YouTube has allowed videos pushing a false QAnon conspiracy theory that former President Donald Trump would be inaugurated as president again on March 4 to earn hundreds of thousands of combined views on the platform. Some of those videos have ads, meaning they provide revenue for both their creators and YouTube.
QAnon is a false conspiracy theory that a supposed government insider calling themself “Q” had secret knowledge of a plan involving Trump fighting an elite pedophile ring and bringing on mass arrests. It has been tied to multiple violent incidents, leading several government agencies to issue internal warnings of domestic terrorism about QAnon. QAnon adherents also helped spark and took part in the January 6 insurrection.
Last October, YouTube announced a crackdown on QAnon content as part of its “efforts to curb hate and harassment by removing more conspiracy theory content used to justify real-world violence.”
However, a Media Matters review using the tracking tool BuzzSumo found well over 300,000 combined views for videos pushing a QAnon conspiracy theory that spread in response to Trump losing reelection to President Joe Biden: the false claim that Trump would become the 19th president on March 4. Believers say all presidents and constitutional amendments (including the 20th Amendment, which moved Inauguration Day from March 4 to January 20) that came after Ulysses S. Grant are invalid because the United States turned from a country into a corporation in the 1870s. That conspiracy theory is part of the reason thousands of National Guard troops remain in Washington, D.C., and law enforcement agencies in the capital are still on high alert due to the claims.
One video, with more than 180,000 views, is titled “TRUMP'S INAUGURATION IS ON MARCH 4TH!?! (And BIG PROOF That Trump Controls The Military!!!) Ep. 27.” Its description claims the video provides “perfect proof that Donald Trump Passed a law that gives him the power to control the military until March 20th” and “evidence that Trump will be inaugurated in March.” The video has ads, meaning both YouTube and the account made money from the conspiracy theory. Another video from that same account also has ads and describes how the United States had “switch[ed] from being a Corporation into a country,” and it mentions March 4.
Another video that has ads, with more than 10,000 views, is titled “THE CLUES OF WE'RE SEEING THE 19TH PRESIDENT AND BIDEN WAS ARRESTED BEHIND THE SCENE.”
Another video, with more than 50,000 views, features a woman claiming that Trump had been “secretly inaugurated on January 11 in a secret ceremony” and would be “publicly inaugurated [on] what appears to be March 4 or around March 4.”
Other YouTube videos with thousands of views spreading the March 4 conspiracy theory include one claiming Trump gave a “State of the Union” speech at the 2021 Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) and declaring that he is the “the 19th President of the Republic,” and multiple videos discussing the “19th president.” Additionally, a video with nearly 25,000 views that falsely claims Trump still rides on Air Force One alludes to the conspiracy theory by including a “#March4” hashtag as part of the video’s description.
The spread and monetization of the conspiracy theory on YouTube, besides undermining the platform’s QAnon crackdown, is yet another incident in YouTube’s ongoing monetization crisis. The platform has repeatedly allowed channels to monetize videos that violate the platform’s own rules, along with allowing ads to run on videos pushing misinformation in general.