Facebook pages promoting banned QAnon cult still live

Facebook pages in Scotland promoting a cult called QAnon have not been removed by the social media giant despite a promise to ban them.

QAnon is an American cult deemed a domestic terror threat by the FBI, with multiple attacks having been carried out in the US by individuals espousing Q’s beliefs.

The cult has attracted hundreds of thousands of followers worldwide over the internet. In light of concerns raised that the cult is dangerous and spreading globally through social media, Facebook announced its ban in October 2020.

At time of writing though, Facebook pages linked to the cult, which organised demonstrations against child trafficking in Aberdeen, Dundee and Glasgow, remain live.

Anti-racism organisation Hope Not Hate told The Ferret that while Facebook’s ban is welcome, prominent QAnon groups still remain on the social media platform while expelled groups have “crept back on”.

Facebook has made the right decision, but now the challenge will be effectively enforcing the ban and monitoring for QAnon content in other guises, so it cannot afford to be complacent.

davd lawrebnce, hope not hate

An investigation by The Ferret last month revealed that thousands of people in Scotland had engaged with Facebook pages promoting the cult.

Followers of QAnon, aka Q, believe that President Trump is fighting a secret battle against a cabal of Satan-worshippers, comprised of prominent world politicians, celebrities and international business leaders.

US President Donald Trump this week praised supporters of QAnon, who believe powerful people use their positions to engage in child trafficking and human sacrifice.

Q is their nickname for an anonymous user of the website 8chan, who claims to be a US government employee, and whose posts form the basis of the cult’s beliefs.

8chan is a far right message board which promotes unrestricted free speech including racism and anti-semitism.

Facebook previously placed limitations on QAnon-related content, preventing the use of paid advertising to promote it, and restricting the reach of Q-related posts.

But those measures stopped short of outright removal of Q-related content which did not contain calls to violence.

Announcing its policy change earlier this month, Facebook said: “Starting today, we will remove any Facebook pages, groups and Instagram accounts representing QAnon, even if they contain no violent content.”

The Ferret’s report last month revealed that Facebook was instrumental in the spread of the cult to Scotland.

A network of pages and groups using concerns about child trafficking to advance QAnon’s beliefs within Scotland, flourished on the platform despite restrictions. They organised rallies in Scottish cities.

The Facebook group “Save Our Children Scotland”, which had 4,900 members, gained 2,356 of those members over a period of just 30 days.

Another group associated with the organisation Freedom For the Children UK, which coordinates QAnon-related demonstrations across the UK, has nearly 13,000 members and receives hundreds of posts a day.

According to social media analysis tool Crowdtangle, public posts on Facebook containing both the hashtag #saveourchildren and Scotland, garnered more than 6,844 interactions since early August.

Some of the groups and pages most involved in promoting #saveourchildren also promoted other widely debunked conspiracy theories, such as anti-vaccination campaigns and anti-5G ideas.

These pages include the “Anti-corruption Scotland” page, which has more than 1,600 followers and the “Stop 5G Scotland” page, which has more than 2,000 followers.

At time of writing, none of the Facebook pages or groups The Ferret identified as promoting QAnon in Scotland have been removed.

David Lawrence, of anti-racism group Hope Not Hate said: “We hope that Facebook’s ban on QAnon is the turning point it has the potential to be. However, it’s taken a long time for them to wake up to this danger, and as a result this movement has spread far more widely than it should have been allowed to – which means uprooting it will be all the harder.”

He added: “Some prominent groups still remain, expelled groups have already crept back on and proponents are looking for ways to evade bans, such as using coded language. Facebook has made the right decision, but now the challenge will be effectively enforcing the ban and monitoring for QAnon content in other guises, so it cannot afford to be complacent.”

Associating a conspiracy theory with child protection movements is a way of attracting new audiences, and giving conspiracy theories an aura of legitimacy.

dr jovan byford, open university psychologist

Dr Jovan Byford, an Open University psychologist, said that, historically, conspiracy theories have always been “highly adaptable” and successful in “embracing themes” that allow them to reach new audiences.

He added: “In the 1980s, for instance, conspiracy theories embraced some of the themes from what was then called the ‘UFOlogy movement’, i.e. communities that believed that alien life has been discovered, but that the government is keeping it secret.

“This gave conspiracy theories a new audience, but also allowed them to look as politically less contentious. Something similar is happening now. Associating a conspiracy theory with child protection movements is a way of attracting new audiences, and giving conspiracy theories an aura of legitimacy.

“The problem arises when these movements and their followers often inadvertently become promoters of conspiracy theories, and embrace the far right, antisemitic themes that go hand in hand with the conspiracist world view.”

A spokesperson for Facebook told The Ferret it was starting to “enforce its updated policy” to remove QAnon content, adding “this work will take time and needs to continue in the coming days and weeks”.

Image credit – Canbedon

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