How to Believe in QAnon
by Erin Brache | published Oct. 20th, 2021
QAnon started as the belief that the U.S. government is run by devil-worshipping, child molesting elites, with prominent members such as Bill Gates, Barack Obama and Oprah Winfrey.
Since then, QAnon has turned into a conglomerate of many different conspiracy theories, ranging from theories about the assassination of John F. Kennedy Jr. to former president Donald Trump being the rightful president of the United States.
There’s no way this many people actually believe all this, right?
They Do. Here’s Why
The first thing researchers notice when studying QAnon is its use of social media. QAnon was able to spread to such a massive audience because of social media.
Jeremy Sarachan, associate professor and chair of the Media and Communication department at St. John Fisher College, noted how social media can warp a person's perception of reality.
“Social media can be whatever you make it to be,” Sarachan said. “You choose who you want to follow ... and so you’re creating your own version of the world.”
This is advantageous for a group who may want to mislead and warp people’s way of thinking. If someone hears false information over and over again, they will start to believe that it’s true. This is called the illusory truth effect.
If every person on someone’s social media timeline is claiming the 2020 election was rigged and that they know 'the real story,' that person is going to start to think there is some truth behind those claims.
If that is all they see on their timeline, it looks to them as if everyone knows it and is talking about it. Even if the claim is only being made by an extremely small section of the population, to the person reading it it looks like the entire world.
The other factor to consider regarding the spread of QAnon’s messaging is the emotional impact it has had on its followers.
“People have always been fascinated by things that seem slightly impossible. In current times it’s just mixed more ... with politics," Sarachan said.
"People have always been fascinated by things that seem slightly impossible."
Conspiracy theory groups can also act as social circles. A benefit to this kind of thinking is entrance into a community of others who believe the same ideas.
Wendy Norris is an assistant professor of Social Computing at Nazareth College who conducts research on human-computer interaction.
“Groups like QAnon simply provide folks a sense of belonging,” Norris said.
“Groups like QAnon simply provide folks a sense of belonging.”
Being a part of a group centered around knowing a secret kept hidden from the general public brings with it a sense of comradery and pride, that you are deserving and smart enough to know this information, and that’s a feeling that people crave.
“[The feelings these groups provide] makes people in the group feel powerful and part of something bigger than themselves,” Norris said.
Confirmation bias is the idea that people want to hear what they already believe, and will warp facts and their thinking in order to prove it, even if it’s not true.
QAnon thrives off of confirming people’s suspicion and mistrust of the government specifically.
If you feel the government is acting nefariously, you will cling onto any ‘proof’ you find, regardless of its legitimacy.
Another strong motivator that pushes people towards conspiratorial thinking is fear mongering: scaring people with immediate danger in order to convince them to agree with a certain issue.
Telling someone they are going to die if they don’t act now is a lot more effective than telling someone an issue is important but won’t affect them. Fear mongering has become an effective tactic in recent years in partnership with social media.
“Online content that evokes strong emotions, like fear and outrage, are attentiongetting,” Norris explained.
Attention-getting means profits for social media companies. The more users scroll, the more users see ads and the more ad revenue the sites get. Social media corporations may have a financial incentive to allow the fear mongering and factually incorrect posts that QAnon creates.
So what do those who create and push these false claims have to gain from having people believe them?
The End Goal
There are a number of benefits to creating false claims and having millions of people believe it.
Most of the time, creators of these theories are looking for wealth or fame.
Congressional politicians such as Marjorie Taylor Greene and Lauren Boebert have openly supported QAnon.
“I think for some politicians, it’s just playing into what’s already believed,” Sarachan said.
Knowing that a high-ranking official hears and legitimizes their beliefs guarantees conspiracy-oriented people will vote for them in the next election cycle. Believers who aren’t running for office may also have an incentive to push the conspiracy too.
“Some recent research, however, suggests that hostile people who help to spread political lies, whether its purposeful disinformation or mistaken misinformation, appear to be motivated more by clout-chasing or trying to build their status online,” Norris stated.
It is important to note these are both very small numbers of people when it comes to the huge scope of QAnon supporters.
Almost all QAnon supporters don’t believe they are spreading misinformation at all. They think they are simply spreading the truth of what’s really happening, and trying to protect the ones they know and love.
So what should you do if someone you care about has fallen for these conspiracy theories?
It may not be a satisfying answer, but every situation is unique, and whether or not it’s worth it to bring them back down to reality differs based on the circumstances.
Either way, there is no clean answer for every case.
The only solid pieces of advice to give are check your sources, talk to professionals in the subject and don't believe things just because they're on Facebook.