OAKLAND, Calif. — Twitter said Tuesday evening that it had removed thousands of accounts that spread messages about the conspiracy theories known as QAnon, saying their messages could lead to harm and violated Twitter policy.
Twitter said it would also block trends related to the loose network of QAnon conspiracy theories from appearing in its trending topics and search, and would not allow users to post links affiliated with the theories on its platform.
It was the first time that a social media service took sweeping action to remove content affiliated with QAnon, which has become increasingly popular on Twitter, Facebook and YouTube.
We’ve been clear that we will take strong enforcement action on behavior that has the potential to lead to offline harm. In line with this approach, this week we are taking further action on so-called ‘QAnon’ activity across the service.
— Twitter Safety (@TwitterSafety) July 22, 2020
The theories stem from an anonymous person or group of people who use the name “Q” and claim to have access to government secrets that reveal a plot against President Trump and his supporters. That supposedly classified information was initially posted on message boards before spreading to mainstream internet platforms.
Over several weeks, Twitter has removed 7,000 accounts that posted QAnon material, a company spokeswoman said. The accounts had been increasingly active, and had been involved in coordinated harassment campaigns on Twitter or tried to evade a previous suspension by setting up new accounts after an old account was deleted.
An additional 150,000 accounts will be hidden from trends and search on Twitter, the spokeswoman added.
In May, Facebook removed a cluster of five pages, 20 Facebook accounts and six groups affiliated with QAnon, saying they had violated its policy against coordinated inauthentic behavior.
More than two years after QAnon, which the F.B.I. has labeled a potential domestic terrorism threat, emerged from the troll-infested corners of the internet, the movement’s supporters are now trickling into the mainstream of the Republican Party. Precisely how many candidates are running under the banner of QAnon is unclear. Some estimates put the number at a dozen, and few are expected to win in November.
A number of the candidates have sought to spread a core tenet of the QAnon conspiracy: that Mr. Trump ran for office to save Americans from a so-called deep state filled with child-abusing, devil-worshiping bureaucrats. According to QAnon, backing the president’s enemies are prominent Democrats who, in some telling, extract hormones from children’s blood. The president has repeatedly retweeted QAnon supporters.
Ahead of the 2016 presidential election, the baseless notion that the Democratic nominee, Hillary Clinton, and party elites were running a child sex-trafficking ring out of a Washington pizzeria spread across the internet. In December 2016, a vigilante gunman showed up at the restaurant with an assault rifle and opened fire into a closet.
Facebook, Twitter and YouTube managed to largely suppress that conspiracy theory, but as the presidential election nears it has appeared to rebound on those platforms and newer ones, like TikTok.
Matthew Rosenberg and Jennifer Steinhauer contributed reporting.
This is a developing story. Check back for updates.