The Boom Before the Ban: QAnon and Facebook

Published: 18th December, 2020
Authors: Ciarán O’Connor, Cooper Gatewood, Kendrick McDonald and Sarah Brandt

This report is a collaboration between the Institute for Strategic Dialogue (ISD) and the nonpartisan news-rating organisation NewsGuard. It analyses QAnon-related contents on Facebook during a period of increased activity, just before the platform implemented moderation of public contents spreading the conspiracy theory. Combining quantitative and qualitative analysis, this report looks at key trends in discussions around QAnon, prominent accounts in that discussion, and domains – particularly news websites – that were frequently shared alongside QAnon contents on Facebook. This report also recommends some steps to be taken by technology companies, governments and the media when seeking to counter the spread of problematic conspiracy theories like QAnon on social media.

Ciarán O’Connor is an Analyst on ISD’s Digital Analysis Unit with expertise on the far-right and disinformation environment online and open-source research methodologies. Before joining ISD, Ciaran worked with Storyful news agency. He has an MSc in Political Communication Science from the University of Amsterdam and is currently learning Dutch.

Cooper Gatewood is a Manager within ISD’s Digital Analysis Unit, focusing on quantitative research into the spread of hateful and polarising narratives online, and how they are leveraged by extremist actors. Cooper also develops monitoring and evaluation frameworks to measure the impact of many of ISD’s intervention projects. Cooper is currently contributing to ISD’s research on disinformation campaigns, particularly those aimed to influence and disrupt election processes.

Kendrick McDonald is Senior Analyst and Deputy Editor for Rapid Response at NewsGuard. He leads many of the newsroom’s investigative projects and trains reporters in digital verification. Before joining NewsGuard, Kendrick worked as a fact-checker and researcher for GQ, Smithsonian Magazine, and Type Investigations. He was also an editorial assistant for NewsGuard’s co-CEO, Steven Brill. He graduated from Yale University.

Sarah Brandt is Vice President of News Literacy Programs at NewsGuard, where she manages NewsGuard’s partnerships with educators, researchers, and more than 750 public libraries in the US and Europe. Before joining NewsGuard, Brandt worked as an Associate Consultant for Bain & Company, a global management consulting firm. She graduated from Yale University.

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