On Amazon, a Qanon conspiracy book climbs the charts — with an algorithmic push

The book is currently No. 9 in all books about politics and No. 1 in all books about “Censorship,” one slot ahead of Ray Bradbury’s “Farhenheit 451.”
An attendee holds signs a sign of the letter "Q" before the start of a rally with U.S. President Donald Trump in Lewis Center, Ohio on Aug. 4, 2018.Maddie McGarvey / Bloomberg via Getty Images file
  • Share this —
By Ben Collins

A book that pushes the conspiracy theory Qanon climbed within the top 75 of all books sold on Amazon in recent days, pushed by Amazon’s algorithmically generated recommendations page.

“QAnon: An Invitation to the Great Awakening,” which has no stated author, ranked at No. 56 at press time, was featured in the algorithmically generated “Hot new releases” section on Amazon’s books landing page. The book claims without evidence a variety of outlandish claims including that prominent Democrats murder and eat children and that the U.S. government created both AIDS and the movie Monsters Inc.

The Qanon conspiracy theory moved from fringe parts of the internet in 2018 to achieve national prominence thanks to supporters of President Donald Trump who wore clothes and held signs referencing “Q” at political rallies. The conspiracy theory’s rise was followed by a variety of Qanon-related moneymaking schemes that included merchandise for sale that could also be found on Amazon.

Adherents of the Qanon conspiracy theory falsely believe that the world is run by a Satanic cabal helmed by former presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, and that President Donald Trump and Special Counsel Robert Mueller are secretly working in tandem to eliminate the cabal.

The book, “An Invitation to the Great Awakening,” is currently No. 9 in all books about politics, and No. 1 in all books about “Censorship,” one slot ahead of Ray Bradbury’s “Fahrenheit 451,” and immediately followed by classics “Lord of the Flies,” “The Handmaid’s Tale,” and “Of Mice and Men.”

The paperback, which cost $17 at press time, features outlandish claims, sometimes written in rapid succession with no evidence. On one page, the book baselessly claims that the United States government created AIDS, polio, Lyme disease, some natural disasters, two Indiana Jones movies and the Pixar movie Monsters Inc.

Amazon declined to answer questions about the book’s placement in the algorithmic recommendations carousels, including about whether the book might have been recommended to users on other sections of the site.

At several points last weekend, the book was a spot behind Dr. Seuss’ “Green Eggs and Ham” on the Top 100.

The book posits that Monsters Inc. shows off a government plan to collect children’s blood “that gives [government figures] some form of high or youthful looks.”

Conspiracy theory researcher Mike Rothschild told NBC News that “An Invitation to the Great Awakening” is a new way for those pushing the Qanon conspiracy theory to make cash, since recent changes to YouTube’s algorithm have made it harder for conspiracy theorists to find new followers and cash in on true believers.

“They absolutely exploited flaws in Amazon's algorithms,” Rothschild said. “They also know that Q has a small but devoted fan base that is willing to spend money. So if it gets a huge spike of sales just as it's released, it'll shoot up Amazon's lists and get in front of more people, even if those initial sales make up the bulk of who pays for it.”

Rothschild called the book “a bold new step in the endless grift at the heart of Q.”

The book currently averages five stars on Amazon, as conspiracy theorists on YouTube and Twitter have told their fans to buy the book and leave reviews.

While Amazon hosts a wide variety of books that trade in conspiracy theories and extremist views, the company faces a challenge in preventing groups from gaming its recommendation algorithm.

Jason Kint, CEO of the trade association Digital Content Next, said the lack of oversight on Amazon’s recommendations algorithms, along with manipulation campaigns from conspiracy theorists, could create a dangerous cocktail for an average consumer looking for a new book to read on Amazon.

“To be clear, they absolutely shouldn’t be censoring the availability of books like this,” Kint said. “But the fact we’re left only with the publisher’s own description of the book and a clearly gamed set of 5-star reviews — how is the average shopper supposed to know this is toxic garbage?”

The internet has been a hotbed for conspiracy theories since its earliest days, but Qanon has become the focus of growing concern due to instances of violence from some of its believers.

Earlier this year, Buckey Wolfe, who frequently posted to Qanon forums about using swords to defeat the “Illuminati,” was accused of murdering his brother with a sword, believing his brother was a “lizard person.”

Last month, federal prosecutors charged Ryan Jaselskis, 22, with attempting to burn down Comet Ping Pong, a pizza shop where believers in Qanon and its precursor conspiracy, Pizzagate, falsely posit that Clinton was hiding the global child sex ring.

One hour before the attempted arson, a Qanon explainer video, originally posted by YouTube conspiracy theorist JoeM, was posted to the YouTube page of Jaselskis’ parents.

JoeM, who has more than 127,000 YouTube subscribers and tens of millions of video views, claims to have contributed to “An Invitation to the Great Awakening.”

Several other anonymous YouTube and Twitter conspiracy theorists who have pushed Qanon in the past have claimed credit for writing chapters of the book.

A Reddit user named CaptainRoyD, who was suspended from the pro-Trump Reddit forum r/The_Donald for aggressively pushing the Qanon conspiracy theory, claims to have written a chapter. Patriots’ Soapbox, a YouTube channel created by a 4chan moderator who helped launch Qanon to prominence, also claims to have contributed a chapter.

Ben Collins

Ben Collins covers disinformation, extremism and the internet for NBC News.