BACK STORY with DANA LEWIS

QANON CULT

March 18, 2021 Dana Lewis Season 3 Episode 19
BACK STORY with DANA LEWIS
QANON CULT
Chapters
BACK STORY with DANA LEWIS
QANON CULT
Mar 18, 2021 Season 3 Episode 19
Dana Lewis

On this Back Story with host Dana Lewis we talk to the Soufan Centres Jason Blazakis who see's QAnon as a dangerous extremist organization that may have foreign Government's pushing the disinformation.

And, Samantha North, of North Cyber Research who discusses countering disinformation. 


Show Notes Transcript

On this Back Story with host Dana Lewis we talk to the Soufan Centres Jason Blazakis who see's QAnon as a dangerous extremist organization that may have foreign Government's pushing the disinformation.

And, Samantha North, of North Cyber Research who discusses countering disinformation. 


Speaker 1:

Dealing with an ideology, which is what the que a non conspiracy theory really has become is exceedingly difficult to counter, as opposed to maybe one or two individuals bent on violent activity. The etiology allows for individuals to become radicalized, and that is more of a long term and enduring challenge that goes simply beyond the reach of the FBI .

Speaker 2:

Hi everyone. And welcome to this edition of backstory. I'm Dana Lewis in London, Q Anon . I first broadcast an in-depth story on Q Anon back in July of 2020. And I can tell you, I really didn't understand that much about the group until those interviews. And since then, a couple of Q Anon members were elected to Congress. It became front and center in the storming of the Capitol Kune on members, believe in some cabal of Satan worshipers existing in the democratic party, torturing and murdering children. It's a bizarre called whack dangerous in March Pew Anon prophesized . Trump would come back to the white house and be president with the passing of March 4th, a highly anticipated date for followers of the Q Anon conspiracy theory. Some remain characteristically delusional. They will adjust their conspiracy theories to some other date. Now much like the guy who holds a poster on the street corner saying the end is nigh, and he always changes the date, but Q Anon includes in its roster of the loony policemen and soldiers and politicians. And that's just scary on this backstory Q Anon . And does this international cult fall apart with Trump as its spiritual leader, or does it marry into evangelical religious followers who see parallels in their beliefs in Q and ons ? End of days , prophecies in the summer long before the Capitol insurrection, I interviewed Jason [inaudible] from the sifan center who largely predicted violence from Q Anon, but probably not on that scale. And now Jason joins us again. Hi, Jason, how are you?

Speaker 1:

Hey, Dana, great to be on the program again. I am doing well. I hope you are doing well as well.

Speaker 2:

Thank you so much. And you also teach at Middlebury Institute , uh, you teach terrorism , uh, is Q Anon , uh, an extension of that course or, or is that morphing more into kind of the radical right in America?

Speaker 1:

So I teach a course on introduction to terrorism and there is a module in that course on cults where we discuss groups like [inaudible] and the Mujahideen costs . But of course, in, in that class, we are talking also about Q Anon in the context of Colts in , in terrorism. And in the course I'm developing for the Middlebury Institute. In fact, for the fall, there'll be a module related to cults in the American radical right . Of which, of course, Q Anon is very well postured, unfortunately. And we'll be talking a lot about [inaudible] in that class too.

Speaker 3:

I don't like to quote Fox news too much, but , uh, I know one of their evening program hosts , uh , has called Q Anon followers, gentle Patriots, waving flags. It was Tucker Carlson. I mean, do you think he's living on another planet or he's grouping Q and on in the category of terrorism , uh , too harsh.

Speaker 1:

I don't think it's too harsh. I most certainly would disagree with Tucker Carlson's assessment that , you know , all QA , non adherence are gentle Patriots. I think we saw firsthand on the 6th of January that there are quite a few to a non-adherence who are anything but gentle. Um , Ashley Babbitt's stormed the capital. Of course she was killed, but she was , uh , uh, uh, [inaudible] um, you know, in , in that individual had a spear in the Capitol and he's behind bars. So there are quite a few individuals with [inaudible] who've carried out bios even before the 6th of January. And it is a, an extremist ideology. There's no two ways about it. And because it's an extremist ideology, I think it's a disservice to call these individuals just simply gentle Patriots. I would characterize the events of January 6th, like Christopher Ray did the director of the FBI. He called it an act of domestic terrorism. So there were certainly then thus individuals with enqueue and non who stormed the capital , who I think we should consider as domestic carriers . So I, I , we can't, we can't let them off like that. And the way Tucker Carlson described them,

