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  • There's a certain look that's taken over everything

  • … a certain color palette, kind of font, and design...

  • Today this visual style sells us meal kits and underwear and monthly toothbrush subscriptions

  • and just about everything else. But it's also showing up here: in seemingly

  • harmless, trendy Instagram posts about child trafficking.

  • On Instagram, there are over 800,000 posts like thisfrom social media influencers

  • and regular userswith the hashtag #savethechildren. We've seen things like this before: slideshows

  • about social justice and current events dominated Instagram this summer.

  • But something else is happening here. On Facebook, membership in pages and groups

  • branded as anti-child trafficking grew 3,000 percent between July and the end of September.

  • By the end of August, in-person rallies started taking place in cities across the world.

  • Ending child trafficking is hardly controversial. But behind that surge in growth is the baseless

  • conspiracy theory known as QAnon. Now, an ideology once confined to the more

  • obscure parts of the internet is finding its way mainstreamone Instagram post at a time.

  • On October 28, 2017, the first of a series of posts from an anonymous user appeared on

  • the 4chan message board /pol/. The user was nicknamed Q — after Q-level

  • security clearancethe Energy Department equivalent ofTop Secret.”

  • The community that followed and believed those anonymous postings became known as QAnonand

  • they developed an elaborate conspiracy theory lore that President Trump is fighting a global

  • child trafficking network led by Satanic cannibalistic left-wing pedophile elites.

  • Their theories have been proven false time and again, but that didn't stop the community

  • from spreading from 4chan to another messaging board 8chan, and to places like Twitter, YouTube,

  • and Facebook. And as it did, the posts, videos, and memes

  • explaining its ideology became more accessible and digestible.

  • Now, QAnon is a giant entanglement of conspiracy theorieswith dozens of offshoots

  • that invites all different kinds of conspiratorial thinking into its fold.

  • QAnon has always been a “big tentconspiracy theory that invites

  • people of different beliefs. And the thing is that because the QAnon narrative is so

  • broad and sprawling, people can kind of enter it and pick out the things that they like the best.

  • That paired with the Facebook algorithm, which recommends, like other groups

  • that someone might be interested in, that turns into a very dangerous combination.

  • "A QAnon follower blocked the Hoover Dam with an armored vehicle..."

  • "... a far-right conspiracy theorist was planning a kidnapping in Douglas County..."

  • "... a 24-year-old man was charged in the shooting death of a reputed mob boss.

  • His attorneys argued he was motivated by QAnon."

  • In 2019, the FBI labeled QAnon as a potential domestic terror threat after some QAnon followers started committing

  • serious crimes in the real world.

  • On Facebook, QAnon-related activity grew steadily for years without consequences.

  • But then something changed.

  • There is a lot of evidence that suggests that the pandemic had a big effect

  • on the growth of QAnon: the impact of people spending a lot more time indoors, and being

  • online a lot more, combined with the stress of the pandemic and the uncertainty of the

  • future. That was a toxic combination that pushed people into QAnon.

  • In March, three leading QAnon Facebook groups saw their membership rise from under 50,000

  • to over 300,000. By August, an internal investigation at Facebook

  • reviewed by NBC found that a number of QAnon groups and pages had more than 3 million followers.

  • On August 19, Facebook announced that it would be banning hundreds of QAnon pages and groups

  • And after that, traffic for QAnon phrases

  • and hashtags fell. But membership in groups posing as anti-child

  • trafficking groups exploded. And in those groups, users were still largely

  • spreading QAnon content. QAnon followers had simply pivoted to a new

  • hashtag to improve their image. One that was already being used for a fundraising campaign

  • by a U.K.-based charity: Save the Children.

  • I suppose for someone like mewho's been covering QAnon for the past number of

  • yearsthe past six months have been like watching a tsunami in slow motion.

  • Save the Children is a simple rebrand of QAnon, a very simple and effective message to bring the QAnon movement to a wider

  • audiencewho doesn't want to save children?

  • It's hard to accurately trace how the #savethechildren

  • hashtag jumped from these QAnon Facebook groups to mainstream accounts on Instagram.

  • But by July, high profile accounts like model Helen Owen and the real Housewives of Orange

  • County's Kelly Dodd boosted the hashtag with inaccurate or misleading statistics.

