Facebook removes QAnon ‘fringe conspiracy’ groups ahead of 2020 election

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Facebook removed a small cluster of groups and pages promoting the QAnon conspiracy in April, calling it part of a “coordinated inauthentic behavior” campaign around the 2020 US elections. It appears to be one of Facebook’s first announcements about cracking down on QAnon-related content, and it suggests Facebook views at least a few corners of QAnon as deliberate manipulation — not just false information.

QAnon is an expansive conspiracy theory that claims President Donald Trump is secretly planning to arrest high-profile Democratic politicians and celebrities for pedophilia or cannibalism. It originated on an independent message board but has found a home on Facebook, which still hosts a wide range of QAnon-related pages. According to a new report from Facebook, though, the company took down five pages, 20 accounts, and six groups linked to “individuals associated with the QAnon network known to spread fringe conspiracy theories.”

Facebook says it found the pages while investigating its platform ahead of the election. “Coordinated inauthentic behavior” refers to pages and accounts that mislead people about their identity and intentions, whether or not the information they spread is accurate. While the most famous examples involve foreign interference from countries like Russia, the QAnon pages are described as part of a domestic, non-governmental effort.

QAnon has gained some popularity among Trump’s admirers. The president’s new choice for intelligence chief apparently follows accounts that promote the theory on Twitter, and Trump himself has retweeted messages from QAnon-supporting Twitter users. But several members have also apparently committed crimes while investigating the theory, including an accused murderer who claims to have been radicalized by QAnon and a woman who was recently arrested carrying more than a dozen illegal knives.

Facebook has seemingly become more comfortable removing misinformation since the coronavirus pandemic, but it doesn’t appear to have a stance against “authentic” QAnon believers. That puts it at odds with at least one other social network: Reddit, which banned major QAnon subreddits for inciting harassment and posting personal information.

Besides the QAnon pages, Facebook also removed another small US-based network linked to anti-immigrant group VDARE, along with a much larger number of pages and accounts linked to unrelated organizations in Russia, Iran, and Georgia. It touted its efforts as the work of a “cross-disciplinary team” built to disrupt “sophisticated influence operations aimed to manipulate public debate,” but also simpler tactics like spam and fake engagement.

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