Speaker 3:

Is there a link between white supremacists, some of the dangerous white supremacists in queue and on other links there,

Speaker 1:

There, there is. Um, if you examine the queue drops from the so-called queue , um, who nobody knows exactly who Q is still to this day, but the individual purports to have a military level clearance that is inside the U S government working on defense intelligence issues, and Hugh's early messages , um, very early on , uh, he took a very anti-Semitic approach , um , to discussing , um, the so-called deep state being funded by the Rothschilds and the Soros is of the world. So there is an inherent antisemitism within the , uh , Q Anon movement that makes me really uncomfortable. And in that sense, there are some analogies that you can draw between some of the more hardcore white supremacists and their ideology, as well as the Q Anon theories that some subscribed to. That's not to say that all Q non adherence are certainly white supremacists. They are, they're a very diverse set of individuals, but some of those underlying theories of Q Anon are anti-Semitic and people need to understand that

Speaker 3:

Is the Q and a on that we talked about in the summer , um, you know, a bizarre, far right conspiracy group that thinks that the Democrats are holding children, hostages and drinking the blood of children. And, you know, it's, it's really almost, I shake my head every time I go through this stuff, but is, have they evolved from what they were in the summer to where we are now in terms of the, and on that, that is rooted in America.

Speaker 1:

So Q Anon has under gone a shock to the system. Many of the adherence thought on January 20th, the United States military was going to in circle , um, president Biden and all his associates and take them out. Um, and that didn't happen. Um, president Biden was sworn in and he's running the government and , and that led for many members to a situation where they had this cognitive dissonance, where what they believed was illustrates would be patently false. So you had some individuals

Speaker 3:

Then again on March 4th, March,

Speaker 1:

March 4th. Exactly. There was another conspiracy theory that , um , president Trump was going to be sworn in on, on the 4th of March, thinking back to some bizarre convoluted IEM , um, dating back to 1871, where the United States became a corporation instead of a country in that on March 4th, the United States would become a country. Again, led by Donald Trump, who would become the ,

Speaker 3:

If you told me, if you told me that on March 3rd, lawmakers would sit longer to pass legislation so that they weren't going to be in Congress on the fourth, and that they would essentially some of them leave Washington on the fourth, I'd say, come on Jace . And that's exactly what happened.

Speaker 1:

I think it was because there was also credible warnings by the U S law enforcement community, that there were individuals who were trying to take advantage of that date of March 4th, the carry out potentially attack against the United States Congress. And because of that, congressional deliberations were, were stalled. Um, so people took that date seriously in law enforcement because they learned from the 6th of January, that there are individuals who really are bent on destroying democracy in the United States. And some of those individuals inevitably are still part of the queue. And non-community, I said there are some individuals who certainly have walked away because they see that there have been just nothing but false prophecies associated with QS messages, but there are those that I've wrote an article recently in the Los Angeles time who are doubling down. And those are the most ardent supporters , um, within pulse , you know, Holtz historically have changed dates. Um, you know, whether it's the heaven Gates cult , um, from the 1970s to 1990s, when, you know, essentially they change the date and when this magical situation would occur when the UFO was going to pick them up , um, and you've seen it with other cults , um, they, they change the, they move the goalpost as it works , uh, in , in Q Anon , the individuals who stay within the movement are moving those goalposts to, to conform with their own worldviews. So that makes them really dangerous. Those that remain behind.

Speaker 3:

Okay, I'm glad I let you finish that point because that's really important. The surveys, some of the polling in America said that large groups of evangelical Christians , uh , are drawn into Q Anon and , and that a large number of Republican evangelical Christians belong to Q and on or follow-up and, and identify , uh , with its philosophy, whatever that happens to be.

