A Way to Fight Back against ‘Qanon’ and other Dangerous Disinformation

It’s clear that this phenomenon is a massive danger which poses a serious threat to our society. The de-stabilisation of truth, combined with the increased militarisation of both civilians and state forces, on the way towards what’s looking sure to be a contested election, is a recipe for deadly disaster.

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Despite the absurdity of the premise, we can all agree that Qanon has been devastatingly effective. It has created a completely seperate reality and succeeded in sucking people all the way in, destroying families and potentially democracy in the process.

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The machine to rage against

It is a best seen as part of a wider propaganda machine, who’s purpose is to generate energy for the Trump campaign, and all that entails. Exactly who and what is behind it, and since when, seems to be a surprisingly controversial line of inquiry. Even the suggestion that there is any orchestration to it can draw ridicule, despite it fitting perfectly into the history of political propaganda in general, and the Trump team’s use of digital disinformation in particular. But all that is less important than recognising the effect that it is having, and trying to do something to mitigate it.

The platforms themselves don’t appear to be doing enough, and one could argue that with the sheer volume of content being created (500 hours of video are uploaded to youtube every minute), monitoring it all is effectively physically impossible anyway. Legislators don’t seem to doing anything either, and giving them that power carries complicated consequences of its own too.

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So we have a situation where fantasy narratives are being created in these facebook groups, and because the algorithm acts like a silo and shows people more of the same, they are going almost completely unchallenged. All the stories we have about how terrible Trump is simply do not reach these people. And if they do, it is easy to dismiss them as “fake news”. And that very consensus is a major part of the problem, because a consensus is a psychologically powerful thing, which makes these narratives seem far more compelling than they should. So when people get sucked into these vortexes, they are finding hundreds of accounts (both bots and real people) all furiously agreeing with the premise, which entrenches them further. And we are left with a world being torn asunder with people living in parallel universes, unable to have a conversation, and with the very real threat of a fascist authoritarian regime seizing power.

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So, it seems that the only option left is to roll up our sleeves and get stuck in ourselves. The battle is taking place in these spaces, so that’s where we need to be, right now. We need as many people as possible to go into these groups, to calmly and kindly disrupt the narrative, break the consensus, and de-escalate the situation. Allow light to creep in through the cracks. If it needs a name we can call it “The Counter”.

There are a lot of ways to do this, and we should be trying as many of them as we can, and sharing our experiences to figure out what’s most effective. What follows is my suggestion for one approach. Please feel encouraged to expound upon it. If there was a website or a database to collect resources, that could be helpful. I am not an expert, and this should not be taken as professional advice. It has pulled a handful of people out so far, but has not been tried at scale. The important thing is to get people out there giving it a go. We don’t need to overthink it. This is not some unbeatable, infallible, omnipotent power. This is a bunch of dickheads who have created an echo chamber, and we can just as easily take it away from them.

The key factor here is going in as one of them. You have to appear to be on their side. We need to avoid conflict for this to be effective. (This is not to say that conflict cannot also have an effect, that is a separate strategy which can operate in parallel). Dale Carnegie’s philosophy outlined in How to Win Friends and Influence People is a good starting point:

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So, what follows are some examples of how to engage. The goal is for this to become a collaborative catalogue, that people can add to and draw upon.

Remember that the key thing that people are looking for, especially online in these groups, is validation. “I hear you” are some of the most powerful words in the world. Almost magical. They open the door to a conversation that follows.

Look for cracks, take easy targets. Ask questions, get them to articulate exactly where it’s coming from. “Can you share the source? I want to tell people, they need to see the truth, and someone on the internet just saying it doesn’t really count as proof”

“It’s hard to know what’s true on the internet these days.”

“Are you sure? That doesn’t sound right to me…”

We love research. We’re all there to figure it out. “Well hold on, Q wouldn’t want us just to blindly believe everything, right?”

Keep the focus on the children. Make sure we’re doing the right thing by them. If we’re chasing after imaginary tunnels, we’re missing the kids on islands like Epstein’s. “Guys if we’re getting distracted by chasing red herrings, then we’re doing what they want and the children aren’t being saved.”

Point out the most egregious inconsistencies with the loving New Age movement: “I just heard Trump on Howard Stern’s show, bragging about walking in on the young girls when they weren’t dressed. It really didn’t sit well with me, does it seem off to anyone else?”

