Twitter bans 7,000 QAnon accounts, limits 150,000 others as part of broad crackdown

The company will classify QAnon as coordinated harmful activity in part because of a rise in harassment targeting high-profile critics of the president.

A supporter of President Donald Trump holds a QAnon flag at Mount Rushmore National Monument in Keystone, S.D., on July 1.Scott Olson / Getty Images file

Twitter announced Tuesday that it has begun taking sweeping actions to limit the reach of QAnon content, banning many of the conspiracy theory's followers because of problems with harassment and misinformation.

Twitter will stop recommending accounts and content related to QAnon, including material in email and follow recommendations, and it will take steps to limit circulation of content in features like trends and search. The action will affect about 150,000 accounts, said a spokesperson, who asked to remain unnamed because of concerns about the targeted harassment of social media employees.

The Twitter spokesperson also said the company had taken down more than 7,000 QAnon accounts in the last couple weeks for breaking its rules against platform manipulation, spam or ban evasion.

The sweeping enforcement action will ban QAnon-related terms from appearing in trending topics and the platform's search feature, ban known QAnon-related URLs and prohibit "swarming" of people who are baselessly targeted by coordinated harassment campaigns pushed by QAnon followers.

The spokesperson said that while the targeted enforcement fell under Twitter's existing platform manipulation rules, its classification of QAnon material and behavior as coordinated harmful activity was a new designation. The spokesperson said Twitter was acting now because of rising harm associated with the conspiracy theory.

Twitter plans to permanently ban accounts that violate policies around platform manipulation, evasion of bans and operation of multiple accounts, behaviors commonly used by QAnon accounts, the spokesperson said. Twitter began blocking QAnon websites last week, and it will continue to block the distribution of QAnon-related URLs, the spokesperson said.

QAnon is a right-wing conspiracy theory that centers on the baseless belief that an anonymous tipster is revealing how President Donald Trump is leading a secret war against a so-called deep state — a collection of political, business and Hollywood elites who, according to the theory, worship Satan and abuse and murder children. The conspiracy theory's roots grew from Pizzagate, which claimed that Hillary Clinton ran a pedophilia ring from a Washington, D.C., pizza shop.

QAnon emerged from the fringes of the internet's conspiracy community to become a recognized political phenomenon, with Trump supporters showing up at events with "Q" merchandise. QAnon followers have also been implicated in armed standoffs, attempted kidnappings, harassment and at least one killing since the conspiracy theory first gained traction on the internet in October 2017.

Last year, the FBI designated QAnon as a potential domestic terrorist threat. The FBI's report on QAnon's ties to dangerous real-world activities led in part to Twitter's decision, a spokesperson said.

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Despite no evidence and numerous predictions that failed to materialize, QAnon support has trickled into the mainstream, with numerous Republican candidates for Congress openly espousing their support.

And the coronavirus pandemic has only added more momentum to what is now a QAnon movement that has found common ground with other fringe internet communities, including anti-vaccination groups. In recent months, coordinated QAnon campaigns pushed fringe hashtags like #Obamagate and #SubpoenaObama into trending topics that Trump ultimately promoted.

Some QAnon supporters have also become more organized and aggressive in attacking celebrities. QAnon followers frequently comb through social media posts and Instagram pictures of Trump's famous political opponents, intentionally misinterpreting benign photos as proof that the celebrities are eating children. The followers then target the celebrities with harassment campaigns, coordinated by influencers in the QAnon community on Twitter, Instagram and YouTube.

TV personality and author Chrissy Teigen has been a constant target of harassment by QAnon and Pizzagate accounts in recent weeks. The harassment campaign has targeted some of her friends, some of whom are private figures, who have had their Instagram accounts swarmed by conspiracy theorists posting violent threats.

This type of harassment campaign is known as "swarming" or "brigading," and Twitter said the swarms will no longer be allowed on the platform. Twitter will ban users who threaten users during QAnon-related swarms and will limit the reach and search visibility of those who participate in them.

A Twitter spokesperson said the anti-harassment policy could apply to other groups that are motivated primarily by targeted harassment.

QAnon conspiracy theorists falsely claimed on Twitter, Reddit and TikTok this month that the furniture company Wayfair was shipping trafficked children because price glitches raised the prices of pillows and cabinets to tens of thousands of dollars. The company's name was the top trend on Twitter in the U.S. on July 10 as Twitter users posted links to expensive furniture.

The company released a statement reiterating that some cabinets had been priced appropriately and that a glitch had affected the prices of some personalized pillows.

Still, the conspiracy theory has continued to rage among some TikTok users who did not know it was initially posited by a QAnon influencer on Twitter.

Reddit has similarly banned brigading, in which users of one community target another community with harassment in a coordinated fashion.