Speaker 1:

Absolutely. And there is this, this movement and it's been happening over this past year. And , um, there are some scholars out there who tracks to a non very closely like Mark Andre, Argentina . Who've spoken about this in , in some length , there is this, this natural , um, religious terminology, connect it to the Q and non movement . The idea that there's going to be a great awakening, for instance, that has very overt religious connotations. And that is the language of Q Anon that people will become enlightened to the truth. And then once they are enlightened , that will , um , allow for the precipitation of a quote storm , um , which will lead essentially to this bloodletting , um, of the, the secret cabal that you described earlier, Dana of , uh , Democrats , um , of , uh, of Jews like Soros, who are funding, the deep state who are abusing children, that bloodletting will occur and they will be destroyed and wiped off the face of the face of the earth. So there is kind of apocalyptical , um, millenarian , uh, aspects to, to this , uh, um, quasi , um, religious cult. Um, and it is very disturbing to see that there is increasing , um , interest within the evangelical community about what Q Anon is. That's very worrisome. We're also seeing in some of the research we're doing at the Soufan center , um, that there is a lot of anti-abortion rhetoric now associated with individuals who populate the Q Anon community. And that's worrisome because in terms of acts of violence perpetuated in the United States , um , by individuals , um, there have been a significant number of attacks , um , against things like the planned Parenthood , um, doctors who have provided abortions. So I do worry there could be a Q a non follower who is now avidly drinking up some of these anti abortion related conspiracies who could do real-world harm . Um ,

Speaker 3:

CF is the FBI now, have they shifted philosophically and said, okay, we have, first of all, domestic terrorism is the greatest threat in America right now, more than ISIS or Al-Qaeda, or, I mean, we we've at least heard that from them testifying , uh, you know, before one of the congressional committees that the head of the FBI is Q and on now somebody , uh , a group that , um, is being taken very, very seriously by law enforcement officials. And do they need to classify them as a potential terror group in order to, to source funding in order to intercept communications, are they equipped as a law enforcement agency currently to deal with Q1 ons threat?

Speaker 1:

So back in 2019 , um, the Arizona , um , Phoenix FBI field office declared the Q Anon conspiracy theory to be a domestic terrorism threat. And in that sense, the FBI at least somewhat early on, probably not as early as they could have, start thinking about those who subscribed to that theory as being potentially dangerous individuals. And then you fast forward in time to January 6th . I think the writing became very clearly on the wall. Um, we know a couple of very specific cases of Q1 non-supporters were part of that insurrection. But if you look at the symbols of the day , um, you saw a lot of Q Anon shirts, Q Anon , um , regalia , um , even , even though the individuals who did not go into the Capitol building, who , who still protest it , which was, you know, their , their, their right to protest . Right. But once you cross the , that , that, you know , breach the barrier, that's another story is the FBI well postured to deal with , um, Q Anon and just the ethic , terrorism writ large , um, FBI director, Christopher Ray testified, I think it was last week. Um, I think it was the week of the first , uh , uh , March, March 2nd in that time period. And he said , um, in two years, there has been more than 100% growth in domestic terrorism investigations from 850 in 2019 to 2000 in 2021. I imagine of that subset, there are most certainly Q a non-related investigations that are ongoing with the FBI, but with such an explosion of cases, I do worry that the FBI may not have all the resources and FBI agents they could use to tackle this threat. And I think Christopher Ray said as much. So I don't think they're as well postured as they could be. And I think dealing with an ideology, which is what the que a non conspiracy theory really has become exceedingly difficult to counter, as opposed to maybe one or two individuals bent on violent activity, the etiology allows for individuals to become radicalized. And that is more of a long term and enduring challenge that goes simply beyond the reach of the FBI .

Speaker 3:

When you look at what president former president Trump said about Q Anon , you know, back in August, he said, you know, I've heard these people just love our country. Um, do you believe that with kind of a wink and a nod, he tapped into queue and on to, to bolster his support, to bolster support at the rallies and maybe to supercharge them on the way to the Capitol ?

Speaker 1:

Unfortunately, I do think either winning or unwittingly, it's hard to know president Trump certainly used buzzwords over a long period of time that motivated individuals within the Q Anon community. Um, he was always reluctant in the lead up to the election to condemn them , um, to , to chastise them for being , um, engaged in problematic behavior, which they were both online and in the real world in that sense, I think he unfortunately emboldened individuals within the queue and non-community , and if you look at,

Speaker 3:

So , which one is it wittingly or unwittingly?

