Listen to Media Matters’ Alex Kaplan explain QAnon’s effort to mainstream far-right conspiracism on Roku

Kaplan: Roku's “own precedent... suggests that this kind of content, like QAnon and Infowars, does violate its rules”

Listen to Media Matters’ Alex Kaplan explain QAnon’s effort to mainstream far-right conspiracism on Roku

Listen to Media Matters’ Alex Kaplan explain QAnon’s effort to mainstream far-right conspiracism on Roku
Audio file

Citation From the March 14, 2023, edition of Conspirituality

JULIAN WALKER (HOST): QAnon mainstreamed far-right conspiracism, as evidenced by the rise of (Reps.) Marjorie Taylor Greene, Lauren Boebert, and Madison Cawthorn, as well as the now ubiquitous culture war moral panics about white reproductive rights, critical race theory, and the existence of LGBTQ people. It appears that (former President) Donald Trump really is running again, albeit under the shadow of multiple potential legal calamities. And his posts on Truth Social are actively reasserting solidarity with QAnon. But there's a new development. Or at least it was new to me. Media Matters' Senior Researcher Alex Kaplan broke the story I'm referring to, and I spoke to him about it this week. He specializes in disinformation and online extremism.


Listen, I wanted to have you on today specifically because of your story from the middle of February about a new QAnon-dedicated channel called Burrow, of course, that had popped up on Roku's streaming service and was also running ads on the social media platform Meta, which people may know was formerly called Facebook. But let's put a pin in that for right now, because before we go there, I think it makes sense to dig a little further back into your excellent reporting. You know, it turns out that Roku has a storied history with this kind of content. So back in 2019, they removed Alex Jones' Infowars Channel. And then during 2020, you reported on channels by prominent QAnon influencers that were showing up on Roku as well and on some other streaming platforms. So catch us up a little on that backstory, if you would.

ALEX KAPLAN (MEDIA MATTERS SENIOR RESEARCHER): Yeah, so Roku has, I would say, had a history of dealing with conspiratorial extremist content. Well, they originally had Infowars on the platform. They took it down when — around the time a lot of multiple platforms were starting to take down Infowars. The following year I found a channel that was dedicated to QAnon that was set up by essentially a couple of prominent QAnon influencers. And it appears that Roku didn't know about it somehow, and they did remove the channel after I reported and wrote about it. They didn't catch also, a couple of years ago, a — Infowars actually ban evading on the platform. They had set up another channel that was dedicated to Infowars content. And Roku didn't catch this either. And again, they only took it down hours after I reported it and wrote about it. But — and now we see this channel that only launched in December that's done very well according to its own internal metrics, hundreds of thousands of installations. And this time, even though Roku knows about it, because I have written about it, how well it's doing, even though they claimed to have told or they told to a news outlet that they were looking into the channel, they have done nothing since.

WALKER: I asked Alex next if this was a noteworthy new development in the realm of disinformation, given that streaming platforms combined the convenience and open ended flexibility of the Internet with the seeming legitimacy of being like a cable TV provider. He explained to me that extremist content had been available on streaming services for at least the last few years. In late 2020, for example, as social media platforms like Twitter, Facebook, TikTok and YouTube were all cracking down finally on QAnon content, at least 10 different channels dedicated to their conspiracy hate-mongering still had a home not only on Roku, but on Amazon Fire and Apple TV as well. But perhaps more of the essence than their apparent obliviousness at the time, Kaplan's reporting continues to expose now a lack of enforcement of these streaming services platforms' own explicit terms of service.

KAPLAN: I should note, by the way, with some of these streaming platforms like Roku: The reason I've written about these and reported some of them is because Roku has rules. You know, they do actually have content policy. So theoretically, they do not allow certain types of content. And under Roku's own precedent, given that they took down a QAnon channel in 2020 and took down Infowars, they have made a precedent that suggests that this kind of content, like QAnon and Infowars, does violate its rules. That's why it's notable that, you know, that these channels have been up there or sometimes Roku hasn't enforced their own rules. So that's the reason why we're reporting about them, it's not even — there's a reason why. It's not just — it's not me saying it, it's Roku. There own rules saying it. With notably with the Burrow channel. One of the people behind it has taken, I would say, somewhat of a victory lap around Roku not doing anything about the channel. He's claimed that either the channel doesn't violate its policies, which again, given its rules and precedent, seems extremely dubious, or claimed that even Roku secretly supports what the channel is pushing. There's no — again, I can't speak to that. But all I can say is that, you know, Roku's — you know, sometimes these inability to enforce their own rules, you know, I guess can embolden some of these people.

