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HOW QANON CONTROLS HUNDREDS OF THOUSANDS OF PEOPLE - July-29-2020
 

Strategic News Service, the first paid subscription newsletter on the internet, was started 25 years ago. In honor of our 25th birthday, we have hosted a month of conversations, galleries, a contest, and soon a free, closing members' celebration (see "SNS Events") to carry us into the next 25 years.

But first, don't miss this month's extraordinary FiReSide event - "Breakthrough Medicine: Booting-Up 21st Century Healthcare" - tomorrow, Thursday, at 2:30-4:30 PT / 5:30-7:30 ET. Otonexus CEO Caitlin Cameron will open the event with a brief talk on "Leveraging Innovation to Change the Healthcare Landscape." Then our keynote guests will be the world's top two experts in using genetics in the improvement of healthcare, with J. Craig Venter interviewed by David Ewing Duncan on "Preventative Medicine," and Mark Anderson interviewing Lee Hood on "Transforming 21st Century Medicine." Details and registration are linked above; related SNS gallery links are in "SNS Events."

HOW QANON CONTROLS HUNDREDS OF THOUSANDS
OF PEOPLE

Information warfare and the future of polling

 by Berit Anderson

A month or so ago, something happened that caught my attention. It was a simple thing - a Facebook video of two surfers trying to hand out free masks on California's Venice Beach.

But in this case, the passersby being offered free masks didn't just provide a varying range of opinions about masks; they didn't just decline them. No; instead, they became visibly furious. One man even came after the surfers, threatening a physical fight.

The irrationality of this furor is what caught me. What's more, the same level of fury continued to show up in other videos of non-mask wearers exploding in stores around the country when faced with the prospect of masking up.

Now, you could just dismiss all of these mask naysayers as irrational jerks and move on. But in my experience, this level of fury is often a sign that information warfare is at play. That the individuals in question have been primed with an underlying story specifically tied to what would normally be considered a mundane object. In this case, a medical mask.

To those who don't yet know the underlying story, the response appears completely irrational.

But once you begin to understand the story behind the fury, and you take a moment to absorb the fact that people actually believe that story, it suddenly seems not just understandable, but entirely rational.

So let's take a minute to understand the story behind these mask reactions:

Thanks to a massive information-warfare campaign / live-action role-playing game / religious cult acting in real time across 8Kun, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, and television news, hundreds of thousands of people, if not more, believe that coronavirus was intentionally released by liberal and government elites in order to control people.

They believe that the news about masks and quarantine and food shortages is hype - fake news reinforced by PR campaigns and mass media to spread fear among everyday citizens so that they can be more easily controlled. They believe that there is already a cure for COVID, but that "the government" - in this case defined as everyone except Trump and his people - is trying desperately to make sure it doesn't get out. They believe that Trump is fighting wildly from the inside to expose this elite cabal, which includes Hillary Clinton and Jeffrey Epstein and Barack Obama, and which traffics in pedophilia.

In this universe, being asked to wear a mask is indeed an infuriating thing.

And the author of this universe, known only as Q, is anonymous.

The QAnon Strategy

2017 was a year of tectonic shifts. On January 20, Trump took office - the same day he officially registered his 2020 campaign with the Federal Elections Committee.

Nine months later, "Q" was born.

On 28 October 2017, a user calling themselves Q who claimed to have high-level security clearance posted a series of cryptic messages on the "politically incorrect" section of the website 4chan. 4chan is an anonymous imageboard with a 'no rules' policy that has been associated with pranks, violence, and illegal and extremist content.

This user claimed that they would work to covertly inform the public about President Trump's ongoing battle against the "deep state", a blanket term used to describe those in power working against the president. Over the next few years, users claiming to be Q have made over 4,000 posts, known in the community as "Qdrops", fuelling the growth of a lurid meta-conspiracy connecting a range of harmful narratives.

- From "The Genesis of a Conspiracy Theory,"
a paper about QAnon by global-extremism think tank ISD

Q Drops are essentially tweets that serve as cryptic clues for "Anons," the term used to describe followers of this worldview, to help them understand and piece together this twisted web of conspiracy theories - or, in their minds, the "real world" - as they go through the process of "waking up."

"Q Drops are kind of like a Donald Trump tweet," explains Lisa Cohen, above, a travel blogger turned energy healer turned QAnon recruiter. And, in fact, many of Trump's tweets - about "crooked Hillary," about the mainstream media, about mask wearing, about testing - can be read as thinly veiled references to QAnon beliefs.