Speaker 1:

I, I'm not sure what the president president Trump, honestly, it's , it's hard to say what's going through that guy's mind. So it's hard for me to conjecture. Um, I will tell you this though, if you look at the individuals who have been arrested , um, whether they're Q Anon or there's something else, they all have said they were following the words and orders of president Donald J. Trump, and , and they actually felt they were fulfilling a mission on his behalf. Um, and there's no two ways about that. Um, so whether he's winning or unwitting to me, a president has to be very careful about the language that they use. And he was not

Speaker 3:

This guy in the summer told me, and I think he's very smart and he knows this topic. Some guy named Jason [inaudible] told me that he thinks that maybe there is state sponsored as in a , another state, maybe Russia, maybe somebody that could be toying with Q Anon followers and stirring the misled. Do you now , all these months later, what do you think, do you think that those intelligence agencies and state sponsors playing with this group?

Speaker 1:

Absolutely. Um, and we have a report at the Soufan center. That's going to be issued very soon where we explore the issue of foreign influence with the Q Anon community. And it's more than one country , um, that is essentially stirring the pot online to amplify Q Anon messages. Um, and that includes Russia, China, Saudi Arabia, and Iran, interestingly enough, with the Russian Federation and the Chinese actually stirring the pot the most. Um, so there's certainly an aspect in which foreign governments seek Q Anon , um, as community that can lead to , uh , societal discord within the United States and all those countries, I mentioned, they're inherently anti-democratic right. And anything that they can do to, to make a country like the United States, which tries to push forward throughout the world, democracy making the United States lives more difficult is in their national geo-strategic interests and in a lot of ways. So

Speaker 3:

Yeah , this whole information war and disinformation war. That's so interesting. What you're saying, do you think that the big internet, big tech companies are successful in pulling down the Q Anon accounts and countering disinformation, or it's just a drop in the bucket?

Speaker 1:

It's a drop in the bucket. Unfortunately, they were slow to respond generally to toxic anti hate language online over these last few years. Um, it was only more recently , um , where we saw a Silicon Valley pick up a much more serious approach to trying to counter content online. So they're doing better on English language content, but we're still seeing, and this is one of the recommendations in our report , um, a heavy amount of foreign language, Q Anon associated content circulating online , uh, and in particular, they have made strides in countering , I think Russian language propaganda. Um , but they're not doing quite as well. Um, in terms of Chinese , uh, related language, propaganda related to the queue and non message

Speaker 3:

Now , right? I mean, there's huge followings in Europe and Q Anon .

Speaker 1:

It is, it is it's gone global. Unfortunately it's spread like wildfire throughout Europe, Australia, Russia, Japan. Um, I was talking to a former student of mine, actually. She lives in Japan and she was showing me some of the Japanese Q and non-related posts. And CUNA is very popular in Japan. That's very worrisome cause Japan does have a history of poets , like the [inaudible] coat that carried out the 1995 subway , um, Tokyo subway attack with, with Sarah and chemical agents . So you have very worrisome to see that spread in places like Japan, for instance. So , um, I'm very concerned about the scope of this threat . Um, and I don't think it's localized to United States any longer.

Speaker 3:

And what is the next chapter in this Jason, before I let you go? And I appreciate your time. Do you think that, you know, Biden's approach to white supremacy to the radical, right? Which in Q includes Q Anon and America has generally just to take the rhetoric down , um, you know, stay off social media is deal with deal with trying to become a more normal administration than the Trump administration was. And just tried to, you know, try to try to turn off the, the hot switch is, is that's not going to deal with this completely though.

