A Social Media Analytics View of the QAnon Conspiracy Theory

A Social Media Analytics View of the QAnon Conspiracy Theory

Is QAnon a grassroots phenomenon, or is it largely driven by a few influencers? The social network is deleting groups, pages and accounts linked to the conspiracy theory movement.

Is QAnon a grassroots phenomenon, or is it largely driven by a few influencers? To be considered an influencer, a user must get a lot of attention from others in a network, which can be measured in Twitterverse as the share of retweets, replies and mentions a user receives. With tweets from 10k QAnon supporters, we use social network analysis to show that QAnon is largely influencer based; a relatively small fraction of users attracts much of the attention, and most QAnon supporters repeat what the influencers are saying. Even though President Trump does not tweet with popular QAnon hashtags, mentions of @realDonaldTrump is among the top-5 in the QAnon network. Thus, he may be described as a passive influencer. In terms of users who get mentioned from all across the QAnon network with very different hashtags, @realDonaldTrump ranks #1 by a large margin. When we combine these two ways to measure attention, President Trump is still the #1 (passive) influencer in the QAnon network.

Does it matter whether a phenomenon is grassroots or influencer driven? A grassroots movement is one where most participants have a small but nearly equal importance. By contrast, in an influencer driven movement, a handful of participants is very important, who drives much of the action, while the rest are basically insignificant. By not being dependent on a few major participants, a grassroots movement generally has more resilience or staying power than one that is influencer based. By contrast, influencer-based phenomena can fizzle out if the top influencers move away for one reason or the other. Of course, the nature of a movement can shift over time. For instance, it has been suggested that #MeToo started as influencer driven, but became more grassroots over time. By contrast, our preliminary analysis of BLM data (not presented here) suggests that it is more of a grassroots driven movement. It is too early to tell if QAnon will eventually morph into a grassroots phenomenon.

The QAnon conspiracy theory

If you are reading our article, you may already know what QAnon is. Just in case you were too busy to follow this relatively recent development, this is how Wikipedia defines the phenomenon:

“QAnon is a far-right conspiracy theory alleging a secret plot by a supposed “deep state” against President Donald Trump and his supporters. …. The theory began with an October 2017 post on the anonymous imageboard 4chan by “Q”, who was presumably an American individual, but probably became a group of people. Q claimed to have access to classified information involving the Trump administration and its opponents in the United States.”

The New York Times reports that QAnon has recently become more mainstream, showing up prominently on many social networks, with posts on the pandemic, BLM, and vaccines. Multiple media and fact checkers have reported that QAnon spreads misinformation about these and other topics. Some Republican candidates for Congress have tweeted in support of QAnon, which have also been retweeted by President Trump.

social-media trump politics culture data-science

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