QAnon uses specialized abbreviations as codewords: MSM is mainstream media. HUSSEIN is Barack Obama. HC is Hillary Clinton. WWG1WGA stands for "When we go one, we go all" - a popular catchphrase of the group. They sell shirts and pins and hats emblazoned with these codes so that Anons can recognize one another in the wild. They are giddy about the revolution to come.

Ambassadors of QAnon - who tend to be "influencers" with large followings on YouTube, Twitter, and Facebook - help explain the game to the Q-Curious through videos, promising them personal transformation and encouraging them to join Facebook groups of fellow Anons, where they work together to furiously research, decrypt, and discuss the latest Q Drops.

The video messages from these recruiters are marked by optimism and positivity, with encouragement to ascend to a higher state of being to achieve their full potential as humans, making them appealing to suburban housewives and family men alike. One of the most prominent is a man named David Hayes, a former atheist turned Christian. He and his wife now make explaining and interpreting QAnon a fulltime job.

For those who buy into these recruitment efforts, the newbie Anons, Q's instructions are clear: You are an agent of information warfare. Your job is to support Trump and reveal these truths to the world. You must camouflage yourself to avoid detection on social media. Create multiple accounts; when one of you goes down, stand behind them, ready to take your place.

The FBI has designated QAnon domestic terrorists. As the New York Times recently reported, "its adherents have been arrested in at least seven episodes, including a murder in New York and an armed standoff with the police near the Hoover Dam."

But more important than all of this is their influence on the American electorate.

According to research by the Institute for Strategic Dialogue (ISD), QAnon's influence took an enormous leap across Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and YouTube in February, as the US was headed into coronavirus quarantine lockdown.

This acceleration of QAnon popularity makes sense on several fronts:

From a cultural view, we have millions of unemployed people trapped at home, endlessly browsing social media, surrounded by a set of very scary societal conditions - global pandemic from which hundreds of thousands of people are dying around the world, extreme economic instability, massive protests against police violence, extreme levels of loneliness and depression. QAnon - again, a combination real-time scavenger hunt / multiplayer game / religious cult - provides Anons with the excitement of being part of something dangerous and thrilling. It creates community out of chaos; meaning out of madness.

From an electoral view, it's clear to me that QAnon is not just a set of random conspiracy theorists. It's a coordinated campaign strategy with all the trappings of the Trump campaign's 2016 information warfare tactics.

The influencers who indoctrinate Americans into specialized private Facebook groups. The coordinated use of Twitter and YouTube and Instagram and TikTok to expand their influence. The use of Breitbart, Fox, Sinclair, and other mainstream media to legitimize questions around mask wearing and the origin of the disease. Meanwhile, the anonymity - the conspiratorial nature of the whole thing - protects whoever is running it from public scrutiny or legitimacy.

When reality is threatening the legitimacy of the American presidency from all sides, what other choice is there but to indoctrinate hundreds of thousands of followers into a gamified treasure-hunt cult?

Even these numbers from ISD significantly underplay QAnon's growing influence. Last week, Twitter deleted 7,000 QAnon accounts. A video of doctors gathering on the steps of the White House, accelerated by Anons, Breitbart, and other outlets and retweeted by both Trump and Donald Trump Jr., had nearly 800,000 views on Tuesday.

The true measure of QAnon's influence is nearly impossible to measure. But one thing's for sure: it isn't being caught by traditional polling.

In one recent Pew poll on mask wearing and political beliefs, two-thirds of respondents claimed to regularly wear a mask, while only one-half said that most people in their area do.

Someone in this equation is lying. Which brings us to the problem with polling.

Why Polling Numbers Are Not a Guide for Electoral Outcomes

In 2016, US presidential election polls looked a little something like this:

While the results, as we all know, wound up looking more like this:

Naturally, at the time, there was a big hullabaloo about polls and why they're broken. The massive discrepancy between polls and outcomes certainly caught my eye, leading me to another phenomenon that many claimed was at least partially to blame for polling discrepancies: information warfare.

My two months of research on that topic was summarized in a piece called "The Rise of the Weaponized AI Propaganda Machine." In it, I explained how Facebook, Twitter, mainstream media, and SEO results had been weaponized by the Trump campaign, Cambridge Analytica, and Russia's Internet Research Agency to entrench existing opinions and change outcomes in select swing states.