Speaker 1:

It won't. Um , but the fact that we have a president in the United States that uses language very carefully, I find to be incredibly helpful. And I also find it He's acting like a, like an adult, which is, which is really helpful. Right? And the other thing that I think that this administration is doing much more seriously than the last is actually trying to tackle the COVID-19 pandemic, pushing out vaccines , um , pushing out guidance about the importance of masks in ways that I find to be helpful because Q Anon exploded. Um , as a theory, turning into a belief system in 2020, because of COVID-19 people were trapped at home and they would be can , uh, more speed and the toxic theories of, of Q Anon. So the fact that the president Biden is trying to actually solve COVID-19 so people can get outside of their homes and they can socialize like normal people. Again, I think we'll be , um, hopefully the most important thing that we can do to deliver some kind of death knell to the Q a nominee .

Speaker 4:

And then you have members of Congress like Marjorie Taylor green, who she seems to be distancing herself from it somewhat. I mean, all these crazy videos have come out of her, you know, stocking students and denying the school shootings were real and saying they were red flag events. And , uh , you know, does that go away?

Speaker 1:

Unfortunately, I don't think politicians , um, like Marjorie Taylor green will completely distanced themselves from the Q Anon theories because they , they see that there's a significant number of people that actually believe in it and it , it taps into their political base. So what they were to walk away from that it's walking away from votes. And the one thing I know about politicians is they love nothing more than, than votes , power and money. So I just don't see her completely distancing herself. And I think it's really unfortunate that we have somebody like that as a member of Congress, who does these things , um, you know, denying facts. And , and that is one of the hallmarks of , of Cunanan as a theory is this denial of , of objective fact. And that's problematic for a member of Congress who is representing nearly 800,000 people. It's really a stain , um, in, in Congress. And thankfully she was removed from her committee assignments . So her ability to exert true influence and power in terms of lawmaking is , is significantly hampered. Um, and I think that was the appropriate action by Congress, just when Congress took action against representative Stephen King from Iowa, who was essentially touting white supremacist ideology. He had those , uh , committees that he was on ripped out from his hands. And the same thing has happened to Marjorie Taylor green. And I think that shows , um, that we're considering conspiracy theories and truth , um, denial , um , associated with the Q and a movement along the same lines of toxic white supremacy related material and content.

Speaker 4:

Um , but unfortunately it's a, it's a, it's a cult that has a following and the dangers, the dangers loom , uh , and they're not going to go away that. And , uh , that's why I think you've got a course on the radical right to keep teaching Jason [inaudible] from the Sioux fan center. Thank you so much, Jason. Good to catch up with you again. Great to be on the program. Um , pleasure to be with you and take care. All right. My friend, Samantha North is the director of North cyber research and she specializes in countering disinformation and joins us from Lisbon Portugal. Hi Samantha.

Speaker 5:

It was good to be here. Thank you very much for having me on

Speaker 4:

Cyber research do exactly because, you know, countering disinformation sounds like a pretty big portfolio.

Speaker 5:

Yes. It can be , um , primarily election security. So I'm helping some of the social media platforms, for example, to kind of police there . Um, you know, that territory for signs of disinformation and coordinated inauthentic behavior. Um, that's probably my primary focus and then I can do similar things for a sorted other clients as well.

Speaker 4:

So when you talk about Q Anon and disinformation, what concerns you most about what you've seen,

Speaker 5:

What to start? Um, it's a , it's a huge topic and this, this year really we've seen it gonna come off the rails and explode into, into real life with the capital attack in Washington, DC. I think what really concerns me is kind of looking at it from a long-term perspective. Um , does this tribal as a now running deep in the U S and in the UK to a certain extent, because Q Anon has become a borderless conspiracy theory, but, but with this kind of tribal attitudes and this, this polarization , um, it can make it very challenging for societies to cooperate on matters that affect everyone and a good case in point would be the pandemic. So one thing was that ,

Speaker 4:

I mean , when it , when it comes to vaccines, for instance, part of the disinformation campaign, I don't know if that ties into Q Anon, does it about, you know, the anti-vaxxers as well

Speaker 5:

Anti-vaxxer themes are overlapped with, do overlap with Q Anon. Absolutely. It's a very wide ranging conspiracy theory and it puts its tentacles into many different areas. So, yeah ,

Speaker 4:

That's the key one on theory on vaccines?

Speaker 5:

Oh, well , um, bill Gates is a key figure in that he is , um, the, the evil conspire who is using the back , they're using the, to the pandemic and the vaccines as a reason to , uh , have us all microchipped by the vaccine so that we can then be tracked anywhere we go. Um, that's probably the one that's that Springs to mind.

