PHOENIX — Misinformation – it can spread like a virus – and the pandemic isn’t helping.
In this week’s episode of Everything You Need to Know About ______*, investigative reporter Joe Dana and executive producer Katie Wilcox discuss one specific fringe movement that promotes baseless conspiracy theories: QAnon.
In March, as the coronavirus pandemic was only beginning to change American lives – the PEW Research Center released a study indicating that most Americans had never heard or read anything about “QAnon.”
Today – the theory is increasingly gaining attention as Q supporters appear at protests calling to “Save the Children,” railing against mask mandates, and appearing at President Trump’s rallies.
A survey published on Sept. 2, 2020 by Civiqs showed the number of people who were aware of QAnon not only had increased since a similar survey a year ago, but that, “for Republicans, greater awareness has led to greater support.”
The president himself addressed the theory, saying he knew little about it, except that its followers seem to support him. Other national leaders have lambasted the conspiracies – which are centered around the “deep state” idea involving an international pedophile and cannibal ring.
In 2019, an FBI memo identified QAnon as a conspiracy theory that may “support or legitimize violent action.”
A sentiment echoed by Facebook in August when the company announced it began blocking QAnon affiliated users and posts – stating accounts and groups have “celebrated violent acts.”
“As a result of some of the actions we’ve already taken, we’ve removed over 790 groups, 100 Pages and 1,500 ads tied to QAnon from Facebook, blocked over 300 hashtags across Facebook and Instagram, and additionally imposed restrictions on over 1,950 Groups and 440 Pages on Facebook and over 10,000 accounts on Instagram,” the company announced in a blog post August 19.
“Unfortunately when we have the president being ambiguous about this, we need absolutely clear lines about this,” said Claire Wardle, executive director of First Draft, a non-profit news organization that that educates against harmful and false information online.
First Draft provides training for TEGNA newsrooms, including 12 News.
“This has crossed from online to offline," Wardle said.
In this week’s episode, Joe Dana also offers advice to those wanting to fact check posts they see online: give as much time to established journalists as you would to a meme or post on social media and check your sources.