(Reuters) – Facebook on Tuesday classified the QAnon conspiracy theory movement as dangerous and began removing Facebook groups and pages and Instagram accounts that it turns out to be agents.
The move escalates an August policy that banned a third of QAnon groups on the platform from promoting violence, while allowing most to stay, although content appears less often in news feeds. Instead of relying on user reports, Facebook employees will now treat QAnon like other militarized corporations, searching for and deleting groups and pages, the company said in a blog post here.
Since the August restrictions, some QAnon groups have added members and others have used coded language to avoid detection, for example by referring to “keyword” instead of Q. In the meantime, followers have been working on joining other groups For example, those who are concerned with child safety and those who are critical of restrictions on gatherings due to the coronavirus, according to researchers at Facebook and elsewhere.
“While we removed QAnon content that celebrates and supports violence, we’ve seen other QAnon content associated with various forms of damage in the real world, including recent claims that the west coast forest fires were made by certain groups were triggered, “wrote Facebook.
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“QAnon messages change very quickly, and we see networks of supporters building an audience with one message and then quickly switching to another.”
Recent QAnon posts have spread false information about polls and about COVID-19, researchers said. Posts even claimed that US President Donald Trump falsified his diagnosis of COVID-19 in order to orchestrate secret arrests.
QAnon is listed as a potential source of domestic terrorism by the FBI and is being powered by an anonymous internet poster nicknamed Q claiming to be a Trump administration insider. The nonsensical claim is that Trump is secretly leading a crackdown on a huge pedophile ring that includes prominent Democrats and the Hollywood elite.
There has been no increase in arrests, and the fictional satanic rituals the group cites reflect long-standing legends that anger people for political reasons – and are often used against minorities.
Trump has hailed the group as patriotic, and more than a dozen Republican congressional candidates have promoted them.
(Reporting by Joseph Menn in San Francisco, editing by David Gregorio and Matthew Lewis.)