For the 460,000 Twitter followers of Praying Medic, one of the most prolific posters of the QAnon conspiracy, the US election is not over. His calendar is littered with allegations of electoral fraud, alongside retweets from President Donald Trump.
“Anyone who thinks Donald Trump has no chance of winning re-election hasn’t thought of all eventualities to their logical or probable end,” Praying Medic said in a tweet earlier this month. “Biden’s only hope of winning was to convince Trump to concede. He failed.”
But despite its optimism, right-wing theory was hit hard by Joe Biden’s US presidential victory. Experts warn, however, that this could still cast a shadow over global politics for years to come.
With his central belief that the United States is embroiled in a longstanding power struggle with a so-called “deep state,” QAnon gained popularity during the election. It has garnered endorsements from high profile figures including politicians and influencers.
But according to Joe Ondrak, senior researcher at the counter-disinformation organization Logically, Mr. Biden’s victory left the community largely “rudderless.” He added that there had been a noticeable drop in momentum on major social platforms since, and only one post from the alias “Q” in December.
“It is difficult to consider the [current] Q state a success, ”he said.
The outcome of the US election destabilized QAnon because one of his central predictions was that Mr. Trump would win a second term. The movement was also hampered by actions carried out by social platforms to eradicate content related to QAnon. Facebook, once a key hub for Q communities, is now “a desert,” said Vegas Tenold, a researcher with the Center on Extremism of the Anti-Defamation League.
“A lot of [interpersonal] networks have been created [before August, when Facebook tightened its policy on QAnon] but the spread of the message has been largely stopped, ”he said.
QAnon had recently found success on alternative platforms, said Samantha North, director of the counter-disinformation organization North Cyber Research. Earlier this month, the managing director of the right-wing social network Gab described the conspiracy theory as a “new decentralized media network that surfaces, distributes and verifies information in real time.”
But the appeal of these “alternative” sites seems limited. Speak, the ‘social media for free speech’ platform that peaked in app download charts in the United States shortly after the election, fell from the top 300 on the App Store from Apple, according to data from SensorTower.
“I can’t really imagine someone’s aunt or uncle [alt platforms]Ms. North said. “Twitter and Facebook will remain loyal to the mainstream.”
Experts warn, however, that QAnon’s ability to continually reinvent itself means that such setbacks can only be temporary. President Trump’s electoral defeat, for example, was unlikely to shake the faith of staunch believers in QAnon, said Chine Labbe, European editor of the counter-disinformation organization NewsGuard.
“There have been a lot of predictions from the start, none of which came to fruition. Hillary Clinton was supposed to have been arrested three years ago. . . but that did not prevent the movement from developing, ”she added.
She also said that the development and mutation of QAnon around the world remains a source of concern. Ms Labbe said that one of the French QAnon websites she was following went from 1300th place for online engagement in late July to 293rd in late November.
Meanwhile, a core of QAnon influencers who have built their careers on the backs of conspiracy theory – selling products like health supplements and healing rituals – are unlikely to give up their meal ticket. “[Q] is now so nebulous and infrequent in their posts [that] it really is the taste makers and influencers who are QAnon now, ”said Mr. Tenold.
A report released last week by the Institute for Strategic Dialogue and NewsGuard also found that even after Facebook’s ban on QAnon, heavily-followed personal accounts continued to promote the plot.
The 2020 US election marked a milestone for the movement, Ms Labbe said, despite Mr Trump’s ultimate defeat. “[This year] Q has entered Congress in the United States, ”she said, referring to Marjorie Taylor Greene, an elected representative from Georgia who promoted QAnon conspiracy theories on Twitter.
Ms North said that given the previous US President QAnon promotion, in which he declared that his adherents “love our countryShe could foresee that the movement would be invoked in future campaigns. “He [Mr Trump] can position himself as a resistance fighter in a way[in a 2024 presidential bid]. . . I see [QAnon] be exploited in that kind of effort.
“It’s hard to be optimistic because politicians seem happy enough to fan these flames,” Tenold said. “As long as it’s in the best interests of politicians to suggest election fraud and a pedophile cabal, I don’t think it will go away.