A new report claims that foreign-based individuals helped spread conspiracy theories associated with QAnon on Facebook posts. The analysis suggests that the disinformation, mostly concocted by people in China and Russia, further spread the QAnon movement that has become tied to the threat of domestic terrorism.
New York's Soufan Center, a research firm specializing in the study of national security threats, found that almost one-fifth of 166,820 QAnon-related messages posted on Facebook between January 2020 and February 2021 came from foreign sources.
"The national security and broader policy implications of the sustained influence of QAnon conspiracy theories are profound," Naureen Chowdhury Fink, executive director of The Soufan Center, wrote in a press release accompanying the report.
"As such, addressing this challenge will require a joined-up response from the U.S. Government, private sector, civil society organizations, and others in countering the spread of QAnon-related conspiracy theories, and greater investment in preventing and countering terrorism at both government and local levels."
At the center of QAnon is the conspiracy theory that the U.S. government is controlled by a cabal of Satan worshippers who run a worldwide child-sex trafficking ring. However, many people who identify as QAnon supporters have also come to adopt other debunked beliefs, such as conspiracies that COVID-19 is either exaggerated or altogether fake and that the presidential election was stolen from Donald Trump.
The research for The Soufan Center's report was conducted with Limbik, a content science company that uses AI and predictive modeling to analyze online information. The report notes that QAnon has been bolstered by the "intense amplification efforts" of what it refers to as "multiple external actors." It further suggests that foreign entities might be behind using the QAnon conspiracy theory to "sow societal discord and even compromise legitimate political processes."
"Our data collection and analysis has demonstrated that QAnon has been weaponized by America's adversaries," Limbik founder Zach Schwitzky said in the release. "Actors from Russia, China, Iran, and Saudi Arabia have all entered the fray amplifying QAnon messaging, most likely as a means to sow further discord and division among the American population."
The Soufan Center also refers to a new poll it conducted with Limbik of 9,308 U.S. adults, which found that between 20 and 23 percent of respondents self-identified as a QAnon believer, member or supporter.
The report also includes recommendations for how to slow the spread of false
information, as well as a warning that "the decline of COVID-19 will not mean an end to conspiracy theories and the national security implications they now pose."