Facebook is banning all pages, groups, and accounts associated with QAnon, the company announced on Tuesday, in the most significant action taken against the mass delusion that has seeped into the highest level of American politics.
“Starting today, we will remove Facebook Pages, Groups and Instagram accounts representing QAnon,” the company said in a press release. “We’re starting to enforce this updated policy today and are removing content accordingly, but this work will take time and will continue in the coming days and weeks.”
The move comes after the social network announced in August that it would attempt to disrupt the ability of QAnon and other militarized movements to organize on Facebook and Instagram. That enforcement action led to the removal of 1,500 QAnon pages and groups, though individual accounts tied to the collective delusion remained on the network.
As of Tuesday, however, Facebook said it would remove any pages, groups, and Instagram accounts representing Qanon, even if they had no association with violent content.
QAnon is a set of outlandish beliefs that first came together in 2017 on an anonymous message board. It was an outgrowth of another conspiracy theory, Pizzagate, which falsely claimed that prominent Democratic politicians were running a child trafficking operation in the basement of a DC pizzeria. (The pizzeria didn’t have a basement.)
QAnon followers believe a cabal of satanic elites rules the world. They’re also largely — though not wholly — supporters of President Donald Trump and believe he is fighting against the so-called deep state.
Trump has praised QAnon, which the FBI called a domestic threat, saying, “I don’t know much about the movement other than I understand that they like me very much, which I appreciate.” He went on to say they were “people who love our country” and claimed they’re “saving people from the radical left.”
Since its emergence, QAnon has been promoted by other high-profile political figures and commentators. Current frontrunners in congressional races have also pushed the delusion, with one posting a picture on Facebook of a gun alongside members of the "Squad." The House of Representatives voted to condemn the mass delusion last week. In that vote, 17 Republicans voted against the resolution, while one voted “present.”
QAnon supporters have perpetrated violence in the past. Most recently a member of Congress has faced death threats after believers falsely accused him of protecting sexual predators. Experts have said that their attempts to prevent child trafficking have actually had the opposite effect, hindering investigations and work on the matter.
Facebook’s action against QAnon came the same day the company was under fire in a report by a House subcommittee investigating antitrust in the technology sector, and after months of criticism that the company was not acting quickly enough to counter the mass delusion. At weekly all-hands meetings in recent months, employees, on more than one occasion, asked CEO Mark Zuckerberg what the company would do to prevent the spread of misinformation and discord associated with QAnon.
The company did not signal the change in its policy to employees before it was announced to the public.
Previously, Facebook banned some QAnon groups and said advertisements from them or from militia organizations were not allowed. After those bans were announced, leaders of the movement tried to rebrand and use different key terms to skirt platform rules.
“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,” Facebook said in its press release. The company said it would rely on its Dangerous Organizations Operations team to actively find QAnon accounts and content as opposed to just relying on reports from Facebook users.