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“Ugh, this is why the ‘grab them by the pussy’ thing was just so disappointing”

“Trump seems to keep some pretty shady company, I’m not sure what the deal is”

Play on the impatience which is beginning to mount. They often say something big is about to happen: “Lol been hearing that for about 3 years now… This is starting to feel a bit ridiculous… How much longer are we going to wait? Is there going to come a time when this has gone on too long?” Even just putting that idea out there has tremendous power.

Sow division if you can. Turn them against each other and make them waste time arguing. Put certain language in there and shift the terms of the conversation.

Try to dim the halo they put around the whole family. Make jokes, poke fun at Eric. Call him stupid for admitting that they take a whole bunch of Russian money for their business. “I hope they don’t owe those oligarchs any favours!”

Draw attention to their failures indirectly, slip things like that in, make statements with assumptions in them. Then they have to deal with the assumption as well as the disappointment.

“I wish that Melania hadn’t copied Michelle Obama’s speech”

“It was pretty funny when Trump used the sharpie to change the hurricane map”

“Sometimes I wish that Trump would spend more time taking down the cabal and less time tweeting about news presenters he doesn’t like. He should be better than that”

“I’m worried about how Trump is coming across, it doesn’t really look like he’s in control.”

“It’s starting to look like he’s losing focus, it feels like this has been going on for too long.”

“Is anyone else confused about why he isn’t talking about child trafficking at all Feels like it should be a bigger deal”

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It’s 800,000 ‘reports’. Almost all of them are found immediately. The ones that aren’t found deserve a focused fight for them.

Sit in there for a while a get a feel for the discourse. Acclimatise to the way it operates on a personal level with these people. What are their buttons and how are they being pushed? What themes can you pick up on? What are the most glaring inconsistencies we can drive a wedge between? What’s the easiest thing to disprove, not with facts, but a priori, and how can that be used?

It helps to be across most of the big themes — Pizzagate for example.

“I was never really convinced by Pizzagate... There wasn’t actually anything in those emails, and the restaurant didn’t even have a basement. It feels a lot like something Roger Stone and Alex Jones made up to try and attack the democrats. Don’t get me wrong, I can’t stand Hillary Clinton, but there are plenty of things to criticise her for without making stuff like this up.”

This is a website they use to show that trump has prosecuted pedophiles, but you can see that there were plenty of prosecutions before he came into office, and if anything it’s gone down since then.

Share their concerns. Work on the compassionate issues, slip in a progressive agenda and create cognitive confusion:

“Sometimes I feel like the children of immigrants don’t get talked about enough, they didn’t decide to come and I wish we could treat them better”

“I haven’t had health insurance my entire life and neither have any of my friends, imagine if Trump actually stood up to the insurance companies and finally got that done. I don’t like socialism, but Medicare for All sounds better than what we have now”

“I wish Trump could use his deal making powers to get better pay for teachers, they’re so important to our kids’ future”

“This is why it made me so uncomfortable when he said “I prefer soldiers that weren’t captured”, I wish he could just stick to being respectful to our military”

“One thing I don’t agree with was giving the billionaires a tax cut while slashing social programs.”

“I’m glad he’s trying to win but I would prefer he did it thew way the founding fathers intended

“I wish he’d just stick to trying to win the election fair and square, all this messing around with the post office just makes it easier for the democrats to cry foul play.”

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Fossil Fuel companies are an easy target too. Climate change denialism is predictably common in these circles (because it is all part of the same pro-business, anti-government narrative), and there is a pretty compelling conspiracy there about how big oil companies are trying to protect their profits. They are the embodiment of the elite. It’s also very visible — you can see a mountain top cleared for coal mining, or an oil spill devastating the ocean. This is the side Trump is on, and it shouldn’t sit well with people who claim to be working for a better earth..

“I wish that the fossil fuel lobby wasn’t so powerful in politics, I thought Trump of all people would have been able to stand up to them”

When people call global warming a hoax, try “Isn’t that exactly what the fossil fuel companies would want us to think? That makes more sense to me than all of the world’s scientists lying”

Of course they will say it’s all part of a communist plot for global control, so ask “Can fossil fuel companies keep on destroying ecosystems indefinitely? What steps do you think we need to take to make sure we can sustain our populations and lifestyles?”

