A New Phenomenon Produced by Social Media: Qanon

While learning about Qanon, the conspiracy theory embraced by Trump supporters, I felt like it was something beyond conspiracy theory that I’m used to, and social media seemed to be one of the main reasons for this difference. Yes, it’s a conspiracy theory, but it also has elements of a serialized novel (political mystery/thriller, specifically), interactive game, and cult. It’s not a new art form, game, or cult–so much as something that doesn’t have a name.

A part of me wonders if this new social media phenomena can be replicated with a different story line, one that isn’t so conspiratorial–although the conspiratorial element seems to precisely make the endeavor both compelling and meaningful. Believers become a part of something really important. And they take on and experience this project like a TV series. Each new pronouncement by Q seems to function like an episode.

In a way, the Mueller investigation functioned in a similar way. Following that story was like living through a political thriller. Every day–or at least every bit of new information relating to the Mueller investigation–was like an episode in a TV series or a chapter in a novel.

But besides the specifics of each situation, didn’t people experience the seem phenomena in the past–e.g., with Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky, for example, or Watergate? On some level this is true, but social media allows for more information, all the time, and also creates a more communal experience of this. It’s like going watching a movie in crowded theater–and then being able to interact and talk with people after about a film. Additionally, some of the people in the audience may have expertise relating to the film. Some of the people may have worked in the film industry, and they know the filmmakers. And imagine the movie was four years long and you could just teleport into the theater any time you wanted to.

With the Qanon folks, they’re watching the movie, but they meet together in afterward and come up with a bizarre theory to explain what’s happening and what’s going to happen in the film. And they collectively construct this narrative.

To be continued…

4 thoughts on “A New Phenomenon Produced by Social Media: Qanon

  1. Social media definitely played a huge part, but I would say its role was secondary to the message boards’. Reddit and 8chan/8kun were really where it was formed and where it took off, picking up its most ardent followers. Social media brought it mainstream, I guess, so you have a strong point there. Without mainstreaming, who knows if we’d even know about this crap.

  2. I would include message boards in social media, but I guess that’s not technically correct. Basically, the internet sites that enable socializing and discussion over a specific topic.

  3. Are we under-estimating the numbers of people who buy into this conspiracy theory?

    I might be one of them. I tend to think the numbers are relatively small–at least those who are really hardcore believers. A part of me feels like the following is similar to fans of professional wrestling. Most of these fans know its fake and enjoy it in spite of that. A much smaller believe it’s real. Perhaps, with Q-anon conspiracy, the number true believers is larger than pro-wrestling true believers, but I assume the actual numbers are still relatively small.

    But maybe I’m wrong about that. If so–if the numbers are much larger–this is something we should take way more seriously.

    2/4/2021

    My knee-jerk reaction to seeing this tweet is to think the numbers of Qanon-ers who believe this is relatively small. I hope this is right, but I’m not sure.

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