How to monetise a hoax: Lessons from QAnon

For all the damage the Hampstead SRA hoax has done to the parents, children, teachers, social workers, clergy, and businesses it targeted, we should probably be grateful that it was not engineered by people fluent in the true money-making potential of internet hoaxes.

While the combination of YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, and WordPress proved sufficient to push the videos of RD’s children into the millions of views, and Change.org plus an aggressive email campaign kept the money flowing to a few for a while, we think it’s fair to say the hoax was never able to generate nearly as much money as its creators initially envisioned.

Granted, people like Angela Power-Disney have continued to flog the very dead horse in vain hope that it will run one last race, but even Belinda McKenzie conceded in one of her emails to Charlotte Alton Ward that “everything that has happened since [the church demonstrations] has happened because certain parties took intemperate unilateral action without thinking things through properly. So we’ve now lost that case & battle effectively”.

In other words, show’s over, time to move on to the next conspiritainment production.

As it turns out, the fact that this hoax was engineered by older ladies, potheads, and news anchor LARPers whose idea of advanced tech skills was using multiple hashtags and harvesting email addresses from Change.org meant that the hoax remained much smaller than originally intended. Looking across the Pond, we can see how it might have been much, much worse.

How QAnon turned Trumpian fan fiction into cash

As we’ve looked more closely at coverage of the QAnon phenomenon, it has become clear just how many cash-harvesting opportunities were left on the table by the Hoaxtead mob.

In another article by NBC News reporters Brandy Zadrozny and Ben Collins (whose exposé of pedogate 2.0 we discussed yesterday) we were struck by the ability of a small group of “Q” promoters (one of whom might actually be the elusive “Q”, though that’s not confirmed) to successfully and efficiently monetise what amounts to Donald Trump fan fiction.

How to monetise a hoax: Six simple rules

1. Keep it small

Rather than relying on an unwieldy, obstreperous, and ultimately self-destructing group of “30+ professionals” as described by Angela, the QAnon promoters kept their operation lean and mean.

Three people seem to have been responsible for moving “Q’s” cryptic commentary from obscurity to viral conspiranoid phenomenon:

In November 2017, a small-time YouTube video creator and two moderators of the 4chan website, one of the most extreme message boards on the internet, banded together and plucked out of obscurity an anonymous and cryptic post from the many conspiracy theories that populated the website’s message board.

Over the next several months, they would create videos, a Reddit community, a business and an entire mythology based off the 4chan posts of “Q,” the pseudonym of a person claiming to be a high-ranking military officer. The theory they espoused would become Qanon, and it would eventually make its way from those message boards to national media stories and the rallies of President Donald Trump.

It’s difficult to summarise QAnon in any way that makes sense to non-conspiracy believers. At its core, it is a form of “internet prophecy cult“, with the mysterious “Q” delivering cryptic messages to eagerly awaiting followers, who interpret them to mean that Donald Trump is actually working alongside special counsel Robert Mueller in a secret battle against a massive, powerful paedophile ring which includes celebrities and “political elites”.

With its use of quasi-religious slogans like “The Storm is Coming” and “We Are the Storm”, QAnon appeals to those on the religious right who believe that the Book of Revelation is a literal prediction of the end of days. And QAnon’s underlying mythos helps Trump’s supporters explain away any gaffes their hero might make: it’s all part of the act, you see.

There are now dozens of commentators who dissect “Q” posts — on message boards, in YouTube videos and on their personal pages — but the theory was first championed by a handful of people who worked together to stir discussion of the “Q” posts, eventually pushing the theory on to bigger platforms and gaining followers — a strategy that proved to be the key to Qanon’s spread and the originators’ financial gain.

2. Build a following

Legend has it that when asked by a reporter why he robbed banks, illegal withdrawals specialist Willie Sutton answered, “Because that’s where the money is”. While there’s now reason to believe that the reporter invented the quote, the principle seems sound. And in the case of QAnon, if you want to give your loony conspiracy theory real internet traction, you need to go where the loony conspiracy theorists are.

In this case, that would be a combination of 4chan (or its younger sibling 8chan) and YouTube.

According to Zadrozny and Collins, in November 2017 two moderators of the 4chan board where “Q” posted predictions reached out to a “small-time YouTube star” with the goal of taking the message to a wider audience. The two mods, Pamphlet Anon (real name: Coleman Rogers)  and BaruchtheScribe (real name: Paul Furber), along with Tracy “Beanz” Diaz, banded together with one goal in mind: to create a following.

