Scholarly debates have emerged surrounding the decision of many researchers and institutional review boards to treat social media data as public. Concerns have also been raised about how informed consent can be adapted to online fieldwork. How does a researcher make their presence known when they are not visible in the traditional sense? Which online interactions should be considered public, and which are private? How can we protect the anonymity of social media users? Methods: This article leverages original digital ethnographic research on QAnon social media spaces to suggest ethical guidelines for digital ethnographic practices. Discussion: It begins with a description of the research, followed by discussions of the public-private binary, lurking, data reconstruction, and institutional review boards. Results: This article advocates for rethinking the public-private binary as it applies to the digital world, ameliorating the “lurker” concern by making the presence of the researcher known in appropriate spaces, and maintaining the integrity of the data by avoiding reconstruction. Although many digital ethnographers have chosen to reconstruct or paraphrase online data to protect privacy, this practice comes with its own ethical dilemmas. The ethical dilemmas and guidance discussed in this article are critical lessons for digital and in-person ethnographers alike.
“Participatory Conspiracy Culture: Believing, Doubting and Playing with Conspiracy Theories on Reddit” in Convergence: The International Journal of Research into New Media Technologies [Link]
Lars de Wildt and Stef Aupers
Abstract: The popularization and normalization of conspiracy theories over the last decade are accompanied by concerns over conspiracy theories as irrational beliefs, on the one hand; and their advocates as radical and extremist believers on the other hand. Building on studies emphasizing that such accounts are one-sided at best, and pars pro toto stigmatizations at worst; we propose to study what we call “participatory conspiracy culture”—the everyday, mundane online debates about conspiracy theories. Based on a 6-month ethnography on Reddit’s r/conspiracy subreddit, an analysis of 242 selected discussions, and supported by digital methods tool 4CAT, this article addresses the question of how people participate in online conspiracy culture. It shows that among the plethora of conspiracy theories discussed online, discussions are heterogeneous, and their participants relate to each other primarily through conflict. Three epistemological positions occur: belief (particularly leading to constant discreditation of others’ beliefs), doubt (particularly as opposed to belief), and play (particularly with the fun of entertaining conspiracy theories without taking them too seriously). We conclude that the participatory conspiracy culture of r/conspiracy is not a homogenous echo chamber of radical belief, but a heterogeneous participatory culture in which belief is fundamentally contested, rather than embraced.
“Trumpism: The Intuitive Function, the Savior, and the Trickster” in Personality Type in Depth [Link]
Aviva G. Brown, PhD candidate, Pacifica Graduate Institute
From the article, “…In general terms, one can apply Jungian psychology to conclude that the demonization of everyone who disagrees with Trump and his base—known as the Make America Great Again (MAGA) movement—represents a classic shadow projection. While such a characterization would not be wrong, a Jungian typological analysis provides a more granular tool to examine the psychological forces at work in Trumpism. Because every projection creates counter-projections, the response to Trump also demonizes him and his followers…”
“Influence and Improvisation: Participatory Disinformation during the 2020 US Election” in Social Media + Society [Link]
Kate Starbird, Renée DiResta, and Matt DeButts
Abstract: The 2020 US election was accompanied by an effort to spread a false meta-narrative of widespread voter fraud. This meta-narrative took hold among a substantial portion of the US population, undermining trust in election procedures and results, and eventually motivating the events of 6 January 2021. We examine this effort as a domestic and participatory disinformation campaign in which a variety of influencers—including hyperpartisan media and political operatives—worked alongside ordinary people to produce and amplify misleading claims, often unwittingly. To better understand the nature of participatory disinformation, we examine three cases of misleading claims of voter fraud, applying an interpretive, mixed method approach to the analysis of social media data. Contrary to a prevailing view of such campaigns as coordinated and/or elite-driven efforts, this work reveals a more hybrid form, demonstrating both top-down and bottom-up dynamics that are more akin to cultivation and improvisation.
Presentation: The Memetics of QAnon as a Dynamical System
Prof. Laura Dilley, firstname.lastname@example.org, Dept. of Communicative Sciences and Disorders, Michigan State University, East Lansing, MI
A paper on QAnon was delivered at the International Communication Association meeting in Toronto for the Legacies of Elihu Katz pre-conference May 25, 2023. The title was "The memetics of QAnon as dynamical system: A historical and forensic analysis Katz-inspired diffusion of pro-QAnon sentiment among social media micro-influencers". Contact the author for a copy.
Bethan Juliet Oake recently published a useful introduction to “Satanic Panic” conspiracy theories in The Conversation.
A new tool for studying Reddit communities was launched.
Another excellent resource from Alex Kaplan and Media Matters tracks QAnon-affiliated state legislators.
The Polarization & Extremism Research & Innovation Lab launched a new website aimed at combatting extremism.
Post-API Conference [Link]
When: October 22, 2023
Where: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
What: A one-day conference for researchers interested in data collection in a post-API world.
Deadline for submission: July 17, 2023
Calls for Papers
The Journal of Right-Wing Studies: The Curse of Relevance: Challenges Facing Right-Wing Studies [Link]
The theoretical, methodological, ethical, and emotional challenges scholars face are unique to the examination of this amorphous and difficult-to-define subject. These challenges regard, for example, researchers’ own ideological positions, the perspectives granted or occluded by their own identities, their participants’ elusiveness or opposition, the consequences of being targeted, and the judgments and expectations from academic peers and public opinion. Thus, for this special issue, we seek articles that identify, assess, or begin to advance solutions for challenges unique to the study of “the right.”
Deadline for submissions: June 15, 2023