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A Network Analysis of Twitter's Crackdown on the QAnon Conversation


The QAnon conspiracy theory holds that former President Trump is fighting a ‘deep-state’ cabal of Satan-worshipping, cannibalistic pedophiles running a global child sex-trafficking ring. Conspirators include liberal Hollywood actors, Democratic politicians, financial elites, and even some religious leaders. Prominent politicians have embraced it, and the media increasingly covered it in the lead-up to the 2020 Presidential Election and beyond. Beginning on 4chan message boards in October 2017, QAnon narratives proliferated across popular social media platforms as individuals engaged in QAnon-related conversations on one platform shared links to ‘reputable’ content on others. In this paper, we draw on insights drawn from studies of diffusion and use social network analysis to analyze the networks generated by Twitter users from sharing external QAnon-related social media content via URLs during two key time frames: (1) the peak of QAnon Twitter activity in the Spring of 2020 and (2) the period following Twitter's crackdown on QAnon activities in July 2020. Our analysis reveals that the tweets and retweets of just a few actors accounted for most of the sharing of links to external social media sites, suggesting that other users saw them as reliable sources of information. It also shows that Twitter's crackdown impacted some aspects of the URL-sharing network. We conclude by briefly considering strategies for countering conspiracy theories and offering suggestions for future research.

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