Facebook is banning all groups which openly support QAnon, the baseless conspiracy theory that paints President Donald Trump as a secret warrior against a supposed child-trafficking ring run by celebrities and “deep state” government officials.
The social media giant said it will remove all pages, groups and Instagram accounts for “representing QAnon” — even if they do not promote violence.
Previously Facebook had said it would only remove QAnon groups if they promote violence.
Administrators of banned groups will have their personal accounts disabled as well.
However, the ban is not targeted at individual posts, or profiles or accounts that may disseminate QAnon material but are not solely devoted to it.
What is QAnon?
QAnon is an informal pro-Donald Trump internet conspiracy group, whose followers believe that the US has been ruled by "deep state" criminal organisations including Hollywood stars and Satan-worshipping global elites.
The conspiracy theory is centred on the baseless belief that the president is waging a secret campaign against enemies in the "deep state" and have attacked and harassed his political opponents on social media.
Followers of the group have also claimed that the Democratic Party are engaged in international crime rings, including sex trafficking.
For more than two years supporters have tried to solve clues and intelligence they believe is being leaked by a high-level mole in the US government named "Q".
Facebook said it will consider a variety of factors to decide if a group meets its criteria for a ban, including its name, the biography or “about” section of the page, and discussions within the page, group or Instagram account.
Mentions of QAnon in a group focused on a different subject will not necessarily lead to a ban, Facebook said.
Less than two months ago, Facebook said it would stop promoting the group and its adherents, but research by the AP news agency found that this was not being enforced.
Critics have called the move, which came in to force on Tuesday, much-needed but belated.
“Now that they have announced that they will treat the QAnon ideology like the very real threat that it is, we hope that they will follow up with some modicum of evidence showing how the ban is being enforced and whether it is fully effective,” said Jonathan A Greenblatt, CEO of the Anti-Defamation League and one of the founders of the Stop Hate for Profit campaign, which organised a Facebook boycott by advertisers.
But the conspiracy theory has already seeped into mainstream politics. Several Republican running for Congress this year are QAnon-friendly.
By the time Facebook and other social media companies began enforcing — however limited — policies against QAnon, critics said it was largely too late.
Reddit, which began banning QAnon groups in 2018, was well ahead, and to date it has largely avoided having a notable QAnon presence on its platform.
“We’ve seen several issues that led to today’s update,” a statement from Facebook said.
“While we’ve removed QAnon content that celebrates and supports violence, we’ve seen other QAnon content tied to different forms of real world harm, including recent claims that the west coast wildfires were started by certain groups, which diverted attention of local officials from fighting the fires and protecting the public.”
Also on Tuesday, Citigroup Inc reportedly fired a manager in its technology department after an investigation found that he operated a prominent website dedicated to QAnon.
According to Bloomberg, Jason Gelinas had been placed on paid leave.
In a statement, Citi confirmed that Gelinas is no longer with the company and added that employees are required to abide by its code of conduct.
This includes disclosing and obtaining permission for outside business activity.