Oh Q, Where art thou?
QAnon Shaman, pictured in Washington as supporters of President Donald Trump gather at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6. Stephanie Keith / Reuters file
This is the 2nd in a 3-part series on QAnon. For the first post, click here.
The QAnon Shaman, perhaps out of all the people who participated in the January 6th attack on the United States Capitol, garnered the most attention. Painted in red, white, and blue with bison horns atop his head, he promptly became one of the most well-known QAnon supporters in the United States. As of time of writing, almost 900K results pop up in a quick Google search. However the QAnon Shaman, as quickly as he gained attention, was almost as quickly jailed. Shiny objects, the shaman and the other participants of the attack on the Capitol, became the poster children of the QAnon movement, drawing the ire of the police and much of the country. However, while the most conspicuous example of the ills of the QAnon conspiracy, the QAnon shaman is just one of millions of individuals that have fallen prey to it. Given that in 2020, an estimated 56% of self-identified Republicans believed some part of the QAnon conspiracy theory (Civiqs poll), this narrow focus on a few individuals seems inadequate.
Similarly Parler, the social network that aggressively spread the QAnon conspiracy theory, was put in the spotlight following January 6th. The egregious number of wild conspiracies, disinformation, and falsehoods present on the platform became the subject of intense media scrutiny. Subsequently, Parler was removed from the Google Play and Apple App stores. Amazon even refused to host it. (Since then, by working with Apple, Parler has been able to return to the App store, after promising to “put in place systems that will better detect unlawful speech”.)
However, as in the case of the QAnon Shaman, while guard rails may have been placed on Parler, hundreds of other websites continue to promote and espouse the QAnon conspiracy theory. Dlive, a live-streaming site, was used to broadcast much of January 6th attack on the Capitol. MeWe, an alternative Facebook, has pages with thousands of users discussing, promoting, and sharing the QAnon conspiracy. Twitch increasingly is becoming a financial lifeline to QAnon conspiracists.
Parler was largely indicted in many outlets for helping to organize the January 6th attack on the Capitol. Reuters file
In this post, I utilize a list of 324 QAnon domains that I compiled using website crawling to show that QAnon continues to thrive on various locations online. WordPress, Google, Go-Daddy, among others, host and provision these hundreds of websites. Similarly, while Twitter and Facebook have taken a prominent stand against QAnon, many popular disinformation and alternative news sites continue to promote, share, and have deep connections with the movement. For example, websites like BitChute, Free Republic, Benjamin Fulford, and The Conservative Treehouse share a deep interlocking relationship with QAnon, helping to prop up the conspiracy.
WHO hosts QANON WEBSITES
Before getting to QAnon, I will give a quick primer on web site hosting. Web site hosting is basically a service that allows organizations and individuals to put a website online. The website host basically stores the website and its data on servers. Some very prominent website hosts that you may have heard of include CloudFlare, Go-Daddy, and BlueHost. These hosts provide the services necessary for keeping websites accessible to users. As such, the hosts that provide services to QAnon websites essentially enable them to be accessed online.
There are 75 different providers that host QAnon websites with the most prominent being Automattic/WordPress (58), Google (53), CloudFlare (39), Go-Daddy (18), and Vanwatech (11). While WordPress, Google, Go-Daddy, and CloudFlare are fairly popular hosting options, Vanwatech is particularly known for hosting extreme material. Vanwatech rose to prominence/infamy after offering services to 8chan (the original home of QAnon) after 8chan was dropped by its previous host Cloudflare. This was following the Christchurch and El Paso Shootings in 2019, when it was discovered that 8chan was used to spread the shooters’ manifestos. Google also took dramatic action following these shootings by removing 8chan from their search results. However, as seen here, despite the aggressive actions by Google and Cloudflare, a large proportion of current QAnon domains are still being hosted by them. For a full list of these QAnon websites, email me at the address near the bottom of the page.
WHO Shares QANON
Besides social media sites like Dlive, Twitch, and MeWe, a large set of sites (some renown for spreading disinformation), share a somewhat symbiotic relationship with a many different QAnon websites.
To document this relationship, I crawled a list of disinformation websites from Snopes, Politifact, and OpenSources. Crawling essentially means that I gathered and scraped a lion's share of the pages and articles within these websites. I focus in my crawls on the links that these disinformation websites post on their pages. From these links, I found that many of these disinformation/fake-news websites share and promote QAnon content. They often link to different QAnon domains, have QAnon focused videos, or promote the musing of prominent QAnon conspiracists.
Besides these disinformation websites, some mainstream news outlets also have occasionally linked to QAnon related content in their news stories as well. However, in this blog post, I focus primarily on the aforementioned disinformation websites given their much heavier sharing of QAnon content.
BitChute is perhaps one of the largest spreaders of QAnon material. A fairly popular site (typically around the 1300th most popular site according to Amazon Alexa), BitChute regularly links to QAnon websites and contains videos promoting QAnon. BitChute, in my crawl, links to at least 132 of my 324 QAnon websites. This largely is in line with BitChute's online reputation. Twitter even began flagging BitChute links in August 2020 due to the extreme content on the site. The Anti-Defamation League wrote in 2020 that the site is a hotbed for “violent, conspiratorial and hate-filled video propaganda”.
Free Republic also regularly links to different QAnon focused websites. In my crawl, I found links to at least 90 different QAnon domains. Free Republic is an Internet forum for activists in the United States. The site allows registered users known as “Freepers”” to post articles and comments pseudoanonymously. Some of the site’s claims to fame include instigating the Birther rumors about President Barack Obama and a campaign against the Dixie Chicks for expressing antiwar sentiments during the Iraq War.
As documented by the Columbia Journalism Review, benjaminfulford.net is a disinformation or “fake-news site” that regularly posts spurious claims. A particularly odd example included the conspiracy theory that former President Obama was arrested for drug smuggling. Run by the Canadian journalist Benjamin Fulford, the site contains links to at least 59 different QAnon centered websites.
The Conservative Treehouse
The Conservative Treehouse is the next in line for helping to spread QAnon content. The Conservative Treehouse gained traction during the Tea Party movement and the George Zimmerman trial for its somewhat intense commentary. Since then, it has helped promote different forms of misinformation, sometimes even being retweeted by former President Donald Trump. From my crawls, The Conservative Treehouse has links to at least 51 different QAnon websites.
With all this data and the Amazon Alexa top websites list, I found that QAnon websites' popularity actually mirrored the popularity of my collection of known disinformation websites (0.40 correlation). This is largely in contrast to mainstream content. By compiling a list of authentic mainstream content based of of Snopes, Politifact, and OpenSources documentation (i.e., The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Daily Wire, Fox News), I found that their popularity had little to no correlation with the popularity of QAnon websites (0.068 correlation). This appears to indicate that interest in QAnon may go up and down with that of alternative or far-right news sites, but not mainstream content. QAnon is substantially attached to these alternative news sites, seemingly sharing their fate.
This is the 2nd post in a 3-part series. For the first post in the series please click here.