Facebook and Twitter missed QAnon warnings for years

Others just craved speed: “TREASON = FIRING SQAUD [sic] OR HANGING! DO IT NOW PLEASE THAT’S THE LAW! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! !”

These posts — from January 2018, just months after QAnon flamed to life from the embers of Pizzagate, with its false claims of a child-sex ring run by Democrats out of a Washington pizzeria — were among the many early warnings that the new conspiracy theory was fueling hatred and calls for violence on Facebook, Twitter and other social media.

But it would be years before Facebook and Twitter would make major moves to curb QAnon’s presence on their platforms, despite serious cases of online harassment and offline violence that followed, and moves by other social media companies to limit the spread of QAnon’s lurid and false allegations of pedophilia and other crimes.

One social media company, Reddit, closed forums devoted to the conspiracy in 2018 because of online harassment and calls for violence, and YouTube removed tens of thousands of QAnon videos and hundreds of related channels in June 2019 as part of a broader crackdown on content that violated its hate speech and other policies, said YouTube spokesman Alex Joseph.

Still, it would be another year before Facebook and Twitter would initiate broad crackdowns against QAnon, waiting until this past summer to close or limit the reach of more than 20,000 QAnon-connected accounts and pages after two years of QAnon-fueled threats of violence and numerous real-world crimes. By then, FBI officials, in an intelligence briefing, had warned that QAnon was becoming a potential domestic terrorism threat, and the U.S. Military Academy’s Combating Terrorism Center had warned that “QAnon represents a public security threat with the potential in the future to become a more impactful domestic terror threat.”