QAnon is a dangerous conspiracy theory that doubles as a call to violence in that its adherents falsely believe that baby blood sustains a global pedophilia ring. To them, that’s what the Mueller investigation is really about, and Trump and Mueller are actually teaming up to take down Hillary Clinton.
While you may laugh at the patent absurdity of that theory, its unreality has become a very tangible part of our reality. A SWAT Officer sporting a QAnon patch posed in a photo with the Vice President of the United States. A pastry chef at the White House believes this conspiracy and even decorated a cake with the letter Q. The “call to violence” link above describes a horrific story of a 26-year-old man with signs of mental illness stabbing his brother in the head with a sword because he thought he was a “lizard” person. That 26-year-old was also a member of the Proud Boys, a “gang” (embraced by the GOP) whose initiation is to get in a “criminal” fight as described by its founder, Gavin McInnes—a man who calls people “gender n*****”, yet the New York Times pathetically described him as simply spouting “aggressive rhetoric, [and] also willing to get physical at times.”
These are not trivial matters, but most mainstream coverage truly does not understand the rot that helped elect Trump. The internet is a vast expanse whose rules are far more comparable to the days of the Wild West than anything governing our stated reality. Gamergate is the model for how everything works now. The political world was already broken, and things are getting worse, as evidenced by the ascendance of this QAnon book up Amazon’s best seller list.
This is what YouTube hath wrought upon our society. Their algorithm prioritizes engagement and anything that keeps you on the site for long periods of time to watch ads—I mean, videos—which has made YouTube into the preeminent global platform for conspiracy theories. Those videos are basically YouTube's primary product, per YouTube's own algorithm, and YouTube just pledged to do the absolute bare minimum to cut into this very profitable poison they continuously pump into our democracy.
This profit motive has also made its way over to Amazon, as demonstrated by the folks making millions off the army of confused elderly folks with zero internet literacy. As of this writing, the QAnon book is up to number 59 on Amazon's best seller list. I reached out to Amazon and asked them if “Amazon feels responsibility to assert any degree of editorial guidance (any meaning: any amount more than zero) when it comes to a patently false and dangerous conspiracy theory like QAnon” and will update this column if I hear back. Even if Amazon does get back to me with a statement saying they do feel some amount of editorial responsibility in this extreme instance, it won't fix the underlying current of falsehoods radiating throughout our democracy.
The mainstream media is way, way behind on this story, as real actors on 4chan had far more influence over the 2016 election than the army of Russian bots and trolls sent there to amplify those actors' messages. That said, things are not completely hopeless, and some major media is getting better at understanding this bad faith infrastructure, as evidenced by Chuck Todd's 180-degree shift towards denying climate deniers a spot on Meet the Press and NBC News hiring one of the stalwarts of this dystopia beat, Ben Collins. This is how the absolute dreck of our political discourse takes a hold of media cycles over and over and over again.
America needs to get smarter, and that starts with mainstream institutions calling out this poison for what it is. This is not a “political worldview” as some conservatives asserted in reaction to the QAnon White House pastry chef story, it is a cult based on the words of one anonymous poster on 4chan who speaks of an evil cabal of liberals harvesting baby blood and raping children. People genuinely think they’re fighting a war against that kind of evil. This is not something we should be playing around with, and it’s high time that companies like Amazon, and especially YouTube, reckon with the societal downfall from which they profit.
Jacob Weindling is a staff writer for Paste politics. Follow him on Twitter at @Jakeweindling.