About a year later, I came back here, to the pages of the SNS Global Report, to analyze and quantify how much information warfare had, in fact, shifted the outcome of the election. What I found in that analysis was that Facebook influence alone could have been enough to swing the election for Trump in key swing states, especially given the narrow margins by which he won.

I also found something more alarming: Twitter and Facebook narratives picked up and publicized by television and mainstream media had been likely even more influential than Facebook in shaping 2016 voter behavior. The same mainstream media that, in the case of the 2016 election, provided nonstop coverage of John Podesta's emails, which were weaponized to suppress the votes of Bernie Sanders supporters in swing states.

Sadly, in four years, not much has changed. The media at large still can't help themselves from providing floor-to-ceiling coverage of Trump's latest tweet. Or, in the case of Sinclair and Fox News, planning to interview "Plandemic" fauxrologist Judy Mikovits, who has claimed that face masks "activate" coronavirus. (Sinclair has since scrapped this plan - at least for now - in the face of massive public backlash.) 

ISD's research found the same phenomenon taking place today, in real time. As reported in the paper mentioned above,

"An examination of these figures shows that user numbers increased in line with spikes in conversation, and often coinciding with media attention given to the Q community."

In June 2020, according to the Nielsen company, Fox News was the most-watched network in primetime television, counting both broadcast and cable, for three out of four weeks.

Before that month, it had never occupied that No. 1 position. Not once.

So you can perhaps understand my frustration that, four years later, we still seem to be relying on polls as an accurate representation of the sentiment of the American electorate.

I'm not saying that these numbers are completely wrong. But it would be foolish to count on them as a confident measure of public sentiment.

This is one of those rare things on which Kellyanne Conway and I agree. "The same problems surround the polls this time because many of the people running the polls then are running the polls now. There's been no course correction whatsoever," Conway told The Atlantic recently. "If polling were run like a business, the C-suite would have been cleaned out, the shareholders would have revolted, the customers would have walked away."

For this reason, I am proposing a new model for assessing electoral popularity - one that I believe will be a far superior predictor of actual election outcomes.

Targeted Behavioral Polling

Targeted Behavioral Polling would measure real behavior, not stated opinions, to assess the popularity of key cultural touchstones associated with specific campaigns in key swing states.

Why swing states?

When you know election outcomes will matter only in a few key states, looking to national data - as many polls do - is insignificant.

What exactly do I mean by "real behavior"? How would we even measure it?

It's clear that, depending on who the querying party is and how the question is phrased, individuals may choose to answer polling questions differently from their actual beliefs or intentions. In other words, they may say one thing and then do something else entirely. Anons may even intentionally camouflage themselves or their beliefs. To say nothing of sampling biases, which have already been widely detailed in polling practices.

The things voters do when they think no one is watching form a much stronger signal of how they'll actually vote than the things they say to some random pollster. With the help of online data, we can start to get a better picture of key trends at the state level by analyzing search results, tracking media consumption, and looking at purchasing trends.

That is how you track the real popularity of a political movement.

Doing this kind of complex analysis would require more time and resources than I have at this time, but to give a more granular sense of how we might deploy Behavioral Polling, I've done a quick scan of factors below that may give us some insight. Where data was easily accessible, I mapped it to state-based trends in Michigan, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Florida, Arizona, and North Carolina - all states unexpectedly won by Trump in 2016.

  1. Mask Wearing

    1. Mask uptake. To my knowledge, there is no publicly available database of face-mask volume purchase by state. However, we may be able to approximate that information by tracking Google trends data for searches for face masks on a state-by-state basis.

    2. Coronavirus death rates. The Pew study mentioned above found that lack of mask wearing was directly proportional to high death rates (classified as 28+ deaths per 100k people) in specific states. So we might be able to project the strength of QAnon influence by tracking states where death rates are high or where it is likely to increase in the coming weeks and months.