On Nov. 3, 2017, just six days after the first 4chan post from “Q,” Diaz posted a video entitled “/POL/- Q Clearance Anon – Is it #happening???” in which she introduced the conspiracy theory to her audience.

“I do not typically do videos like this,” she said, but citing Q’s “very specific and kind of eerie” posts, Diaz explained that she would be covering the 4chan posts, “just in case this stuff turns out to be legit because honestly it kind of seems legit.”

This video took off, receiving 250,000 views. Diaz, who emerged from bankruptcy in 2009, has stated that she now makes a living from people who donate to her “research” via a PayPal account on her YouTube channel.

3. Broaden your reach

While the core consumers of “Q’s” message were initially confined to the “chans” and YouTube, those promoting it knew they needed to reach out to “normies”, people who don’t self-identify as conspiracy theorists.

In a post on Steemit, Diaz states that she recommended a move to the more user-friendly Reddit. From Reddit, the hoax spread to Facebook, where it could be shared via dozens of public and private groups by an older, less tech-savvy audience. Many of these “new adopters” were intrigued enough to circle back to 8chan, where “Q’s” posts had been relocated following a post claiming the original board had been “infiltrated”.

(Hint: claims that you have been “infiltrated” will lend your conspiracy theory that certain frisson of danger; remember, paranoia is essential to successful conspiracy promotion.)

By December 2017, just weeks after it began, QAnon had broken through to “mainstream” conspiracy culture, with Rogers and Furber making appearances on Alex Jones’ InfoWars.

As the hoax expanded, it moved into other online spaces, such as the gamer messaging app, Discord. where rooms are devoted to decoding and interpreting “Q’s” “crumbs”.

4. Profit from adversity

In March, their Reddit board, which boasted some 20,000 subscribers, was shut down by Reddit for “encouraging or inciting violence and posting personal and confidential information,” and the moderators — Diaz and the rest — were banned from the site. Furber had already been booted from the site for allegedly threatening to reveal the personal details of another user, and was pushed out of the private Q discussion groups he had helped form.

Kicked off Reddit, Furber and his wife, Christina Urso, created an “all QAnon, all the time” live-stream channel on YouTube, devoted to 24-hour-a-day, 7-days-a-week broadcasting of “Q’s” message.

Needless to say, the channel, which broadcasts to 46,000 subscribers, 2,400 of whom were tuned in when we looked, is liberally larded with donation opportunities: Patriots Soapbox 2018-08-30

5. Sell all the things

The marketing opportunity represented by QAnon has spread from monetising videos to hawking more than 1,000 “Q”-related products: t-shirts, mugs, hats, books, bumper stickers, and jewellery are all available on Amazon.com, although the company did remove its “Amazon’s Choice” label from QAnon merchandise when queried about it by NBC News.

Meanwhile QDrops, an app which notified users about new posts from “Q,” was developed by another husband/wife team, Richard and Adalita Brown from North Carolina.

Released on Apple iTunes, QDrops quickly reached #10 of all paid iOS apps, and held the #1 position in the Entertainment section; after this, it remained in the top 200 of paid iOS apps, until NBC News asked Apple for comment on its decision to sell the app. At that point the app was removed from iTunes. However, the Android version remains on the Google Play Store.

6. Don’t get careless

In an interesting twist, it seems that the QAnon hoax may be on the brink of collapse under its own weight. Hoaxtead followers are well aware of the acute paranoia that rules within the conspiracy community, and eats away at the foundations of group cohesion like an infestation of demented termites.

Sure enough, report Zadrozny and Collins, some of the key QAnon groups are showing the tell-tale signs…and possibly outing the Great and Mysterious “Q” in the process:

As Qanon picked up steam, growing skepticism over the motives of Diaz, Rogers, and the other early Qanon supporters led some in the internet’s conspiracy circles to turn their paranoia on the group.

Recently, some Qanon followers have accused Diaz and Rogers of profiting from the movement by soliciting donations from their followers. Other pro-Trump online groups have questioned the roles that Diaz and Rogers have played in promoting Q, pointing to a series of slip-ups that they say show Rogers and Diaz may have been involved in the theory from the start.

While both Diaz and Rogers have denied involvement, sceptics have pointed to a video which seems to show Rogers logging into “Q’s” 8chan account.

In another livestreamed video, Rogers begins to analyze a supposed “Q” post on his livestream program when his co-host points out that the post in question doesn’t actually appear on Q’s feed and was authored anonymously. Rogers’ explanation — that Q must have forgotten to sign in before posting — was criticized as extremely unlikely by people familiar with the message boards, as it would require knowledge of the posting to pick it out among hundreds of other anonymous ones.

