Part one of my book, How I Learned The Facts of Life, is called…The Facts of Life. In it, I describe the numerous lessons I’ve had throughout my life in getting and trusting in factual news.
Part two is The Fakes of Life. In it, I describe the numerous and fairly repulsive adventures I had in digging up fake news, i.e., disinformation and propaganda. It was immediately clear to me that no one who was at all sane, at all aware of reality could trust he was getting the Truth from these sources. And maybe I’m being far too kind to my fellow creatures, but I don’t think they can be brainwashed — not unless they seek to be.
At the time I was wading in the muck, QAnon did not exist or, if it did, it hadn’t become such a, um, influencer (a term I just learned), more, uh, influential than the Kardashians. (Indeed, by naming the Kardashians, I’ve provided proof of how dated I am. Every day, a brand new influencer appears. I have no idea who they are or how they make a living.) But there were plenty of other conspiracy-minded and/or lying POS who were producing crazy stuff.
So now there’s QAnon. Deep sigh.
Today in the Times, Charlie Warzel takes up the story, with a concentration on the amorphous conspiracy-spewing, uh, thing called QAnon, in “The Week QAnon Went Mainstream.” And here’s his sub-heading: “A supporter of the dangerous conspiracy theory is most likely headed to Congress. The social media platforms have some soul-searching to do.”
Really? First, is QAnon “dangerous”? I don’t think so. And I think the only people who have “some soul-searching to do” are people who buy into it.
I’m calling QAnon a “thing” because no one has yet come up with a term for an internet-spread amalgam of various paranoid ideas without an identifiable source. QAnon doesn’t have a web site. It’s generated by someone(s) somewhere(s), sitting at a computer keyboard making stuff up or expanding upon already made-up stuff and flinging it out via social media like Twitter and Facebook. And juicing the crap up with fake or displaced photos and videos.
The someone(s) could be sitting in St. Pete, Russia. Or St. Pete, Florida. They could be anywhere at all. (One place they are not is in my apartment, I can affirm that.) Could be someone(s) who has a sadistic bent and enjoys stirring up trouble among simple-minded people. It could be a someone with a vicious sense of humor, who’s laughing at everyone and how we’re all getting outraged and frightened.
Warzel quotes Alex Kaplan, a researcher for the media watchdog group MediaMatters for America who has been tracking the increase in QAnon supporters running for Congress. (I revere MediaMatters.) “It’s crucial to remember this all started as a theory on a message board linked to white nationalists and trolls that President Trump was involved in a secret plot to take down the deep state and pedophiles. [My bolding.] That’s what all of this is.”
I do understand why rational and knowledgeable journalists like Charlie Warzel and Alex Kaplan find this frightening and even dangerous. Once you know what QAnon is pitching, it’s tricky not to project the awful knowledge into fear.
But who are they afraid for?
This can’t be first time I am here to reassure the smart worriers they don’t have to be fearful for me, or any other ordinary consumer of information. Because I am not a member of Facebook conspiracy groups and whenever some nut leaks stupidity into my Twitter feed, I’m able to toss it immediately as troll garbage.
Oddly, Warzel offers evidence contradicting the idea that we should be afraid. I’m going to highlight that evidence:
First was the report from Ari Sen and Brandy Zadrozny at NBC News about an internal Facebook investigation that gives the first real glimpse into the size of QAnon’s online footprint. The investigation found millions of members across thousands of QAnon groups and pages.
This was followed by a Guardian investigation that found “more than 170 QAnon groups, pages and accounts across Facebook and Instagram with more than 4.5 million aggregate followers.”
And let me add these numbers: Marjorie Greene won that primary by getting 57% of…76,238 votes. So perhaps 43,587 people in Georgia bought into QAnon. We have more people in my immediate neighborhood.
There are 331 million people in the United States, of whom 210 million or so are of voting age. Apparently around 4-1/2 percent of them ascribe to one degree or another to QAnon conspiracies. The rest of us don’t.
If I had paranoid tendencies, sure I’d be worried about the effect 4.5 million people could have — not on the election but on post-election reactions. I have friends who do worry about this. To them I say: paranoids don’t do well in organized groups. They’re sort of like cats, basically un-herdable.
(Coincidentally, I’m reading a biography of Trotsky. I’m up to 1917, the first stage of the Russian revolution, and so far it beats me how a disparate, argumentative, theoretically multifarious, antagonistic, disorganized bunch of individuals managed to climb on top of the revolution and claim it as their own. If I find out, I’ll let you know.)
Meanwhile, back here in the good ole USA, I’m not a paranoid and our contemporary revolutions are produced by voting.