The Church Of Q
I think there’s been some question about exactly how QAnon would evolve post-Trump. The online conspiracy theory cult, formerly directed by an anonymous user named Q, who would post cryptic messages called “Q drops,” is no longer a major presence on mainstream online internet communities. There was a hope that once it had been moderated out of existence on major social platforms like Facebook and Twitter that its spread in the US would slow down. It, unfortunately, seems like it was all too little, too late.
While the formal structure of the Q movement does actually seem to be breaking down — there hasn’t been a new Q drop in six months — QAnon ideology is evolving beyond the need for them.
The LA Times published a piece last week about what they’re calling “Woo-Anon,” or a QAnon-flavored wellness industry. This is not unlike the rise of the Instagram-friendly Q movement last year, dubbed “pastel QAnon”.
The LA Times piece tells the story of Laura Schwartz, a yoga instructor, who has seen other members of the yoga community become fully radicalized by QAnon conspiracy theories over the last year. This makes sense! The pandemic has been a huge gift to the QAnon movement, with its false promises of secret conspiracies that explain away the chaos of our current terrifying reality. And I’d imagine that members of new age wellness communities would be particularly susceptible to the magical thinking required to believe that the Clinton family is trafficking children in underground tunnels.
But it’s not just America’s yogis that are radicalizing into QAnon 2.0. A video from Right Wing Watch over the weekend shows Greg Locke, an evangelical pastor who has spent the pandemic spreading misinformation, using textbook Q rhetoric in a sermon.
To understand how this can happen and why it’s useful to still even think of this as belonging to the QAnon umbrella, it’s worth pointing out that QAnon, like all political movements born of the internet, is a meme. And this is not meant to discredit online political movements, by the way. I don’t think they’re any less powerful or meaningful than traditional ones — as we saw on January 6 — but viewing these movements as memes does explain their unpredictability and malleability.
The example I always go to is the Ice Bucket Challenge. Not many remember that it actually started as a completely separate meme called “neknominate” or “neck and nominate”. Lads from the UK, New Zealand, and Australia started using Facebook’s then new video feature to challenge their friends to drink an entire beer on camera. The “nominations” got more and more elaborate and several people actually died. But the viral machinery behind the meme — using Facebook videos to challenge each other to do different activities — was then, a few months later, used by Pat Quinn and Pete Frates to challenge people to dump ice water on each other to raise awareness for ALS. The Ice Bucket Challenge even kept neknominate’s original rule, that users had 24 hours to respond or they would forfeit. After the initial frenzy around the Ice Bucket Challenge, there have been attempts to revive it, but there are also now a near-infinite amount of similar “challenges” on platforms like TikTok that you can go do whenever you like.
This is not unlike where we are with QAnon right now. It started as a conspiracy theory called PizzaGate, it then evolved into something resembling an elaborate ARG played by 4chan and 8chan users, then, thanks to Facebook Groups, was centralized and absorbed every other batshit crazy thing on the internet and then crystalized into a full-on digital cult, accessed remotely by hundreds of thousands of Americans during the pandemic. Now that it’s been banned from places like Facebook, it’s starting to diverge into splintering movements. It might blend with Christian fundamentalism, new age wellness, or, even local politics.
This is the unfortunate truth for platforms like Facebook. They guide culture now. And moderation is not just a matter of scale, but of time, as well. If you let a viral idea spread long enough, it will stick and, though you may remove it literally from the system, you will not be able to remove it from the zeitgeist. PizzaGate first appeared in 2016. Twitter did not ban QAnon content until July 2020 and Facebook, not until August 2020. And because of those companies’ inaction, it’s part of American society now and it’s going to take a really long time to get rid of it.
Alright, Let’s Talk About The “No Such Thing As A Coincidence” Guy
This is William Knight. He’s a TikToker who has gone viral a few times over the last few months, though a recent video of his has really broken through recently. It was shared by Twitter user @sab_weenuh and it’s honestly unreal. You can watch it here.
Knight’s videos are part of a larger trend on TikTok, where users are trying to harness the platform to alter reality. Earlier this year, a bunch of TikTok users got really into “shifting,” which is basically just trying to lucid dream your way into another dimension where you’re a student at Hogwarts or whatever.
Knight is MUCH more serious than most TikTok users. He made a video responding to the viral Twitter clip that’s going around, which actually left me with more questons?
But he is using his new cross-platform popularity to promote an app called Grand Rising. It’s basically like a new age-y daily affirmations thing. According to its App Store page, “With Grand Rising we’ve created hundreds of specialized statements and questions that are much easier to accept and resonate with. These affirmations include your name, facts, statistics, questions and more. We have also included a guide on the type of affirmations and most importantly how you can create your own!” I tried to reach out to their support email, I’ll let you know if I hear anything back.
Here’s one more weird thing about Knight. His videos have become something of a fixture on Ethan Klein’s H3 Podcast. On a recent episode, Klein came across an Instagram video from 2016 of Knight with Klein’s long-time frenemy and fellow YouTuber Trisha Paytas and Courtney Stodden. Knight then made a video reacting to Klein’s podcast segment, writing, what else, “there’s no such thing as a coincidence.”
