(Reuters) - Alphabet Inc's GOOGL.O YouTube said on Thursday it was tightening its rules on conspiracy theory content, including QAnon, that targets individuals and groups. The move is the latest in a series of platform crackdowns on the unfounded and sprawling conspiracy theory.
WHAT IS QANON?
QAnon followers espouse an intertwined series of beliefs, based on anonymous Web postings from “Q,” who claims to have insider knowledge of the Trump administration.
A core tenet of the conspiracy theory is that U.S. President Donald Trump is secretly fighting a cabal of child-sex predators that includes prominent Democrats, Hollywood elites and “deep state” allies.
QAnon, which borrows some elements from the bogus “pizzagate” theory about a pedophile ring run out of a Washington, D.C., restaurant, has become a “big tent” conspiracy theory encompassing misinformation about topics ranging from alien landings to vaccine safety.
Followers of QAnon say a so-called Great Awakening is coming to bring salvation.
HOW HAS IT SPREAD ONLINE?
The “Q” posts, which started in 2017 on the message board 4chan, are now posted on 8kun, a rebranded version of the shuttered web board 8chan.
Media investigations have shown that social media recommendation algorithms can drive people who show an interest in conspiracy theories toward more material.
A report by the Institute for Strategic Dialogue (ISD) found that the number of users engaging in discussion of QAnon on Twitter and Facebook have surged this year, with membership of QAnon groups on Facebook growing by 120% in March.
Researchers say Russian government-supported organizations are playing a small but increasing role in amplifying the conspiracy theories.
QAnon backers helped organize real-life protests against child trafficking in August and were involved in a pro-police demonstration in Portland, Oregon.
QAnon also looks poised to gain a toehold in the U.S. House of Representatives, with at least one Republican candidate who espouses its beliefs on track to win in the Nov. 3 elections.
WHAT ARE ONLINE PLATFORMS DOING ABOUT IT?
Twitter in July said it would stop recommending QAnon content and accounts in a crackdown it expected would affect about 150,000 accounts. It also said it would block QAnon URLs and permanently suspend QAnon accounts coordinating abuse or violating its rules.
Facebook Inc FB.O in October stepped up its earlier actions against QAnon by saying it would remove any Facebook pages, groups and Instagram accounts "representing" QAnon. It had previously announced a ban on ads that praised or represented militarized social movements and QAnon.
Following these moves, video platform YouTube said it was banning content that targets an individual or a group using conspiracy theories such as QAnon or pizzagate that have “been used to justify real-world violence.”
YouTube has also said it reduces its recommendations of certain QAnon videos that “could misinform users in harmful ways.” ISD researchers found that about 20% of all QAnon-related Facebook posts contained YouTube links. YouTube does not have a specific ban on monetizing QAnon content.
A spokeswoman for the short-form video app TikTok said QAnon content “frequently contains disinformation and hate speech” and that it has blocked dozens of QAnon hashtags.
A Reddit spokeswoman told Reuters the site has removed QAnon communities that repeatedly violated its rules since 2018, when it took down forums such as r/greatawakening.
E-commerce site Etsy ETSY.O also said in October it was removing all QAnon merchandise from its marketplace. A review of Amazon.com Inc AMZN.O and Ebay Inc EBAY.O showed sellers listing QAnon-branded items including books, face masks, T-shirts and hats.
Amazon and Ebay did not immediately respond to questions about whether they were taking specific actions against QAnon products.
Reporting by Elizabeth Culliford in Birmingham, England, Joseph Menn in San Francisco and Ted Hesson in Washington; Editing by Matthew Lewis
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