WALKER: Yeah. Yeah. So the Infowars story that you mentioned is interesting, right? They took down Infowars in 2019, pretty shortly after it had gotten onto the platform. But then they seemed to sort of find a way to slide under the radar with a channel called Banned Video. How — do you know how they were able to get away with that and what happened?

KAPLAN: I have gotten the sense that Roku's policy for getting channels on may be a little lax. I can't say for sure, but that's the sense that I've gotten and that they may not catch things until it's noticed, maybe by others. But again, I mean, it is notable that they did suggest that ban evasion is not allowed on the platform, given that they took down the channel just hours after I reported it. So I'm not exactly sure what their process is for channel approving, but I get the sense it's not the most scrutinized.

WALKER: Yeah, they probably should be issuing backpay to you for doing this job. You're you're you're the quality control guy right now enforcing their terms of service. All right. So you wrote about Burrow, which is this new channel back in early January when it had already been installed over 300,000 times in its first 20 days. And you said it was trying to gain traction on Roku by soliciting advertising. It seems like from viewers, you quote them as inviting "any Alex Jones type stuff," right? Tell us more about Burrow.

KAPLAN: Yeah, so this is a channel that is launched by some conspiracy theorists that is essentially dedicated to QAnon conspiracy theory content and similar types of content. There are sections — essentially it's like a collection of videos, a lot of videos. They're divided into different sections. You can find your section on Pizzagate, a section on Q literally called Q, so directly QAnon, explicit or well-known QAnon films like Out of Shadows or Fall of the Cabal. Those are very well known QAnon films or Pizzagate-like films, pushing that type of stuff. Also it's anti-vax, has pushes this stuff, and also pushes some Infowars content. So, you know, it's got lots of different things that, as it said, should violate Roku's rules. And yeah, it is — it does feature ads. And it — again, one of the people behind the channel has said when he was asking for people to help get advertising for the channel, he said, "Oh, we could maybe do something like Alex Jones stuff as ads to promote." And they'd — since then there have been apparently more ads on the channel. They are promoting stuff, I guess, like sup, you know — I would say stuff that tends to be more conspiracy theory-friendly products, let's say that.

WALKER: You write that in — cause you've done a follow up article now that I guess it's maybe been a month or five weeks later, it's been installed another 100,000 times.

KAPLAN: At least 400,000 times, according to — this is the internal metrics published by — on Burrow's site. 

WALKER: Gotcha. 

KAPLAN: So they've released their own internal metrics showing how many installations it's got because they want to — they're bragging about it. 


KAPLAN: They've used it as a selling point.

WALKER: I mean, this is interesting, right? Because there's a way that I think for a lot of people who follow this stuff, there's been a sense that like, "OK, QAnon is like so 2020, like, why are we still talking about QAnon?" And yet it seems like with channels like this, my concern would be that it's the continuing sort of mainstreaming and maybe breaking through into normie audiences that might — you know, some of this content has got to be new for somebody, right?

KAPLAN: Yeah, no, absolutely. And I think there has been a somewhat, I would say, since 2021, maybe a little bit of a misunderstanding about what QAnon has become. I remember seeing around that — you know, soon after Biden took office, a claim that QAnon was dying or was dead. And that was a misunderstanding of what it was. It had become this cohesive infrastructure, people that had, you know, kind of coalesced through social media. And even with the social media crackdowns that, you know, happened months before, right around the time Biden took office, had — they'd gone to other alternative social media platforms. They still had a lot of people in there and they had multiple QAnon influencers that were still had massive followings. And even with the mostly, I would say, fading of — you know, there haven't been many new Q posts. Q was silent for 18 months, basically, you know, between December 2020 until like June, last June. But since then, you know, QAnon has kind of moved to, from "trust the plan" to, you know, "It's time to — it's time for us to be the plan. You know, Q woke us up, Q told us what we need to do. You know, it — we take — we got it from here." And it's become like this — I call it this online anti-reality network that has become a tool and a ally or, you know, that could be helpful for other conspiracy theorists, particularly, I would say, anti-vaxxers and election denialists.