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 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, 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."

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