Russian firms amplifying QAnon conspiracies
Russian government-supported organizations are playing a small but increasing role amplifying conspiracy theories promoted by QAnon, raising concerns of interference in the November U.S. election. Academics who study QAnon said there were no signs Russia had a hand in the early days of the movement, which launched in 2017 with anonymous web postings amplified by YouTube videos.
But as QAnon gained adherents and took on new topics - with President Donald Trump as the constant hero waging a misunderstood battle - social media accounts tied to a key Kremlin ally joined in. In 2019, accounts removed by Twitter and suspected of being controlled by Russia's Internet Research
Agency sent a high volume of tweets tagged with #QAnon and the movement slogan #WWG1WGA, short for Where We Go One, We Go All, said Melanie Smith, head of analysis at social media analysis firm Graphika. The IRA was indicted by Robert Mueller in his election interference prosecution.
More recently, Russian governmentbacked media RT.com and Sputnik have stepped up coverage of QAnon, which began with a false proclamation Hillary Clinton would be arrested for an undetermined reason and now includes theories about child trafficking by Hollywood elites, the novel coronavirus and more. Alethea Group disinformation expert Cindy Otis, a former CIA analyst, said RT, Sputnik and other Kremlinbacked media have been writing more about QAnon, using it to fit into their broader narrative of: "The U.S. is falling apart, look how much division there is."
After Twitter banned thousands of QAnon accounts last month, RT.com predicted the move would backfire by directing more attention to the cause, adding that "it gave QAnon followers the validation they craved." Last week, it ran a similar article after Facebook removed about a third of QAnon groups and restricted the other two-thirds.
RT's story began: "Facebook has removed thousands of groups and pages related to the QAnon conspiracy after expanding its concept of 'dangerous individuals' to include those who merely ' celebrate violent acts.' Streisand effect, meet slippery slope." The Streisand effect refers to when singer Barbra Streisand sued to get photos of her Malibu, California, home removed from the internet, only to win them more viewers.
The articles have fallen short of fullthroated support, and others have been critical. But they cast QAnon as channeling legitimate outrage. QAnon followers have taken note and begun to share more content from the Russian outlets, according to Graphika.
In a report released late Monday, it said the QAnon accounts it tracked had posted material from 69 other websites more often than RT stories in 2018. By earlier this year, RT was the 23rd most commonly shared site in the community. In the month ended Aug. 20, it had climbed to No. 12. here
"Though Russia is only one foreign actor capable of targeting US political audiences through the QAnon community, its history of operations appear to be the most ideologically aligned with the overarching QAnon theory," the report said. "Russia also appears to have made the most effort to gain credibility within the community thus far."