Conspiracy Theory, QAnon, American Politics, Fringe Politics, Internet, Mobilization
The role of conspiracy theories as a political force has recently attracted the attention of scholars and commentators, but little work exists on the ways in which the internet affects these unique sociopolitical phenomena. Especially noteworthy is the fact that these theories’ proponents are not even remotely bound to rational responses to real-world events, making them political forces that are uniquely difficult to predict and understand. The uncanny case of QAnon, a now-infamous pro-Trump conspiracy theory that developed for years on internet messageboards before manifesting in the January 6th 2021 assault on the US Capitol, has the potential to illuminate important aspects of this relationship. This is for three main reasons: 1) the theory is based almost entirely online, 2) it has had undeniable real-world political effects, and 3) QAnon’s most important real-world impacts took place after the theory’s explicit disconfirmation by the electoral defeat of its protagonist. In order to gain insight into the ways in which QAnon’s near-exclusive basis on the internet has affected its post-‘disproval’ trajectory, this research will conduct a longitudinal thematic discourse analysis of posts from 8chan’s /qresearch board, a key locus of QAnon activity. It will then compare the changing characteristics and trajectory of QAnon to the post-‘disproval’ histories of older conspiracy theories in order to discern the internet’s effects on conspiracy theories’ post-‘disproval’ trajectories.
Master of Arts
Major Research Paper