The tragic effects of 2016’s psychological warfare through social media still plagues us today… and in the future, without your help
It has been awe-inspiring to watch Queen Kamala rise through the ranks. I only wish I’d known of her earlier than the Brett Kavanaugh hearings — which I recorded and watched non-stop over a fall weekend two years ago. I was late to the political scene, but can vividly remember the moment I learned of Kamala Harris.
After watching her execute one of those first exchanges — the one where she was absolutely skewering Kavanaugh over his sudden inability to recall a recent, prominent event, when for the past eight hours he’d been regaling the Senate Judiciary with “innocuous” tales from his youth, chronicling in painstaking detail the squeaky clean nature of his weekend leisure activities, all the way back to age 14 — I paid careful attention. When Kamala honed in on his apparent gap in an otherwise pristine memory, leaving him speechless? That was the moment I turned to my husband and said:
“That right there is the next president of the United States.”
Watching the DNC these past few nights has been like a balm, a healing salve for the very soul of this nation. I don’t care about the bumps and snags of an historic, first-ever, live-televised, socially distanced political convention. I could not care any less about awkward camera angles or speakers who began a little too early. I dare any reasonable person to compare such technical glitches with the quintessential griping, whining, bravado, and make-believe machismo of a Trump rally. You can’t. It’s apples to oranges — wait; not even. It’s apples to poop.
Hearing much-needed words from both key figures and every day folks in this virtual format has been surprisingly restorative. So many strong women, people of color, and other typically underrepresented minorities. All speaking words of unity and hope. Words that have been omitted from the last four years of political discourse, words that so many of us have been starved of hearing. This one event has, over the course of three nights, managed to rally this girl’s very tired spirit. It has served as a reminder that our country still has a glimmer of hope. That it’s not too late, perhaps, even though it is down to the wire.
And those women who spoke so powerfully at the DNC, in both live speeches, and historical footage. Did I mention the women? My God, the women.
From the interspersed short clips of the legendary Shirley Chisholm, to Michelle Obama’s iconic, impassioned speech that TOOK. US. TO. CHURCH (sorry Barack, we love you but Michelle’s speech simply outdid yours this time), to my favorite Sen. Elizabeth Warren and her ‘BLM’ cubby blocks in the background of a classroom where she spoke, to Dr. Jill Biden (and, of course, Joe Biden’s) poignant, unimaginable — yet relatable — backstories, to Kamala Harris’ shining moment with this speech… all of it, necessary for this moment in time.
I only hope the rest of the nation is paying attention and watching closely this time. I hope they’re doing this instead of shouting into the void of social media — especially, Facebook, the place in 2016 where Cambridge Analytica, the Russian IRA, and the Trump campaign targeted specific groups of people with bespoke messaging, using their own freely given data against them in gross experimentation and unimaginable ways.
Do your own research — it’s what they’re fond of saying. But when that’s casually said to someone who already does do their own research, especially when research is an integral part of earning your living, what culminates is this article you’re reading right now… and the careful (but non-sugarcoated) critique of one particular conspiracy theory: QAnon.
How is this relevant? Because where QAnon starts is the 2016 election.
What happened in 2016 was nothing short of psychological warfare. Not only did foreign adversaries attempt (and succeed in) sowing discord in an already polarized political environment, their efforts also tore families apart, effectively brainwashed those targeted on Facebook (who still don’t know — or refuse to believe — they were targeted), and persuaded an entire demographic into voting for Donald Trump.
Excerpt from the article “Cambridge Analytica: how did it turn clicks into votes?” in The Guardian, May 6, 2018:
“Using Facebook itself, advertisers are limited to broad demographic strokes, and a few narrower algorithmically determined categories — whether you like jazz music, say, or what your favourite sports team is. But with 253 further predictions, Cambridge Analytica could, Wylie says, craft adverts no one else could: a neurotic, extroverted and agreeable Democrat could be targeted with a radically different message than an emotionally stable, introverted, intellectual one, each designed to suppress their voting intention — even if the same messages, swapped around, would have the opposite effect.”
Today, nearly four years later, that same demographic remains affected (plus many of their Facebook friends who were unknowingly hijacked). Sure, they’re still happy that Trump’s president, but they’re also left behind, pathetically clinging to a hastily stitched-together, baseless conspiracy theory that claims Donald Trump a prophet of sorts. That Trump is the unsung hero, “the chosen one” of the Republican party — sent by either God, or an anonymous high-ranking intelligence officer with serious intel referred to as “Q,” (or “QAnon,” their umbrella term) — to save Christianity and the world at large from a deep-state, anti-Trump, satanic cult comprised of leftists, politicians and celebrities who also happen to be pedophiles, child-eating cannibals, and, are in charge of running a global child sex trafficking ring.
It sounds crazy because it is crazy.
Supporters of QAnon stretch beyond the unimaginable to find “breadcrumbs,” a word referring to hints or clues which they follow and then attempt to decode with the steadfast devotion of a Sudoko enthusiast. They also believe with conviction that America will soon be facing a war of sorts. A “fall of cabal.” “The Storm.” These names all infer an appointed time when Donald Trump will unmask this cabal, punish its members for their crimes, and restore America to greatness.
