Oct. 7 (UPI) — Social media behemoth Facebook said Tuesday that it is banning all accounts, pages and groups representing QAnon across its Facebook and Instagram platforms, tightening restrictions against the extreme right-wing conspiracy theory to prevent it spreading online.
Facebook said the ban is effective immediately against all QAnon pages, groups and accounts even if they don’t contain violent content.
“We are starting to enforce this updated policy today and are removing content accordingly, but this work will take time and need to continue in the coming days and weeks,” Facebook said in a press release.
The move is an update to the Dangerous Individuals and Organizations policy Facebook announced in August. In the month since the policy was initiated, Facebook said it has removed more than 15,000 QAnon pages and groups containing discussions of potential violence and more than 6,500 pages and groups tied to some 300 militarized social movements from its platforms.
Facebook said Tuesday it was updating its policy concerning QAnon as removing spaces where discussions containing potential violence was not sufficient enough to prevent real-world harm.
It said while removing QAnon content that supported violence, its Dangerous Organizations Operations team found other content linked to real-world consequences, such as claims certain groups were behind wildfires scorching the Western states.
In Oregon last month, the FBI Portland office published a statement saying local law enforcement agencies have received reports of extremists being responsible for Oregon’s wildfires and that after an investigation found those claims to be untrue.
The Douglas County Sheriff’s Office last month also called on its residents to stop spreading rumors after its 911 dispatchers and professional staff were “being overrun” with untrue claims that people associated with the anti-fascist ideology Antifa had started the fires.
“THIS IS NOT TRUE!” the sheriff’s office said. “Unfortunately, people are spreading this rumor and it is causing problems.”
Facebook said these QAnon-spread rumors diverted the attention of local officials from fighting the fires.
“We aim to combat this more effectively with this update that strengthens and expands our enforcement against conspiracy theory movement,” it said.
Born on the Internet and popular with some supporters of President Donald Trump, QAnon claims that the world elites maintain a “Satanic child-murdering sex cult,” that the president is working to bring to justice, the Anti-Defamation League said, warning that QAnon conspiracies spread through Facebook could cause real-world violence.
In a statement on Tuesday, the ADL said Facebook’s decision to ban QAnon was much needed, if belated.
“QAnon is an extremist movement that fuels antisemitism and promotes misinformation and hate in an effort to undermine our democratic process,” Jonathan A. Greenblatt, the chief executive officer of the ADL, said. “This is a step we have been asking Facebook’s top executive to take for months.”
Greenblatt called on Facebook to produce evidence to show how the ban is being enforced and its effectiveness.
“QAnon presents a serious threat to our democracy, and we are still concerned that the people behind these groups will use subterfuge in an effort to find a workaround to continue spreading disinformation,” Greenblatt said.
Media watchdog Media Matters charged Facebook on Tuesday for helping the QAnon community to “grow exponentially” and its efforts to restrict the conspiracy of only forcing it into hiding.
“So, the big question here is not what is Facebook doing about QAnon: It is what is Facebook doing about all the QAnon content and QAnon communities that have made minor changes to hashtags and keywords to work around Facebook’s rules in order to promote essentially the same dangerous misinformation,” Angelo Carusone, president of Media Matters for America, said in a statement. “Unless Facebook lays out a more robust and proactive plan, all it is doing with this action is giving QAnon content a chance to rebrand on its platform.”
Facebook said Tuesday it will take further action against the spread of the QAnon conspiracy theory as needed.
“We expect renewed attempts to evade our detection, both in behavior and content shared on our platform, so we will continue to study the impact of our efforts and be ready to update our policy and enforcement as necessary,” it said.
The policy change by Facebook follows the U.S. House of Representatives voting late last week to condemn QAnon after Rep. Tom Malinowski, D-N.J., received death threats from the conspiracy’s supporters after a false GOP ad accused him of lobbying to “protect sexual predators.”