Instagram is rife with posts promoting the extremist QAnon conspiracy theory, while other social media platforms have recognized its danger and taken action to reduce its spread. In a new study, Media Matters reviewed a small fraction of Instagram posts related to QAnon and its slogan and found that they earned millions of interactions while spreading the conspiracy theory on the platform.
On July 21, Twitter announced that it had taken down more than 7,000 accounts connected to the QAnon conspiracy theory, which revolves around an anonymous account known as “Q.” Additionally, reports indicate that the social media platform plans to “stop recommending accounts and content related to QAnon, including material in email and follow recommendations, and it will take steps to limit circulation of content in features like trends and search.”
Twitter’s action comes as in response to the growing threat of the QAnon conspiracy theory: It’s been tied to acts of violence, including multiple murders and attempted kidnappings; it’s been listed as a potential domestic terrorism threat by the FBI; and it’s rooted itself in American politics, with President Donald Trump amplifying QAnon supporters and at least 68 current or former congressional candidates embracing it. The fringe conspiracy theory centers on the belief that Trump was working with then-special counsel Robert Mueller to take down the president’s perceived enemies in the “deep state,” which it claims is filled with elites who are pedophiles and devil-worshippers.
Disinformation researchers lauded Twitter for its actions against QAnon accounts and content but quickly pointed out that the conspiracy theory also thrives on other social media platforms, such as Facebook and Instagram. In fact, following Twitter’s announcement, Media Matters found that Facebook profited off of at least 144 ads promoting QAnon that ran on Facebook or Instagram since 2019, and our latest study underscores a bigger problem on Instagram.
There are at least 1.19 million posts on Instagram tagged with the hashtag "#QAnon" and at least 1.17 million posts tagged with the hashtag "#wwg1wga" (short for “where we go one, we go all”), which is QAnon’s de facto slogan. Posts tagged with one of these hashtags promote and support the conspiracy theory, frequently offering pro-Trump sentiments, while attacking Democrats generally, among other things.
Media Matters reviewed a small number of the posts tagged with either hashtag -- nearly 4,800 posts from 24 public Instagram accounts that promote QAnon and have over 10,000 followers -- and found that they earned a total of over 8.1 million interactions (likes, comments, shares) on Instagram between 4:15 p.m. EDT June 27, 2020, and 4:15 p.m. EDT July 27, 2020. Notably, an account with the username @qthewakeup earned nearly 2.9 million interactions on its 529 posts during this time, and the account @redpillbabe earned over 1 million interactions on its 234 posts. One of the other accounts promoting QAnon, @educatingliberals, was suspended from Twitter in April and is known for spreading COVID-19 misinformation and using anti-Semitic language.
Of the posts Media Matters reviewed, a post from @qthewakeup earned the most engagement, with over 204,000 interactions. The post promoted a debunked conspiracy theory accusing online retailer Wayfair of being involved with human trafficking. Instagram labeled the post “partly false information” but has not taken any further action. This account also contributed to the spread of a viral video promoting dangerous misinformation about COVID-19.
Other posts promote QAnon-related videos, unsubstantiated accusations that “the global elite” and “Hollywood elites” are pedophiles and mainstream media are part of a large cover-up, and misinformation about the dangers of COVID-19, including calling human trafficking “the real virus.”
These are some of the accounts on Instagram that promote QAnon (in order of engagement on QAnon-related posts shared between 4:15 p.m. EDT June 27, 2020, and 4:15 p.m. EDT July 27, 2020):
Over 184,000 followers
At least 529 posts earned over 2.8 million interactions
Over 98,600 followers
At least 348 posts earned over 1.0 million interactions
Over 28,500 followers
At least 234 posts earned over 573,000 interactions
Over 59,000 followers
At least 338 posts earned over 443,000 interactions
Over 201,000 followers
At least 91 posts earned over 429,000 interactions
Over 69,000 followers
At least 180 posts earned over 386,000 interactions
Over 22,000 followers
At least 770 posts earned over 322,000 interactions
Over 359,000 followers
At least 29 posts earned over 316,000 interactions
Over 24,500 followers
At least 558 posts earned over 260,000 interactions
Over 58,700 followers
At least 128 posts earned over 220,000 interactions
(the account has since gone private following Media Matters' review)
Over 130,000 followers
At least 42 posts earned over 199,000 interactions
Over 67,300 followers
At least 67 posts earned over 171,000 interactions
Over 23,000 followers
At least 329 posts earned over 133,000 interactions
Over 15,400 followers
At least 276 posts earned over 133,000 interactions
Over 78,600 followers
At least 338 posts earned over 112,000 interactions
Over 87,400 followers
At least 66 posts earned over 97,000 interactions
Over 56,500 followers
At least 32 posts earned over 85,000 interactions
Over 211,000 followers
At least 15 posts earned over 74,000 interactions
Over 77,500 followers
At least 41 posts earned over 69,000 interactions
Over 19,000 followers
At least 126 posts earned over 66,000 interactions
Over 56,500 followers
At least 34 posts earned over 53,000 interactions
Over 14,700 followers
At least 212 posts earned over 49,000 interactions
Over 66,300 followers
At least 9 posts earned over 14,000 interactions
Over 40,000 followers
At least 4 posts earned over 8,000 interaction
Media Matters compiled a list of 24 public Instagram accounts that 1) had over 10,000 followers, 2) had shared a post with #QAnon or #WWG1WGA, and 3) were focused on QAnon. We defined an account as being focused on QAnon if it frequently posted about the conspiracy theory or mentioned QAnon or its slogan in its account name, username, or bio.
We compiled and reviewed the data, including total interactions -- likes, comments, and shares -- of Instagram posts that mentioned QAnon or WWG1WGA and were shared by the 24 Instagram accounts between 4:15 p.m. EDT on June 27 and 4:15 p.m. EDT on July 27, 2020.
The resulting data set included 4,796 posts from Instagram accounts with the following usernames: qthewakeup, redpillbabe, red_pill_fuel, ask_the_q, qmaildrops, an0n661, the_storm_doc, educatingliberals, docs_red_hat, ashlynn139, qanon_obiwan, sheepn0more, shotonbothsides, sergeant_stickittooya, redpillmoab, hisnamewassethrich, qanonsociety, wwg1wga_, qthestorm, disconnectingfromthematrix, alphapunisher17, savethewestq, anonbabe17, and mymaria777.