Speaker 4:

So when, when they talked about kind of the things that I'm familiar with, where, you know, they've widely publicized this notion that Democrats, you know, drink the blood of murdered children , um, and then it progressed into an election theft and that maybe Trump is que , um, is, are those kinds of the building blocks of, you know, what a lot of people think is a cult?

Speaker 5:

Um, well, yeah , um, it has some features of Colts and a lot of people seem to be very brainwashed. Um, for example, I did some research on YouTube , uh, earlier on in 2020 and ordinary people are creating two hour long YouTube videos, dissecting every aspect of Q's latest message and with a real sort of frenzy in their , in their demeanor, in their eyes, you know, they really believe this stuff. So , so I guess in that sense, it's its way of brainwashing. People is akin to a cult. Yeah.

Speaker 4:

I mean, there been some pretty tragic stories from family members about somebody who, you know, starts down this rabbit hole of que and on a , a relative , uh , a mother. Um, and, and they cannot get them out of it. I mean, it is, it really becomes a trap and a , uh , you know, a trap into some sort of dimension that, you know, people just get further and further away from reality.

Speaker 5:

Absolutely. I think it has a lot of similarities with ISIS radicalization. It's a form of radicalization with just a different narrative with different cultural touchpoints , but this , the effect is the same. You know, these people have a framework that they can hang all aspects of their reality on. And in these uncertain times, amid a pandemic in particular, people really need some certainty. And I think that is very compelling and , and very addictive.

Speaker 4:

Do you think with a wink and a nod that president Trump was helping to drive it?

Speaker 5:

Yes, I think so. I I'm , I'm, I'm sure of that whether advertently or inadvertently, but, but his, his behavior on social media with his following, you know, the millions of people that follow him , um , being the president of the U S then how could he have not known what effect it would have? It's not feasible.

Speaker 4:

And with Trump removed from power now, at least temporarily let's see what happens. And in four years, is the temperature coming down at all on is , is, are people leaving Humana ?

Speaker 5:

Yeah, I feel like we're in a, sort of a hiatus now. Um, obviously it was a big blow to their narrative when Biden won the election. Uh , I believe they received another blow recently. I think it was early March, which was supposed to be a , another key date in the queue calendar, something, I think March the fourth, perhaps something was supposed to happen. Um,

Speaker 4:

The Trump would be somehow he would be, you know , he would come back to power. He would be innocuous .

Speaker 5:

Well, whatever that , that was, we all know it didn't happen. So I, I think that , um, you know, some people are going to drift away from it and I I've already seen signs of this people saying we were lied to, we were deceived. Um, so they'll lose probably the outline that the weaker of believers, but they'll always be our heart of the true believers there . And that's very worrying for the Biden administration. Right. Because you know, so many of these people and I , I don't think they just going to disappear overnight just because Joe Biden is president.

Speaker 4:

Do you think that there are links and how tenuous do you think they are to groups like proud boys and white supremacy? Yeah .

Speaker 5:

There are , there are, there are links as to what exactly they look like in practice. I don't know, but there are certainly ideological links that they share and they're on the same end of the political spectrum. Um, and they share some of the same tactics, you know, that they're going to go to the streets and that they're likely to get involved in violent protests , like in the cup atop , I would expect there to be not only Q and non people, but probably people who sympathize with the proud boys and white supremacist groups in general.

Speaker 4:

I was reading a quote from you where you said that , uh, because Q Anon is sparked so many different sub conspiracy theories, that there's a lot of scope just to keep twisting into a new narrative. So Trump is gone, but they'll find something else to keep it going. Yeah,

Speaker 5:

Definitely. We don't know yet what that would look like. Um, it's probably going to go underground the que conspiracy theory, because I believe a lot of the major social media platforms are now banning it quite comprehensively, and Trump's also been booted off most of them. So, so I could envisage that going underground on to more alternative platforms like parlor or like garb , or like [inaudible] , and then sort of proliferating there. And in that toxic kind of swamp and perhaps manifesting in violent, real life events from time to time, you know, like when some lone Wolf decides to take matters into their own hands, that's a risk,

Speaker 4:

An internal presentation from 2016 reviewed by the wall street journal, a company researcher, Monica Lee found that Facebook was not only hosting a large number of extremist groups, but also promoting them to the users in that 64%, she was quoted as saying 64% of all extremist groups , uh, joined are due to recommendation tools. These , uh , these AI algorithms that feed people kind of more and more what they, what the algorithms think will keep them hooked on the platform like Facebook. Do you think that's still going on or are the big texts slowly throttling back from that? I mean, a lot of people say Facebook has not dealt with it.

