Pattern Matching

Why Facebook Can’t Quash QAnon

The problem isn’t moderation. It’s the basic structure of social media.

Will Oremus
OneZero
Published in
7 min readAug 23, 2020

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Photo: Scott Olson/Getty Images

Welcome back to Pattern Matching, OneZero’s weekly newsletter that puts the week’s most compelling tech stories in context.

QAnon has become impossible to ignore. The bizarre, sprawling, right-wing conspiracy theory, which holds that a pseudonymous Trump ally known as Q is involved in a secret battle against a powerful globalist “deep state” linked to pedophilia and Satan worship, has been gathering adherents for years. Supercharged by the paranoia of a pandemic, it is now stoking real-world crimes, rallies, anti-mask movements, and even Congressional candidacies.

At a time when the nation’s future depends on our ability to act collectively in the face of a deadly virus, not to mention a president who peddles conspiracy theories of his own, QAnon can no longer be dismissed as a fringe curiosity. It’s a threat to public health, safety, and livelihoods. And it’s being fueled by, among others, Facebook and YouTube.

But what if there were no Facebook and YouTube, no social media? Could there still be a QAnon? Would it get this big? In other words, to what extent are Facebook and other online platforms responsible for facilitating QAnon’s rise, as opposed to simply being the conduit for a conspiracy that could have just as easily spread by other means? The answer matters because it would tell us to what extent technology is part of the problem — and to what extent reforms of social platforms might be part of the solution.

The Pattern

An internet conspiracy cracks mainstream politics.

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