The teaser video for Q: In the storm, an upcoming HBO documentary series on the QAnon conspiracy movement has many concerned experts; it looks more like a preview of a spy thriller than a careful study of the umbrella group of conspiracy theories.
The breathless tone may be effective in building hype, but it has many disinformation experts who are concerned. Ben Collins, one of the leading journalists covering online radicalization, tweeted that the trailer “is being marketed in a way that can recruit more people.”
desinfo community: * sober * how do we balance coverage and accidental reinforcement of QAnon? How do we bring people back to reality in a smart, empathetic way?
HBO: * BRAAAAM (introductory sounds) * watch our $ 30m documentary on how QAnon is HARDCORE and FUCKING CRAZY !!! https://t.co/HXfoDPPzjr
– Emerson T. Brooking (@etbrooking) February 26, 2021
Joan Donovan, research director at the Shorenstein Center for Media, Politics and Public Policy at Harvard, told The edge that the trailer risks attracting even more people to the cause by portraying Q as angular and exciting.
“The most worrying aspect for me is that reusing footage found online gathered in 6 hours of conspiratorial content will be validation for the modern movement and create more content / interest,” Donovan said in a message to The edge. “It is not the case that we are 5 years from the uprising. Q influencers will use the fact that they are participating in the documentary to sap more people for donations and build a more loyal audience at a time when many are struggling to contain this anti-Semitic and racist network collaboration. ”
It’s hard to say how much of these concerns are transferred to the documentary itself. The trailer is less than a minute long and the documentary series was the result of a three-year global investigation, according to HBO. So it is possible that the series strikes the right note in how it presents QAnon and its origins, as well as its future. The press release announcing the series says it will “examine the impact of QAnon on American culture and question the consequences of unhindered free speech permeating the darkest corners of the Internet.”
Donovan said she hoped the trailer was a scam and that the actual film shows people talking about how belief in QAnon ruined their relationship with their families and friends, but she was not optimistic. “Somehow I doubt that will be the case,” she said.
QAnon began on 4chan in 2017 when an anonymous person who posted as “Q Clearance Patriot” said they had access to classified information showing then-President Donald Trump was fighting a global solitaire of pedophiles whose ranks included celebrities and democratic politicians. QAnon’s supporters also strongly attributed the view – falsely pushed by Trump – that the 2020 presidential election was stolen and many Q advocates have been linked to the January 6 attack on the US Capitol.
Journalists have struggled with how best to cover QAnon; reporting on it without being sufficiently up to speed, news centers broadcast the risk of reinforcing and legitimizing some of the group’s more dangerous views. At the same time, ignoring QAnon’s followers or rejecting them as fringes could allow it to metastasize. One of HBO’s campaigns for Question: Into the Storm promised that the series would “pull back the curtain” on the group, but without the right context, could further muddy the public’s understanding of QAnon and its reach.
During its heyday, there were thousands of Q-related Facebook groups and Q-related accounts on Twitter and Reddit. Most platforms have banned or attempted to ban Q-related content and hashtags, but with mixed success. “QAnon depends on centuries-old anti-Jewish troops and anti-black narratives about the modern civil rights movement,” Donovan said. “But it’s not that complicated.”
HBO declined to comment.