YouTube cracks down on QAnon conspiracy theory
Social media giant cites offline violence for new policy
YouTube on Thursday became the latest social media giant to take steps to stop QAnon, the sprawling pro-Trumpconspiracy theory community whose online fantasies about a cabal of satanic pedophiles running the world have spilled over into offline violence.
The company announced in a blog post that it was updating its hate speech and harassment policies to prohibit “content that targets an individual or group with conspiracy theories that have been used to justify real-world violence.”
The new policy will prohibit content promoting QAnon, as well as related conspiracy theories such as Pizzagate, which falsely claims that top Democrats and Hollywood elites are running an underground sex-trafficking ring from the basement of a Washington pizza restaurant.
Other social networks have also taken steps to curb the spread of QAnon, which has been linked to incidents of violence and vandalism. Last week, Facebook hardened its rules related to QAnon content and compared it to a “militarized social movement” that was becoming increasingly violent. This week, several smaller platforms, including Pinterest, Etsy and Triller, also announced new restrictions on QAnon content.
Under YouTube’s new policy, “content that threatens or harasses someone by suggesting they are complicit” in a harmful theory like QAnon or Pizzagate will be banned. News coverage of these theories and videos that discuss the theories without targeting individuals or groups may still be allowed.
The QAnon movement began in 2017, when an anonymous poster under the handle “Q Clearance Patriot,” or “Q,” began posting cryptic messages on the message board 4chan, claiming to possess classified information about a secret battle between President Donald Trump and a global cabal of pedophiles. QAnon believers — known as “bakers” — began discussing and decoding them in real time on platforms including Reddit and Twitter, connecting the dots on a modern rebranding of centuries-old anti-Semitic tropes that falsely accused prominent Democrats, including Hillary Clinton and liberal financier George Soros, of pulling the strings on a global sex trafficking conspiracy.
Few platforms played a bigger role in moving QAnon to the mainstream than YouTube. In the movement’s early days, QAnon followers produced YouTube documentaries that offered a crash course in the movement’s core beliefs. The videos were posted on Facebook and other platforms, and were often used to draw new recruits.
“YouTube has a huge role in the Q mythology,” said Mike Rothschild, a conspiracy theory debunker who is writing a book about QAnon. “There are major figures in the Q world who make videos on a daily basis, getting hundreds of thousands of views and packaging their theories in slick clips that are a world away from the straight-to-camera rambles so prominent in conspiracy theory video making.”
Rothschild predicted QAnon believers kicked off YouTube would find ways to distribute their videos through smaller platforms.