Speaker 5:

Yeah. That is difficult to evaluate. But I would say that until the fundamental architecture of the social media platforms changes, you know, that they rely on engagement for that, the value to advertisers, right. And engagement. It's hard to tell if it's negative or positive, if it's conspiracy theory or cat videos. So I believe until that model can be changed, it's going to be very difficult to really keep this stuff under control because the algorithms always going to lead the user to what the user likes, they're going to serve them up more of what they like and what they engage with. And by their very nature, these, these shocking conspiracy theories are more compelling and more engaging.

Speaker 4:

I was just going to say, I mean, those are what the studies tell us, right? The , the , uh , maximum engagement means controversy, misinformation, extremism. And when you start telling a social media company, don't have maximum engagement that doesn't ring, you know, very well with the, their dollar incense bottom line, because maximum engagement is where they make their advertising dollars.

Speaker 5:

Exactly. And that was an article as , um , just a few days ago. I think technology review or some such , maybe you saw it, it was a deep dive into what's going on behind the scenes of Facebook and the kind of discussions that they have when they try to tackle these problems. And that really, it supported what you said. And what I think is the case, you know, they don't want to cut engagement because they need him .

Speaker 4:

So how do you fight disinformation? I mean, I've led you through a lot of the disinformation that you're well aware of. Um , is there a way that we begin to dismantle this? Uh , because if we don't, we are seeing everything from the subversion of democracy, to the sparking of insurgencies and storming of democratic capitals , um, to civil war, to violent, extreme movements and extremists , um, both in the United States and around the world. I mean, this is an international issue now.

Speaker 5:

Yeah. It's, it's sobering really the extent to which, and , and the way you described it , you've you put it, put it perfectly. Um, I like to think that there's a way to go back to the public and to the, to the users and perhaps not all , not just media literacy, although that's also important, but kind of educating people about the psychological side of how they engage with these things on social media, you know, like disinformation and inauthentic behavior are deliberately designed to trigger certain biases in the minds of humans. And most people don't really know this. So for example, I can give you an example here. Um , I don't know if you've ever been drawn into a trolling argument on social media. I know I have when the person does , wants to keep arguing and arguing with you. Right. And it seems like they just don't want to stop.

Speaker 4:

I have regrettably gotten into a few counter punches and thought, why in , in , you know , why on earth did I ever engaged in the first one,

Speaker 5:

Precisely and me too many times. I mean, I had to consciously hold myself back, but , but, but I think, you know, in, in that situation, we get so kind of focused on beating the opponent on , on telling them our points of view that we, I think are more likely to be more susceptible to disinformation in those moments. You know, perhaps we'll share an article with them to prove our point to drive our point home, perhaps the article we won't take the time to critically assess it because we're so keen on getting one up on the enemy. And then that's the kind of tribalism as well. I think that this us versus them , um, in my research on Brexit from part of my doctoral research , um, I looked into how Brexit supporters and remain supporters go up one another on social media and how , how tribal they are. And, you know, that, that opens people up to, to this kind of toxic content. So, so the psychological biases are critical. And I would like to see more focus on understanding those and , um, finding ways to somehow integrate that into, into policy and, you know, educating the users themselves.

Speaker 4:

Are there parallels with Britain leaving the European union, the campaign that the leavers, the pro Brexit camp , um, you know, pushed out on the sides of buses and elsewhere, are there parallels with what's happened with Q1 on, in terms of disinformation and how they hooked into people?