This is particularly effective because of the large influx of ‘spiritual/hippy’ types that have been drawn in to the ‘spiritual ascension’ element. There is just no way they should have been allowed to get away with this for as long as they have.

“I’m actually pretty impressed with those hippies protecting the trees. We make fun of them but someone needs to stand up for the environment.”

Throw in things to generally chip away at the elephant. Just putting these words out there and in front of them can have an impact, especially if other people come along to Like and Comment in agreement too. That’s half the battle.

“I wonder why he had so much trouble with his businesses, the tax thing with NY seems weird.”

“Thank God for the Apprentice, that show single-handedly restored his image after all his bankruptcies”

“I don’t know why Trump chose Manafort as his campaign manager though, he’d worked and lobbied for pro-Russian autocrats and dictators his whole career, which just opened Trump up to this whole world of accusations”

“The whole George Soros thing was made up by a PR guy, look, here’s an article where he talks about it.”

“I wonder what Flynn was doing for those governments like Turkey he was giving intelligence to. Why didn’t he just tell the truth about his contact with the Russian ambassador? Would have made the whole thing much easier instead of giving the Dems ammunition”

“I get that it’s cheaper over there, but I wish Ivanka had used American factories instead of Chinese ones for her company, it would have looked a lot more patriotic.”

“Does anyone else think it’s weird that the think-tank where this came from is funded by Steve Bannon?”

“The COVID hoax thing seems a lot like weaponised disinformation, check this out

“I think the issue is that the senate refused to hear one in Obama’s last term, but will hear one in Trump’s last term. But honestly the way they have just done it anyway is amazing, who cares about hypocrisy!”

“I’ve been to church my whole life and honestly, sometimes I have a lot of trouble seeing a man of God in him”.

Even just a simple “Seriously? Come on guys. I know we’re here for each other so let’s not get carried away

The point isn’t to use these exact examples. They are meant to serve as inspiration, starting points. Riff off them, put your own spin on it, and come up with your own.

Making them take the time to actually articulate their thoughts helps illustrate how bizarre they are.

Remember, this is the front page of 8kun, which is the home of Q. They do not have the moral high ground. Play on that:

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This is where all the “Q drops” come from. Ask if people know what a cesspool for pedophiles and mass murderers it is. That it’s owned by a sex-pat pig farmer in the Philippines. Make it weird.

Their entire strategy was explicitly articulated by FBIanon on 4Chan, over a number of months in 2016:

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Fine

It can work just as well in reverse. Spam the replies of the major accounts and super spreaders with articles like these when you can:

Work with the narrative, that evil people are indeed trying to control the world, by manipulating people with lies. That doing research is important, that we the people have the power to fight back. Offer these articles in the spirit of trying to figure out the truth.

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So far, these strategies have been focused on the “group” level, and based on assuming the identity of an insider. The point has not been to convert an individual, but to slow the momentum of this unchecked propaganda machine. To create a moment of pause, and allow the slightest sliver of the spectre of doubt to appear.

At the same time, it’s also important to be able to work on a personal level. Often these beliefs break out of their silos and into our own worlds, and we see friends and family talking about it. There is quite a lot of advice from experts on how best to approach this:

Be kind, be gentle. Ask what got them into it, assume they have good intentions. Don’t press, plant doubts, be there for them.

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PLAN B: MEME WARFARE

The other approach, is to drop the subtle subterfuge and go in there with open content. This will likely result in a swift ejection, and a deletion of posts. But you never know, the moderators could be asleep at the wheel. And if enough people do it, it can still have an impact, because that disruption can create a crack which can then be prised open further by people in the group sticking with Plan A.

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Memes were what got a lot of people in to this mess in the first place, so we know they work. So pull them up or make them yourself, and fire them out. There are plenty of photos of Trump looking awful and/or sounding incoherent. Weaken his image. This narrative all about his strength, it does not deserve to stand, and the only reason it is is because it is not being challenged. We don’t need to let the Lincoln Project do it all. And the best part is, we don’t need to make up lies to do it either.

And finally, and perhaps most powerfully, is plain, simple, heartfelt honesty.

This is winnable. They’ve exploited the open anonymity of these platforms to create these nonsense narratives, and gotten away with it because no one has stopped them. We absolutely have that power. The Truth is our rock. We need to get out there and shatter the illusion.

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Just trying to figure it out

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