Over the last few years, social media companies have woken up to problematic beliefs on their platforms, which resulted in a wave of deplatformings, knocking off some of the biggest names in fringe beliefs and conspiracy theories.
But there is always going to be a new avenue, as apps and sites are constantly developing and riding waves of popularity.
Right now, nothing is hotter than TikTok. Naturally, conspiracy pushers have pivoted there.
@andrew.barretttru#caution #redpill #wakeup #deepstate #thegreatawakening #qanon #notforkids #lockthemup #wwg1wga♬ original sound – andrew.barretttru
Often, after a deplatforming, these people have headed neo-Nazi riddled messaging apps with no hope of developing a larger user base, such as the far-right’s mostly failed migration to encrypted messaging app Telegram, or conservative Twitter alternatives like Gab and Parler.
TikTok is nothing like these. And that could pose a problem.
TikTok is a Chinese-developed, short-form video-sharing app that became available outside that country in 2016. It exploded in popularity, adding a half-billion users in 2019, and counts 1.5 billion users overall. And like many other social platforms, that growth has come with an infiltration of conspiracy content.
Part of that is a steady increase in QAnon-related accounts, run by content makers pushing out videos in support of the violent, incoherent, yet seemingly unkillable conspiracy theory that first appeared on 4chan in 2017. The QAnon conspiracy holds that President Donald Trump is secretly rooting out a cabal of Democratic pedophiles deep within the government.
Conspiracy theorists are often fast to adapt their messages to new forms of technology and TikTok doesn’t appear to be any different.
QAnon researcher and podcast host Travis View first noted the existence of QAnon-themed TikTok accounts in September, finding two with at least something of a following: accounts that go by QTok and Andrew Barrett. At the time View found them, neither had an especially large imprint—both were under 2,000 followers—but they had fans, and their content was getting traction.
Just a heads up @tiktok_us. A month ago your platform had zero accounts that consistently posted QAnon content. Now there's two QAnon Tik Tok accounts.
If you don't think a lip synching app is the best place for extremist propaganda, it might be wise to nip it in the bud early. pic.twitter.com/U495HEGTFY
— Travis View (@travis_view) September 5, 2019
They aren’t small anymore, though, as noted in a subsequent tweet by View posted on Dec. 20. Those two accounts have skyrocketed in popularity, with QTok now over 6,800 followers; and Andrew Barrett nearing 11,000.
(Reps from TikTok didn’t respond to multiple requests for comment from the Daily Dot.)
Lemme just check how much the QAnon accounts on @tiktok_us have grown in the past three months
…. significantly. Cool.
Well, looking forward to see how much this will metastasize until it creates enough PR problems for Tik Tok to address. pic.twitter.com/W556YFiZmo
— Travis View (@travis_view) December 20, 2019
While they’re the two largest, they aren’t the only Q followers on the site. A number of other QAnon branded accounts, full of conspiracy iconography like the Q hashtags “WWG1WGA” (“where we go one, we go all”), Punisher skulls, and Trump memes are all approaching at least four figures in followers.
Q-themed videos can easily be found just by searching for Q-related phrases, and many have thousands of likes and views. They aren’t big, but they’re there, making videos, and carving out a brand.
@andrew.barretttru#qanon #thegreatawakening #trump2020 #wwg1wga #hillaryclinton #joebiden #soros #ukraine #corruption♬ original sound – andrew.barretttru
Like most other QAnon media, Q TikTok videos are a grab bag of content that depend a great deal on the personalities and aims of the people making them.
Barrett and QTok, the two biggest accounts, go almost entirely for straight-to-camera talking. Barrett has hundreds of videos either interpreting Q drops or simply offering opinions on daily news, many of which were clearly shot at the same time, given that he’s wearing the same shirt in numerous consecutive clips.
@qtokEpstein #qanon #Q #creepy #podesta #art #epstein #Q #trump #thestorm #darktolight #news #patriot♬ original sound – qtok
QTok prefers off-the-cuff warnings about “Marine Corps Reserves being deployed” and “Trump taking out the drug cartels.” These could be found on almost any streaming video site and aren’t distinguishable from rants on YouTube or Periscope.
But other Q TikTok videos have a lot more effort put into them, such as Q follower “CriminallySmooth” making a video of Trump punching and pointing set to a knockoff of the Bee Gees’ “Staying Alive,” or another Q follower, “Stevo42” making videos to “trigger snowflakes” by showing off his Q-branded van to pounding rock music.
Overall, as of this writing, videos branded with #QAnon have 3.3 million views, and videos including #WWG1WGA have over 3 million views—though there is likely overlap between these videos.
@stevo42Triggering snowflakes…. #MAGA #QAnon #Trump2020 #Hatersgoing2hate♬ Don’t Wake Me Up – Secret Eyes
It should be noted that while a few QAnon accounts are finding success on TikTok, their influence is negligible compared to Q channels on YouTube, where gurus like Praying Medic and InTheMatrixxx still routinely rack up six-figure view counts for Q videos. Overall, the QAnon contingent of the Trump base is just a drop in the ocean on TikTok, where #Trump2020 videos have over 450 million views.
While TikTok has a massive worldwide following, its demographic skews toward the 18-24 age range. Belief in QAnon tends to spike in older cohorts. That means most of the most fervent Q believers likely aren’t seeing TikTok content. But at the same time, it’s also helping bring the conspiracy to the attention of a younger crowd.
And to anyone concerned about a violent conspiracy theory like QAnon finding a toehold on a new social media platform, the growth of Q accounts on TikTok is worrisome. While new social competitors like Telegram or Parler have mostly flamed out, TikTok is hugely popular.
YouTube has already cracked down on extremist videos, with other platforms like Reddit banning QAnon discussion. It’s not a stretch to think that at some point, YouTube will do the same for QAnon, given that the conspiracy has been cited now in multiple acts of violence and domestic terrorism, including murder.
Should the major QAnon YouTube accounts suddenly find themselves needing to take their content elsewhere, they’ll find a massive pro-Trump community on TikTok, one that’s increasingly primed to consume and share QAnon videos.
So while the Q creators on TikTok are currently niche, there’s no guarantee they’ll stay that way.