The Gospel according to Q: Understanding the QAnon Conspiracy from the Perspective of Canonical Information

Authors

  • Antonis Papasavva University College London
  • Max Aliapoulios New York University
  • Cameron Ballard New York University
  • Emiliano De Cristofaro University College London
  • Gianluca Stringhini Boston University
  • Savvas Zannettou Delft University of Technology
  • Jeremy Blackburn Binghamton University

Keywords:

Qualitative and quantitative studies of social media, Social network analysis; communities identification; expertise and authority discovery, Subjectivity in textual data; sentiment analysis; polarity/opinion identification and extraction, linguistic analyses of social media behavior

Abstract

The QAnon conspiracy theory claims that a cabal of (literally) blood-thirsty politicians and media personalities are engaged in a war to destroy society. By interpreting cryptic “drops” of information from an anonymous insider calling themself Q, adherents of the conspiracy theory believe that Donald Trump is leading them in an active fight against this cabal. QAnon has been covered extensively by the media, as its adherents have been involved in multiple violent acts, including the January 6th, 2021 seditious storming of the US Capitol building. Nevertheless, we still have relatively little understanding of how the theory evolved and spread on the Web, and the role played in that by multiple platforms. To address this gap, we study QAnon from the perspective of “Q” themself. We build a dataset of 4,949 canonical Q drops collected from six “aggregation sites,” which curate and archive them from their original posting to anonymous and ephemeral image boards. We expose that these sites have a relatively low (overall) agreement, and thus at least some Q drops should probably be considered apocryphal. We then analyze the Q drops’ contents to identify topics of discussion and find statistically significant indications that drops were not authored by a single individual. Finally, we look at how posts on Reddit are used to disseminate Q drops to wider audiences. We find that dissemination was (initially) limited to a few sub-communities and that, while heavy-handed moderation decisions have reduced the overall issue, the “gospel” of Q persists on the Web.

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Published

2022-05-31

How to Cite

Papasavva, A., Aliapoulios, M., Ballard, C., Cristofaro, E. D., Stringhini, G., Zannettou, S., & Blackburn, J. (2022). The Gospel according to Q: Understanding the QAnon Conspiracy from the Perspective of Canonical Information. Proceedings of the International AAAI Conference on Web and Social Media, 16(1), 735-746. Retrieved from https://ojs.aaai.org/index.php/ICWSM/article/view/19330