White text against a blue background included the #SaveOurChildren hashtag:
FB banned over 700 pages dedicated to expose pedophilia. That should scare the absolute shit out of everyone. #SaveOurChildren
No additional information was available alongside the post — not a date, not a news article, not a citation. Nevertheless, tens of thousands of users shared the post, and commenters replied “#SaveOurChildren,” boosting the content’s visibility.
Actions Taken by Facebook in Removing Pages Linked to the QAnon Movement
Although the original poster didn’t provide any information about any specific Facebook action involving the removal of pages or groups en masse, it did appear on the heels of a Facebook announcement regarding the removal of pages.
Those pages were not “dedicated to expose pedophilia,” as the poster claimed. On August 19 2020, Facebook’s Newsroom published “An Update to How We Address Movements and Organizations Tied to Violence,” which concerned pages which, as the title suggested, violated Community Standards with respect to inciting violence on and off the social network.
In the first paragraph, Facebook said that it had acted to limit or ban pages they thought were associated with violent movements and discourse:
Today [August 19 2020] we are taking action against Facebook Pages, Groups and Instagram accounts tied to offline anarchist groups that support violent acts amidst protests, US-based militia organizations and QAnon. We already remove content calling for or advocating violence and we ban organizations and individuals that proclaim a violent mission. However, we have seen growing movements that, while not directly organizing violence, have celebrated violent acts, shown that they have weapons and suggest they will use them, or have individual followers with patterns of violent behavior. So [as of August 19 2020] we are expanding our Dangerous Individuals and Organizations policy to address organizations and movements that have demonstrated significant risks to public safety but do not meet the rigorous criteria to be designated as a dangerous organization and banned from having any presence on our platform. While we will allow people to post content that supports these movements and groups, so long as they do not otherwise violate our content policies, we will restrict their ability to organize on our platform.
It also referenced the platform’s Community Standards on Dangerous Individuals and Organizations, which incidentally itself banned promotion of human trafficking:
In an effort to prevent and disrupt real-world harm, we do not allow any organizations or individuals that proclaim a violent mission or are engaged in violence to have a presence on Facebook. This includes organizations or individuals involved in the following:
- Terrorist activity
- Organized hate
- Mass murder (including attempts) or multiple murder
- Human trafficking
- Organized violence or criminal activity
We also remove content that expresses support or praise for groups, leaders, or individuals involved in these activities.
In the August 19 2020 announcement, Facebook’s Newsroom indicated that action taken to date led to the removal of “over 790 groups, 100 Pages and 1,500 ads tied to QAnon from Facebook.” Further, the update said that Facebook moved to block “over 300 hashtags across Facebook and Instagram, and additionally imposed restrictions on over 1,950 Groups and 440 Pages on Facebook and over 10,000 accounts on Instagram,” adding:
For militia organizations and those encouraging riots, including some who may identify as Antifa, we’ve initially removed over 980 groups, 520 Pages and 160 ads from Facebook. We’ve also restricted over 1,400 hashtags related to these groups and organizations on Instagram.
Regarding disinformation not deemed a direct threat to safety, Facebook’s Newsroom concluded:
Misinformation that does not put people at risk of imminent violence or physical harm but is rated false by third-party fact-checkers will be reduced in News Feed so fewer people see it. And any non-state actor or group that qualifies as a dangerous individual or organization will be banned from our platform.
An August 19 2020 ABC News article about Facebook’s then-current announcement described the QAnon movement in a way that loosely related to the rumor referenced above:
The QAnon conspiracy theory is centered on the baseless belief that President Donald Trump is waging a secret campaign against enemies in the “deep state” and a child sex trafficking ring run by satanic pedophiles and cannibals. For more than two years, followers have pored over tangled clues purportedly posted online by a high-ranking government official known only as “Q.” Some extreme supporters of Trump adhere to the theory, often likened to a cult.
Disinformation Experts Weigh In
In the same article, ABC noted that the decision was considered ineffective against the virulent anti-Semitic vitriol spread — often, perhaps, unwittingly — by QAnon followers.
Former CIA analyst Cindy Otis told the outlet that Facebook’s “limited action now is an insufficient one given the long established fact that [QAnon content] encourages violence, spreads false information that causes real world harm, and knows how to adapt to continue leveraging the Facebook platform.” Others concurred:
Facebook said it will only remove groups and accounts outright if they discuss potential violence, including in veiled language. It said it is not banning QAnon outright because the group does not meet criteria necessary for the platform to designate it a “dangerous organization.” But it is expanding this policy to address the movement because it has “demonstrated significant risks to public safety.”
