Cannibals, aliens and clandestine lizard overlords: thanks to algorithms, such ideas threaten the future of Europe

Organised conspiracy theorist networks have launched an all-out information war across Europe. At the heart of this is the QAnon movement. It expanded from the US to Europe and the UK at rapid speed, hijacking political debates on social media as well as mass protests in the streets in recent months. Our new analysis at the Institute for Strategic Dialogue shows that European conspiracy theorists run increasingly sophisticated campaigns around critical junctions in national, regional and global politics. They even carried out social media operations to influence voters in German state elections, including the 2018 election in Bavaria.

The QAnon community, which began on the message-board site 4chan, strongly overlaps with the support networks of far-right movements such as the EDL and Pegida. Most recently, it co-opted yellow vest demonstrations and boosted hardline Brexit campaigns and Tommy Robinson protests. By injecting conspiratorial narratives into these movements, its members can leverage existing networks and alter their political direction. A commonly used tactic is to combine conspiricist hashtags with those of viral campaigns and trending topics. The scale this generates is disproportional enough to distort public perception: In 2018, ISD identified close to 30m uses of the word “QAnon” across Twitter, YouTube and forums such as Reddit and 4chan.

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Read More Stop the online conspiracy theorists before they break democracy | Julia Ebner

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