QAnon believers are following a baseless theory that claims a ring of Satan-worshipping pedophiles is running a global child sex trafficking ring that is plotting against Donald Trump’s presidency.

The conspiracy first appeared several years ago on 4Chan, but has gained momentum during the pandemic as social media platforms struggle to deal with the wave of misinformation.

Marc-André Argentino is a Ph.D. candidate at Concordia University researching what he calls the “Pastel QAnon” phenomenon.

In a Twitter thread, Argentino revealed that many female QAnon believers are “lifestyle influencers, mom pages, fitness pages, diet pages and [have] stories of alternative healing”.

“These influencers provide aesthetics and branding to all of their pages, and they in turn apply it to QAnon content, softening the traditional posts, videos and images that would be associated with QAnon stories,” said writes Mr. Argentino.

“This branding is the opposite of ‘raw’ Qanon,” he added.

QAnon influencers – some with significant follower counts – post images of quotes with pale pink and sky blue palettes that read: “#whereareallthechildren”, “COVID is over” and “sex trafficking from children is not a conspiracy theory”.

As #QAnon is blocked by Instagram, conspiracy theorists use hashtags like #savethechildren and #childsextrafficking, making it difficult to link some of these accounts to the movement.

Dr Amelia Johns, senior lecturer in digital and social media at the University of Technology Sydney, said she saw users posting rainbows and love hearts alongside hashtags used by the QAnon movement .

“These are often middle-aged women who identify as mothers and wives who want to protect their own children and other children,” she said. The flow.

“But even despite the nice aesthetic they have, when you look at the comments, they either have very pro-Trump views or are explicitly racist and anti-Semitic.”

Women who believe in QAnon post conspiratorial messages on Instagram using pastel colors.

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Dr. Francesco Bailo is a social media expert in politics at UTS, who works with Dr. Johns to research conspiracy theories.

He said The flow that “QAnon is an umbrella for other conspiracy theories” and movements like anti-vaxxers and anti-5g.

“There is a high level of distrust of authority. When you look at the hardcore members, they are expecting a civil war in the near future,” Dr. Bailo said.

Dr. Bailo said their research assistant was “struggling to keep up” with the evolving terminology and hashtags being embraced by the QAnon movement.

“We even wondered at one point if just using bad grammar was also to try to circumvent ongoing censorship,” Dr Johns added.

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Experts say it’s often difficult to spot QAnon followers because they portray themselves as advocates for stopping child sex trafficking.

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The flow observed several accounts that use pastel coloring to promote QAnon messaging.

One account bluntly states in their bio: “IG deleted the previous account – starting over anonymously.”

Several posts by this user talk about the trip down the “rabbit hole”, the so-called “great awakening” and being “red-pilled”, a reference from The matrix which conspiracy theorists use to describe “sudden enlightenment.”

‘QAnon 2.0’

Kaz Ross is a lecturer in the School of Humanities at the University of Tasmania.

She believes QAnon is now in its second stage, as the plot has “morphed to change and adapt to the community that embraces it.”

“I think what we can see in 2020 is that QAnon 1.0, which was really focused on Trump and his different battles, has expanded to include a bunch of other different conspiracies.”

“Yes, he is still focused on Trump. But here [in Australia], it’s about much more important things. And I think that’s where the wellness side comes in.”

A man holds a QAnon conspiracy flag while walking on the All Black Lives Matter mural in Hollywood.

A man holds a QAnon conspiracy flag while walking on the All Black Lives Matter mural in Hollywood.

AAP

Dr Ross said QAnon is gaining traction among those interested in “essential oils, crystals, tarot card reading and divination”.

“Obviously in the wellness industry they already have a great distrust of the authority of, you know, the pharmaceutical companies, the mainstream thinking about diet and exercise,” said Dr. Ross. The flow.

“It’s no coincidence that most of these wellness influencers who have moved into the Q world are based in Queensland or northern New South Wales,” she said. added.

Dr Ross said wellness bloggers and ‘new age’ influencers tell others to ‘trust your instincts’, which makes their followers susceptible to being tricked.

“So you will have so-called psychic mediums, Australians, who [say they] go on meditative journeys into the ‘tunnels of child abuse’ under the rock of Uluru,” she said. The flow.

“Some people believe that 100% because the woman saying it comes across as very genuine, very genuine. She’s crying. She’s distressed.

“It all depends on the economic model”

Dr. Ross suspects that the sudden adoption of the QAnon and Q-adjacent theories by influencers is driven by “the click-generating business model.”

From selling merchandise to conference tickets, Dr Ross said there was money to be made promoting QAnon and other “trending” conspiracy theories.

“You’ll see people talking about raising your vibrations 500 hertz to fight ‘alien lizards that keep people in tunnels’ and in the same breath it’ll be ‘buy our protein powder because it’s really important to improve your immune system,'” Dr. Ross said.

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A QAnon account observed by The Feed had 95,800 followers.

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A QAnon influencer identified by The flow had nearly 96,000 subscribers. In a video posted to Instagram, she claimed on her previous Instagram account that she amassed 56,000 followers in three weeks by posting QAnon content before it shut down.

Dr Ross also believes that Facebook and Instagram have failed to stem the spread of harmful conspiracy theories.

“Instagram completely dropped the ball on QAnon,” she said The flow.

“And to start deleting groups of hundreds of thousands of people in a Facebook group after QAnon has been going on for three years, shows [that] until the whole world becomes aware of the problem, they are perfectly happy to have traffic. »

QAnon is spreading so quickly in the wellness space that some influencers have felt compelled to speak out against the movement.

Seane Corn, a yoga instructor with 108,000 followers, wrote on Instagram that “QAnon’s agenda is to use manipulative means to recruit people who are rightly scared, angry and disillusioned with the state of our nation”.

“I have personally witnessed colleagues in the yoga community fall prey to the dangerous and false stories spread by QANON,” life coach and yoga teacher Shannon Algeo wrote to her 25,000 Instagram followers.

“This group benefits survivors of sexual abuse, people who care about animal rights, and members of yoga and spirituality communities who have counter-cultural leanings. We must stick together against this manipulative force.

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