Those highlighted in yellow are at or above the national average:

      1. Michigan: 8/50 states with 64.1 deaths per 100,000 people
      2. Pennsylvania: 12/50 states with 55.6 deaths per 100,000 people
      3. Arizona: 14/50 states with 46.1 deaths per 100,000 people
      4. Florida: 24/50 states with 27.5 deaths per 100,000 people
      5. North Carolina: 32/50 states with 17.2 deaths per 100,000 people
      6. Wisconsin: 35/50 states with 15.5 deaths per 100,000 people


  1. Television Ratings

Ratings by state again weren't immediately available for television viewing habits. However, as the AP reported in June, "Fox News Channel was the most-watched network in prime-time television last week, counting both broadcast and cable, the Nielsen company said. It was the second week in a row that happened, and the third time in June. Before this month, that had never happened before. Ever."

Also worth tracking: MSNBC, CNN, OANN, and even the new Trump channel, an online network that public Facebook data confirmed aired many of its shows to near and above 1 million views.

  1. Gun Sales

George Floyd was killed by police on May 25, 2020. In June, as protests against police killings spread across the US, there was a massive national increase in gun sales - a 59% increase from June 2019.

Here's a look at how that broke down in our swing states. Those highlighted in yellow are at or above the national average:

      1. Michigan: 71% increase over June 2019 gun sales
      2. Arizona: 64% increase over June 2019 gun sales
      3. North Carolina: 62% increase over June 2019 gun sales
      4. Florida: 59% increase over June 2019 gun sales
      5. Wisconsin: 59% increase over June 2019 gun sales
      6. Pennsylvania: 56% increase over June 2019 gun sales

By combining these and other factors, we start to come away with a much more data-based view of each state. A view that could tell you the unique sensitivities of voters in Michigan vs. voters in Pennsylvania and that might allow campaign managers, organizers, and communications consultants to make much more informed decisions about how to allocate time and resources.

For now, I can tell you that the real numbers on the ground in these states are likely much less rosy than the polling figures. They are actively in flux. And the QAnon information-warfare machine is poised and ready to capitalize on whatever tomorrow's latest bout of American misfortune might be.

 

Your comments are always welcome.

Sincerely,


Berit Anderson

 

 

To arrange for a speech or consultationby Mark Anderson on subjects in technology and economics, or to schedule a strategic review of your company, email mark@stratnews.com.

For inquiries about Partnership or Sponsorship Opportunities and/or SNS Events, please contact Berit Anderson, SNS Programs Director, at berit@stratnews.com.   

 

SNS EVENTS

 

We hope to see you tomorrow afternoon for this month's FiReSide event, "Breakthrough Medicine: Booting-Up 21st Century Healthcare" - that's Thursday, 7/30, 2:30-4:30 PT / 5:30-7:30 ET. A talk with Otonexus CEO Caitlin Cameron will open the event. Craig Venter will then be interviewed by David Ewing Duncan on "Preventative Medicine," followed by Mark Anderson interviewing Lee Hood on "Transforming 21st Century Medicine." Here are links to curated photo galleries of past FiRe conversations with both of these amazing keynoters:

J. Craig Venter at FiRe 2007 and 2009

Leroy Hood, Opening Night at FiRe 2017

Lee Hood at FiRe 2014 with host Larry Smarr

Lee Hood Opening Night at FiRe 2013

Lee Hood at FiRe 2011 with host Mark Anderson

 

Don't miss our FREE FiReSide Event next week:
Closing 25th Anniversary Interview & Members' Event

Note: This event is free, but tickets are limited and reservations are required.

Many of our members who have been to FiRe have had the good luck and memorable experience of meeting David Brin - physicist, innovator, and science-fiction writer extraordinaire. A longtime SNS friend and member, we thought he'd be a great host for this special interview with Mark Anderson, on "The Art and Science of Predicting." Happily, he accepted our invitation. Even better - so did Mark.

Don't miss this night - Thursday, August 6 - which will culminate in our Closing Anniversary Members' Fete, at which you can meet in (random) smallish groups to talk about anything your hearts desire with fellow SNS members. Come one, come all - bring your partners, your pets, and your beverage of choice!

 

OUR PARTNERS

 

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WHERE'S MARK?

 

* On July 30, Mark will be hosting this month's SNS FiReSide event : "Breakthrough Medicine: Booting-Up 21st Century Healthcare," an interview with Dr. J. Craig Venter by David Ewing Duncan followed by Mark's interview with Dr. Leroy Hood. * On August 6, Mark will be interviewed by David Brin for a free virtual conversation, "The Art and Science of Predicting," followed by the SNS 25th Anniversary Members' Fete. We hope all of our members will join us - bring a friend! (Free registration required.)

 

 

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