July 30, 2022 | BBC

QAnon, the COVID-19 incubator and the hybridised threat landscape

Melanie Smith, Head of ISD’s Digital Analysis Unit, spoke to BBC Trending about the evolving threat posed by QAnon and weaponised conspiracy theories in the episode ‘QAnon at the Ballot Box’.

“The major way of conceptualising how the threat has changed is that QAnon has evolved into a diffuse set of ideas that have taken hold in the mainstream in many countries and have been legitimised by political candidates and institutions along the way,” Melanie told the BBC. QAnon itself “can no longer be talked about as a fringe political movement.”

Melanie also spoke to the role of COVID-19 in mainstreaming QAnon, arguing that the pandemic is “inadvertently responsible for bringing a lot of these ideas to the mainstream, giving these conspiracy theories oxygen and allowing the ideas to be translated into mainstream concepts.” The fundamental tenets, she told the programme, are that “the government is lying to you and the media isn’t covering what they should be.”

The mechanism by which QAnon assimilates new pieces of information, Melanie says, has been adopted by other conspiracy movements. “There’s an event or incident, and that can be fit into the broader architecture of conspiracy thinking. QAnon really progressed some of those ideas in these communities and brought a lot of people into the fold who pre-2020 would have thought of QAnon as quite extreme.”

ISD has written numerous studies investigating QAnon, including The Boom Before the Ban, which explored the online ecosystem of Q adherents.

Listen to Melanie’s conversation with the BBC Trending, she comes in at 19:10.