  • This coincided with the United Nations' Human Trafficking Awareness Day.

  • Other accounts put together slideshow-style infographics like these.

  • And these are all packaged up in very pretty posts that are very easily

  • digestible, especially to people that are not familiar with Qanon.

  • The colors are a lot softer, there's a lot of pastels, and it's very

  • pretty and nice. And if you look at it without reading the words, you would think it would

  • be just like just any other kind of yoga-inspired Instagram post.

  • And so the move to Instagram kind of brought QAnon to this lifestyle

  • influencer circle. And many of these influencers already have very high followings, and they

  • already have a dedicated audience that will very much listen to what they have to say.

  • Accounts that might otherwise be getting just a few hundred likes on posts found themselves

  • getting tens of thousands of likes as soon as they start posting about #savethechildren.

  • A lot of people who get into QAnon, especially if they're struggling

  • influencers, they notice that these QAnon themes, they're like an Internet cheat code.

  • Because they attract people who are very, very engaged. They spend a lot of time online.

  • And if you start promoting QAnon themes, you start noticing that you're getting a lot

  • more likes and shares. That could be a big incentive to keep doing it.

  • Perhaps the most damaging part of the Save the Children movement is how inaccurate information

  • is making it harder to fight actual trafficking. One of these most often-cited statistics is

  • that 800,000 children go missing every year in the US.

  • That number comes from a 2002 survey that

  • asked parents if they had reported their children as runaways sometime in the previous year

  • — 797,500 said that they had, though 2019 FBI data puts that number closer to 421,000.

  • Roughly half of those reports are related to custody disputes, and the rest mostly relate

  • to runaways But even then, that number refers to children

  • who are reported missing by their parentsthe vast majority of whom (over 99 percent)

  • return home within hours or days.

  • In that 2002 study, only 115 were consideredstereotypicalkidnappings.

  • There's no reliable data on how many people are trafficked in the US each year.

  • But stereotypical kidnappings aren't what trafficking usually looks like.

  • Instead it often takes the form of forced labor or wage theftmost commonly in agriculture,

  • then domestic work, or sex work. And the people most at risk are those already

  • vulnerable: youth experiencing homelessness in foster care, or unstable housing, LGBTQ+

  • youth who have been kicked out of their homes, or migrant young people.

  • Most people kind of have this idea in their head that it's, you know,

  • children being lifted off the streets and being shipped overseas, and although that

  • does happen, it doesn't happen at all to the extent the QAnon followers believe that it does.

  • But the hysteria caused by distorted numbers

  • has led to a deluge of calls and outreach from concerned QAnon followersand it's

  • overwhelming the organizations fighting actual child trafficking.

  • And that's very damaging because it made it harder for people with

  • real information about possible human trafficking victims to get through.

  • And so we've seen this actually repeatedly, the ways in which the misinformation that this kind of "Save

  • the Children-style" of QAnon is promoting damages real efforts to actually help children.

  • You won't find any searchable hashtags with typical QAnon language on Instagram anymore.

  • But because #savethechildren isn't an inherently harmful tagline moderating it has proven particularly

  • difficult. And tackling misinformation on Instagram can

  • be harder than on Facebook, since it's harder to train an algorithm to recognize misleading

  • text in slideshow images than it is to recognize text in Facebook posts or comments.

  • The belief in QAnon definitely falls along a spectrum. I don't think you

  • can say that everyone that was out to Save the Children rally believes that Hillary Clinton

  • eats children. It's the hysteria that grows and grows and grows as

  • you're going down that rabbit hole, that could more than likely eventually lead to you thinking

  • that Hillary Clinton eats children.

  • QAnon has really struck

  • on something clever, in that people get confused in their own way, and they fall down their

  • own individual rabbit holes that radicalize them according to their own personality type.

  • There are now more than 20 candidates for congress who have expressed support for QAnon.

  • The real danger is that people don't need to believe

  • or even be aware ofthe entirety of a conspiracy theory for it

  • to start influencing their decisions.

There's a certain look that's taken over everything

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B2 qanon trafficking facebook instagram conspiracy conspiracy theory

The Instagram aesthetic that made QAnon mainstream

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    林宜悉 posted on 2020/10/28
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