Baltimore Sun

YouTube cracks down on QAnon con­spir­acy the­ory

So­cial me­dia gi­ant cites off­line vi­o­lence for new pol­icy

- By Kevin Roose Social Media · Social Networking · Youtube · Democratic Party (United States) · Hollywood · Washington · Facebook · Pinterest · Donald Trump · Reddit · Twitter · Hillary Clinton · George Soros

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.

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