Speaker 5:

Yes, there are well, Q and a is a lot more outrageous. I think that both of those campaigns had their own flavor kind of tailored to the populations and the cultural context within which they were operating. Right. So perhaps cured on would have been less successful in a British context because some of the things it's involved with are uniquely American, I think. And, but what they have in common is, is tribalism. That's setting two sides against each other's throats. So we've got Brexiteers and remainers in the UK, you know, and , um, the main is, are portrayed as the enemy and there's less patriotic. And as you know, subversive to the, to the European union with Q Anon, there's the Q followers who are the enlightened ones. And then the , the sheeple, everybody else who's not enlightened with Q and Q is going to fight this, this big enemy, these , these pedophile cabals from Hollywood elites. So I think there's lots of group identity theory at work there. Um, and , and it's, it's very interesting how that seems to really be a feature of , um , every disinformation campaign I'd ever seen. There's always an us versus them component

Speaker 4:

And fear that , uh, you know, your borders are being swarmed by, by immigrants or you're losing control of your justice system, your independence they're giving away the country.

Speaker 5:

Absolutely. Yep . Yeah, there was a, it's a powerful trigger. And , um, you know, for, for centuries really , um, dictators and populous leaders have, have leveraged fear and it's nothing new to use that tactic, but it always works .

Speaker 4:

I feel , I feel a bit dark at the end of this conversation in the sense that, you know, if you, you know, to tell people they need to read information better, they need to be more skeptical. Uh, they need to understand that algorithms are feeding them kind of, you know, more what more extremist information to keep them hooked. I don't think that's going to turn it around for a lot of people. So we need something a little more, you know , hands-on push the, push the red interrupt button to stop this because otherwise I don't see it ending. And probably, you know, let's say Trump decides to run again in 2024. I just see this, you know , getting swirled around again and supercharge .

Speaker 5:

Yeah. That's , uh , it's , it's a big worry. Um, perhaps regulation is the answer. I know that the European union , um, is taking some small steps in the direction of regulation of the platforms, but I don't know how that might work in the U S with the first amendment. I think it's a more difficult environment

Speaker 4:

Europe . How would they, how would they regulate it? I mean, simply by demanding removal of content.

Speaker 5:

I think that could be one of the components. I haven't, I haven't looked into it in great detail, but I know that the freedom of speech laws are not as loose as they are in the U S not as permissive. So I guess they could do that. They could , they can take down a lot more things. I think like the bar for what constitutes a violation of content , um, is it's different in your , um , it's lower. So that's one thing, but yeah, we need to take quite dramatic action. And I wish I had a really good solution to this because I , you know , maybe I could be president who knows,

Speaker 4:

Thank you so much for your time. I mean, it's good. Look, it's perplexing to a lot of people, how we go about this and the removal of some of the content for some of the big platforms, no doubt , uh , has helped. And you're right. I think generally Europe in given our history with, with Nazi Germany and the , you know, there, there is, yes, you have first amendment freedom of information, freedom of speech rights. But when it comes to the spreading of hatred, the red lines are drawn. It seems much more quickly. Um, and so, you know, I guess you're right. I mean, the us is going to have to adapt its to its system as it evaluates that this threat is no longer comical. Um, but I mean, it's a real threat to their, their, their Democrats , their democracy.

Speaker 5:

I have some hope for that , but that the Biden administration will take a more productive approach than the previous one did. So fingers crossed let's hope for a good outcome. Good to talk to you too. Thank you. Something to think about the combating

Speaker 4:

Terrorism center at West point

Speaker 2:

Concluded that there is significant overlap between Q Anon and extremist channels affiliated with groups like the proud boys, paramilitary groups in white supremacists, the same groups attract former military members to a 2019 military time survey found that 36% of active duty troops had seen evidence of white supremacists and racist ideologies in their ranks. There've been Q Anon postings in us military sites, including a brigade in the 82nd airborne. It is high time for the military to educate its members on the dangers of this cult . And police need to do the same. Don't drink the Kool-Aid . This information deserves re-education I'm Dana Lewis. Thanks for listening to backstory. I also do a daily newsletter, which can be found on substance it's free Dana Lewis dot sub stack.com. Have a look. Thanks for the listen. I'm Dana Lewis and I'll talk to you again.

Speaker 6:

[inaudible] .