YouTube cracks down on QAnon conspiracists
A woman wearing a sweatshirt for the QAnon conspiracy theory gestures during a pro-Trump rally on October 11, 2020 in Ronkonkoma, New York.

Enlarge / A woman wearing a sweatshirt for the QAnon conspiracy theory gestures during a pro-Trump rally on October 11, 2020 in Ronkonkoma, New York.

Stephanie Keith | Getty Images

Left-leaning nonprofit Media Matters has identified 27 congressional candidates who have endorsed or given credence to QAnon, or promoted related content. Last month, a director in Citigroup’s information technology department was dismissed after he was identified as the operator of one of the most important QAnon websites.

Instead of implementing a full ban, YouTube laid out several caveats to its changes: “content discussing [conspiracy theories] without targeting individuals or protected groups” will remain on the platform, it said, as well as news coverage of the issues.

The updates, introduced just weeks before the US vote, come as researchers have increasingly voiced frustration over what they see as a lack of transparency from YouTube over how much misinformation and co-ordinated manipulation is found on its platform, and how it is handled.

Others have pointed to lapses in the enforcement of existing policies. An external study by Media Matters, conducted before the announcement, found 17 top QAnon YouTube channels with more than 4.7 million subscribers “explicitly violated” its terms of service.

The move is likely to drive some QAnon believers towards a constellation of smaller alternative platforms with less stringent content moderation policies. Experts have also warned that members of the movement have already infiltrated less contentious communities, such as those dedicated to child protection, where they often attempt to win over new converts by presenting a less political version of the QAnon narrative.

YouTube said it would start enforcing the new policy immediately, adding that it would “look to ramp up in the weeks to come.”

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