According to QAnon, this evil “deep-state” cabal contains an ever-growing roster of members, including Oprah Winfrey, Tom Hanks, Steven Spielberg, Pope Francis, Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, James Comey, Robert Mueller, and the Dalai Lama, to name just a few. But like all effective propaganda, these “cabal” rosters feature a tiny shred of truth, making readers more likely to believe the whole kit and kaboodle — lies and all. Like the fact that you’ll often see names like Kevin Spacey and Harvey Weinstein on the list, among a few other well-known figures with high profile cases of sexual assault.
The whole “global child sex trafficking ring,” and the whole notion of Trump being the prophet of God? That isn’t even where this whacked-out conspiracy theory ends. I know because a year ago, I spent the better part of two weeks (two weeks of my life I’ll never get back) chasing endless rabbit holes of QAnon clickbait, obscure YouTube videos purporting to be legit news sources — the only places that will “tell you the truth,” and never-ending Twitter threads that had been retweeted hundreds of thousands of times, likely, by bots... in St. Petersburg, Russia.
When I decided to look into it more, to understand what kind of a person falls prey to debunked conspiracies, one of the first rabbit holes I went down was a YouTube “documentary” (read: cheaply made PowerPoint presentation) by an allegedly well-respected individual famed as one of the movement’s leading expert voices. Within the first sixty seconds of this “documentary,” there were at least four easily identifiable logical fallacies in the narration. I stopped counting after that.
I came to realize these people speak with the authority of hindsight looking back on adolescence. How do they explain it when QAnon predictions haven’t come to fruition, when dates and times pass without the culmination of prophesied events? That’s all part of the plan, they say. For many of them, this isn’t just a belief; it’s an entire new age religion — albeit a very apocalyptic one.
I can already see it now: even as Trump is being hauled away for federal prison in handcuffs, they’ll be shouting from the rooftops, “It’s all part of the plan!” while marveling at Trump’s selfless sacrifice — “look how he gave of himself… all for us… God is so good!!” (I know it’s wishful thinking that he’d be hauled away in handcuffs, but still.)
Folks. Can you imagine how hard Putin and comrades laugh at us over this nonsense? (Not to mention, the rest of the world.)
After this massive rabbit hole binge, one of my conclusions was that these people had to be either incredibly bored, or in desperate need of a purpose. Or at least, a hobby. Unless you’re a paid “troll,” or maybe a bot, you have to have an awful lot of down time in order to keep up with the nonsense of this ever-evolving narrative.
There are entire shelves full of books that could be written of just the stuff of QAnon. I’ve only given a quick gloss-over of the more familiar components of it here. But it all ties back to the 2016 election, and Donald Trump.
Through the use of strategically placed propaganda and a social media company focused on profit (and unconcerned with actually helping people connect), a page was taken straight out of Adolf Hitler’s playbook, and to fully understand that is chilling beyond belief.
I can only hope and pray that my fellow Americans vote this time around. Not only that, but that they decisively vote for Biden/Harris. With this upcoming presidential election, we face a tremendous choice: we either continue turning the hands of progress, justice and equality backwards and stay on the wrong side of history, or we simply do better. I hope we at least try to become the democracy we strive to be.
Make no mistake: a third party vote is a vote for Trump. Trump: the notorious lifelong fraudster, pyramid schemer, snake oil selling con man (and not even a good one at that). I mean, come on. The guy sold mail order steaks at The Sharper Image for God’s sake, and not even in its glorious heyday of 1980s mall culture could The Sharper move any of those units.
Trump has bankrupted our country in every imaginable way. He has driven us (and our economy) into the ground, just like the numerous business failings and bankruptcies of his “career.” Too many to count. Yes, plenty of successful “businessmen” have failures and yes, that’s how most of them learn and grow. The problem with Trump is not just the sheer number of failures he’s had as a “businessman” (whatever that means anyway), but the fact that he doesn’t learn from them. At all. Ever. He doesn’t admit failures, much less, mistakes, and he certainly doesn’t grow from them.
The 45th administration — after hundreds of years of (mostly) forward-moving progress — has only taken four years to tarnish and scar our young and fragile democracy. I often fear we’ll never recover. I have no doubt that if the nearly 100 million Americans who didn’t come out to vote in 2016 had chosen to vote instead, we wouldn’t have the narcissistic, imbecilic, Dunning-Kruger POTUS we have right now.
We’re dealing with a global pandemic that’s taken the lives of far too many people. Our economy has tanked. Businesses just down the street from me are closing their doors right and left, closing forever. Hundreds of thousands of Americans are out of work, and not by their own fault. This could’ve, should’ve, and would’ve been handled far better with a different administration.
There’s a proverb stating “Idle hands are the devil’s workshop.” I’d offer there’s some truth to that. When you mix being out of work with boredom, things can quickly turn south. It’s certainly been a breeding ground for conspiracy theories like QAnon and its cult-like following.
It’s time to come back to the right side of history. To facts, and reason, and logic, and science, and responsibility, and social justice, and intelligent discourse. If you agree, how ‘bout we get to work electing Joe Biden and Kamala Harris, so we can get back over to that right side of history, and while we’re at it, get those conspiracy theorists back to work in general?