Schisms have grown between QAnon’s promoters and other pro-Trump groups: Reddit’s 640,000 member r/The Donald now auto-deletes any posts mentioning QAnon. However, QAnon believers continue their passionate sharing and decoding of “Q’s” messages, and it’s unlikely that the hoax will die down any time soon.

And while it lives, its original trio of promoters, as well as others seeking to make a few dollars on QAnon’s popularity, will continue to find ways to sell both the hoax and its spin-off products.

We think it’s fair to say that had the organisers of the Hampstead SRA hoax been this adept at “growing” and maintaining its audience, as well as attracting new entrepreneurs eager to profit from the pain inflicted on others, we’d be looking at a very different picture today. For that, we are profoundly thankful.

money-drain-website

69 thoughts on “How to monetise a hoax: Lessons from QAnon

  1. Superb ‘biog’ and analysis of the Q Anon phenomenon, EC.

    Good to see that the people responsible for spreading it have been called to account. And isn’t it kinda worrying that even after it’s been exposed as a money-spinning hoax, there are still thousands of numbskulls queuing up to lap it up.

    This is pretty much what happened with Pizzagate too, I recall (4Chan, you have much to answer for). I can see parallels with Hampstead too, where it’s long been proven beyond all doubt that it’s a hoax yet still there are scores of people who can’t let it go (even after the children have been spotted safe and well).

    I’m not surprised to see Amazon getting sucked into it, btw. Lest we forget that they also sell Ella’s fake polygraph test “movie” and Terri Stewart’s provably disingnuous “books”.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. By the way, whilst digging those out, I stumbled upon this, which would have had some relevance to yesterday’s post. It relates to our old mate Nathaniel ‘Mortlock’ Harris, another one who vowed to get this blog shut down by Tuesday week…three years ago:

    Liked by 3 people

  3. Thanks. I think that for the vast majority of QAnon supporters, the story is a lovely pipe dream in which all the people they hate are about to be punished; the person they voted for is about to be not only exonerated, but glorified; and the “storm” will cleanse the world of all the unbelievers. It is, in essence, an internet prophecy cult.

    Liked by 3 people

  4. LOL yes…

    We talked about Voodoo Doughnut and Sweet Jesus ice cream the other day…
    ( https://hoaxteadresearch.wordpress.com/2018/08/30/was-the-hampstead-sra-hoax-the-thin-edge-of-a-wedge/ ) It’s hardly surprising Angela would jump on that bandwagon, as it features her favourite activity: defaming people she doesn’t know over allegations which aren’t true using clues from people who are clueless. Right up her street, I’d say.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. “Any further thoughts, please let me know”

    Gawd, where to start…?

    1. There’s no admission by Britannia that they didn’t have court papers.
    2. They did have court papers anyway, Neelu. They waved them in your flipping face but you refused to take them. You later did take them and were parading round the street with them in your hand. Watch your own sodding videos – they prove you’re lying!
    3. How did the Britannia manage to send you a letter if they’ve “ceased trading”?
    4. The auction is not secret. It’s been advertised on RightMove and is open to all. You posted the link yourself, remember?
    5. They absolutely DO explain why you can’t obtain your belongings from the property. It’s because they’re not bloody there! And they’re offering you a the opportunity to make an appointment to collect them from the secure storage place. Read your own letter!
    6. This has nothing whatsoever to do with Parliament or baby-trafficking. It’s to do with you not paying your mortgage.
    7. The house is not yours any more.

    You’re welcome,

    PS: LMAO @ “autograph” 😄

    Liked by 4 people

  6. All those Commandments and the good reverend still doesn’t know how to spell ‘shall’?

    Like

  7. From Devine’s page – a nice little win to start the day 🙂
    ………………………………………………………………………………………………..

    ………………………………………………………………………………………………..

    Liked by 2 people

  8. I wonder if she and her ‘friends’ will attend the auction! I know it’s sad but I think it would be nice to see them being carted off by the cops! Potential buyers should be warned that the property comes with it’s very own stalker!

    Liked by 2 people

  9. But she does raise a very good question – is there any there there? That question has been preying on my mind for years and I for one would like it cleared up once and for all.