But experts say this doesn’t go far enough.
“Facebook’s actions today may ultimately come to be viewed as ‘too little, too late,’ said Ethan Porter, a professor of media and public affairs at George Washington University. “It will probably make a dent. But will it solve the problem? Not at all. At this point, the most fervent QAnon believers are not only entrenched on the platform, but likely heading to the halls of Congress. Yet this may give them trouble with new recruits.”
An FBI bulletin last May  warned that conspiracy theory-driven extremists have become a domestic terrorism threat. The bulletin specifically mentioned QAnon. Earlier last year , the Southern Poverty Law Center warned that the movement is becoming increasingly popular with anti-government extremists.
“Clearly, QAnon at times has been dangerous and violent,” Porter said. “But even if that alone isn’t sufficient to ban QAnon — and I’m not sure it should be —the very top of Facebook should think seriously about what kind of public square they have built, and what they want their legacy to be.”
The FBI’s May 2019 QAnon Warning
As Otis noted, the Federal Bureau of Investigation addressed QAnon among growing domestic terrorism threats in a May 2019 field office bulletin, first obtained by Yahoo News:
The FBI for the first time has identified fringe conspiracy theories as a domestic terrorist threat, according to a previously unpublicized document obtained by Yahoo News … The FBI intelligence bulletin from the bureau’s Phoenix field office, dated May 30, 2019, describes “conspiracy theory-driven domestic extremists,” as a growing threat, and notes that it is the first such report to do so. It lists a number of arrests, including some that haven’t been publicized, related to violent incidents motivated by fringe beliefs.
The document specifically mentions QAnon, a shadowy network that believes in a deep state conspiracy against President Trump, and Pizzagate, the theory that a pedophile ring including Clinton associates was being run out of the basement of a Washington, D.C., pizza restaurant (which didn’t actually have a basement).
“The FBI assesses these conspiracy theories very likely will emerge, spread, and evolve in the modern information marketplace, occasionally driving both groups and individual extremists to carry out criminal or violent acts,” the document states. It also goes on to say the FBI believes conspiracy theory-driven extremists are likely to increase during the 2020 presidential election cycle.
Real World Violence and Incidents Linked to QAnon Content
On August 26 2020, PolitiFact listed several examples of violence and other alarming real-world actions connected to QAnon content or followers:
- In June , a Massachusetts man led police on a chase through Massachusetts and New Hampshire with his five children in the car. In a live-stream Facebook video of the event, the man discussed QAnon conspiracies.
- In April , an Illinois woman was arrested in New York City for driving onto a pier with a car full of knives in an apparent attempt to reach a Navy hospital ship housing COVID-19 patients. In a live stream of her travels, the woman threatened to kill Joe Biden over claims of sex trafficking. She also posted about QAnon on Facebook before the incident.
- In March 2019, a New York man killed Francisco Cali, a member of the prominent Gambino crime family. The man said the CIA had infiltrated the Mafia. The incident came after the man requested the arrest of several high-profile Democrats. He supported QAnon and during one court appearance scrawled “Q” on the palm of his hand.
- In January 2019, a Seattle man was arrested for allegedly killing his brother with a sword. The man posted about QAnon on social media, the Daily Beast reported.
- In June 2018, a Nevada man in an armored truck blocked traffic on a bridge near the Hoover Dam, demanding the release of a government document and fleeing after a standoff with police. Law enforcement found weapons in his car. The man discussed QAnon beliefs after his arrest and cited them in letters he wrote from jail.
- In May 2018, the leader of an unofficial local veterans aid group falsely claimed that he had discovered a child sex trafficking ring at a homeless camp in Tucson, Ariz. He referenced QAnon as he and armed group members searched for other camps. He was later arrested for stealing and damaging water tanks belonging to a humanitarian group.
A viral Facebook post claimed without evidence that the platform had just banned “over 700 pages dedicated to expose pedophilia,” adding that the claim “should scare the absolute shit out of everyone.” In reality, on August 19 2020, Facebook disclosed that it then-recently removed more than “790 groups, 100 Pages and 1,500 ads tied to QAnon” — not to exposing pedophilia. Content linked to QAnon was restricted or removed not due to its focus on pedophilia, but due to its known propensity for inciting stochastic violence.