There’s A 6-Foot Elon Musk Statue In NYC
Public.com, a social platform for stock trading, has erected a life-sized and extremely cringe bronze statue of Elon Musk at the base of the stairs of New York City’s High Line. Even stranger, Public.com thought this was cool enough to tweet about. They’re also doing a deal where they’re giving away “100 mini Elon statues”. This is all to celebrate Musk’s 50th birthday today.
Obviously, lots of folks on Twitter have thoughts about this. Here are my favorite replies, which you can see if you click here:
“he looks like chuck yeager having a stroke”
“It's Elon watching another one of his rockets explode on the launch pad”
“I'm gonna piss on it.”
“interesting choice to make him look like a bloated demon”
(There’s actually a lot of people threatening to piss on the bronze Elon statue.)
Anyways, this is weird and actually reminded me that one of few good parts of the pandemic was that it severely reduced the amount of brands doing weird awful stunts irl to get press coverage.
A Good Tweet
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Follow Friday is a very good podcast about who you should follow online. I was on it as a guest in February, which required me to earnest and nice in public, and that was weird.
Every week, a guest tells Eric Johnson about four people they follow online, and they talk about why everyone else should follow them, too. Some other cool people who have been on the show include New York Times columnist Kevin Roose, Washington Post humorist Alexandra Petri, and the hosts of Slate's internet culture podcast ICYMI, Rachelle Hampton and Madison Malone Kircher.
You should follow or subscribe to Follow Friday in your podcast app — here's a link to a bunch of places to do that. And you can find all the past episodes, plus links and transcripts, at FollowFridayPodcast.com.
Relaxing Sheep Content
If you’re looking for more details about this extremely soothing arial footage of a sheep herd — and I mean, why wouldn’t you want more of that — the video was shot by Lior Patel, whose Instagram can be found here. And I am very happy to say that there is a lot more drone photography to check out over there.
Christopher Meloni Sees Your Tweets
Actor Christopher Meloni received a framed tweet for Father’s Day this year that reads, “I saw Chris Meloni, one of the toughest tough guys on television, failing to control two toddlers at a brunch at Columbus Circle circa 2007,” which was posted, impressively, only about a week ago by New York Magazine TV critic Matt Zoller Seitz.
Zoller Seitz then shared a screenshot of Meloni’s Instagram picture of Zoller Seitz’s tweet, framed. It all got very meta.
My friend Luke actually printed out a dumb tweet of mine several years ago and turned it into a poster. I asked him if I could take a picture of him holding it and then, without telling him, turning that picture into a shirt. I don’t believe he’s ever worn the shirt, though. Sad!
2020 Was A Massive Year For Digital Assets
OK, so this comes from Andreessen Horowitz’s weird new “tech optimism”-driven editorial publication, Future, but I thought this was pretty interesting. They’ve published a guide to what they’re called “internet-native economies,” which include things like cryptocurrencies, non-fungible tokens (NFTs), but also loot boxes, Fortnite skins, and other forms of digital assets. Check out this wild stat from the piece:
“In 2020 alone, consumers spent approximately $54B USD on in-game purchases for virtual goods like livestock in FarmVille, skins in Fortnite, and extra lives in Candy Crush. But this is just the beginning of what’s possible,” the piece reads.
Explained another way, according to Simon Taylor, the founder of 11:FS, a digital financing startup, who shared the Future piece recently, “People now spend more on emotes and skins for video games than the movie industry made in 2019.”
I’ve had a lot of conversations with folks in the last few months about the financial world colliding with the unpredictable kaleidoscope of internet culture and a lot of people seem to understand crypto speculation and meme stocks, but I’d say these “virtual goods” are a really important part of this too. This shift towards valuing intangible online goods because they carry some kind of performative online clout isn’t new, my buddy Brian Feldman wrote about it back in 2018, but I think after a year of the pandemic, we are now firmly on the other side of this culture shift. “Internet-native” valuables are real and they matter and there’s a lot of money to be made here.
Documenting A New Irish Accent On TikTok
This is a crazy story. Angie Yen, who is now on TikTok as @angie.mcyen lol, is using the short-form video platform to document her new “Irish accent”. 60 Minutes Australia recently did a feature on Yen. The 28-year-old from Brisbane, Australia, woke up nine days after a tonsil surgery and discovered her Australian accent now sounds very Irish. Also, she can sing really well now. 60 Minutes had a speech pathologist look at Yen’s story and confirmed it was a real case of “Foreign Accent Syndrome,” which can happen, but is extremely rare. Yen’s videos are wild and definitely worth checking out her account as she comes to terms with her new voice.
A Raccoon, Livetweeted
Anyone else feel like we haven’t had a good raccoon-themed internet thing in a while? The raccoon fell through the roof and was guarding a bunch of baby raccoons. From what I can tell from user @haley_iliff’s tweets, the raccoons were in her bedroom for a while. If you click through to @haley_iliff’s main feed you’ll find a video of the raccoons finally being evacuated from her building. Honestly, I would have just let them have the room!
Some Stray Links
P.S. here’s a good tweet about bears.
***Any typos in this email are on purpose actually***