    Liked by 2 people

  10. Ah, so that’s where presidents and prime ministers come from. And here I was, thinking they’re grown in vats.

    Liked by 2 people

  11. And in complete contrast, I have only just found this ‘Idge Of Reason’ channel, with some extraordinary and intelligent insights. Someone who has actual experience of safeguarding children educating people on themes being promoted that are undermining efforts to improve childrens’ protection from predators. I’ve watched a few now and the comments underneath this one may, I think be of interest to some people here:

    Thanks to Flo Destroyer group, for alerting me to this very strong woman, who I will now be following….. Like Jessica Easton, ‘#NoMoreCSEFilms’, she has unique and important information and insights. Both have also been horribly harrassed……………. It really does seem that there are paedophile protectors weaving new policies and abusing their influence if they are in positions of power and influence or know someone who does. Those exposing these nefarious goings on, face an onslaught still not adequately recognised or addressed……. I suspect, strongly that we really could have been targeted by the same types.

    It may have been coincidence, but my suspicions were raised when David Scott attacked this blog and me on UK Column, when I had begun ‘The Real Fresh Start Foundation’ blog……..but he made a point of showing Twitter feeds, both contained Jessica being retweeted by me………….. ‘Was he pointing to his rabid followers and attack dogs, to go after her, again ?’ I wondered.

    Like

  12. As usual, the ship has well and truly sailed long before APD tried to clamber on board. The Donut people are already saying they were mildly interrupted with some lunatic phone calls for about a week and now it’s all faded away.
    Besides, they risk incurring the ire of every US cop once they start interfering in Donut shops.

    Liked by 1 person

  13. Keep it up Neelu.
    By the time you are finished, you will have zilch equity left in that property.
    Clue: in cases like this where your possessions are put into storage by a third party you will be paying top dollar for removalists and storage that will eventually far outstrip any value in them.
    If it’s your entire household goods with all the junk we accumulate over the years you may well find one month’s storage rental exceeds their value.
    Knowing you. .you will prevaricate for months if not years and find just as someone I know recently in a similar case (where their business went into administration) they were billed $25K out of the equity they had in their business for goods in storage they couldn’t even give but insultingly, got further billed for delivery them to a dump.

    Liked by 2 people

  14. Some there is here, but there must be some there left there. My there is here so their there is there.

    I hope that clears everything up.

    Liked by 1 person

  15. Seriously, if any one who claims to be a friend of Neelu is reading this, get her to engage a proper lawyer (not a pretend one) NOW! She might still have enough money to buy somewhere to live if she does it now. If she carries on as she is she literally won’t have a pot to do the proverbial in.

    Liked by 1 person

  16. No genuine advocate for children or child abuse survivors would allow Malcom Konrad Ogilvy to engage with them, at all, in anyway, shape or form. He has a proven track record of abusing women and attacking genuine survivors of abuse. So his obvious close connection with a director of Fresh Start Foundation: Catriona Selvester; aka Cat Scot, WildCat Scot, Cat Sidh, spidercatwebblog etc and all the vile lies she has posted plus their obvious connections to hoax promoters is just too well known, for them to continue to harm as they intend to.

    Liked by 1 person

  17. Some of Neelu’s friends have tried to give her sensible advice on this and every time Neelu has reacted by calling them baby traffickers and blocking them.

    Liked by 1 person

  18. Yes, Malky’s cousin Catriona Selvester is an internet troll and homophobic hate preacher who has posted people’s (alleged) names, attacked their families, threatened to post their addresses and phone numbers and falsely accused every celebrity you can think of of child rape…and they made her a bloody director!!!

    Liked by 1 person

  19. Melanie Shaw went to prison for arson in an incident where parents & children could have died in a fire. She deserves no sympathy.
    Whatever her current problems are they are obviously connected to her mental health problems.
    While we can sympathise with people with mental health problems, unfortunately, a lot of them were not nice people whether sane or mad.
    Green is no “journalist”. A failed businessman who has discovered a new obsession and then proceeded to cause untold distress to any number of innocent victims.

    I do not believe many of these fanatics are genuine victims (the vast majority of real victims just do not act like this). They are idiots with too much free time on their hands and sadly taxpayers subsidise these creeps who contribute not a single thing to society despite their rantings about “deep state” & Rothschilds or whatever other lunacy clutters there idiot heads so they can blame anything but themselves for their miserable lives.

    I doubt they give a stuff about children. It’s a convenient hook for them to hang their weird obsessions on. In another era, they would be in the pitchfork mob baying at some innocent being lynched or cheering on as some hapless woman with a black cat was put on the fire accused of being a witch (poor old dear possibly has a cat called Whiskers who was meant to be her secretary/companion who was always drunk on Vodka and she got the blame for its misdeeds)

    Liked by 1 person

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