THE CONSTRUCTION OF ALTERNATIVE FACTS: DARK PARTICIPATION AND KNOWLEDGE PRODUCTION IN THE QANON CONSPIRACY
Keywords:Participatory culture, conspiracy theories, science studies, conservative media studies, agnotology
QAnon is a right-wing conspiracy theory based on a series of posts (“Drops”) made to the imageboard 8chan by “Q”, an anonymous poster who claims to be a Trump administration insider and encourages their followers (“Bakers”) to conduct research to interpret and find hidden truths (“Bread”) behind current events. In this paper, we argue that QAnon Bakers adopt a “scientistic self” by producing and maintaining specific facts and theories that enable the conspiracy’s social and political cohesion over time. Rather than dismissing Q researchers’ conclusions out of hand, we adopt science studies’ symmetry principle to consider the tools and techniques of Baking. We argue that the institutional character of Baking distinguishes QAnon from other online conspiracy communities, which primarily rely on anecdotal evidence or sow doubt in scientific consensuses. Q, by contrast, research is intended to produce certainty through the systematic construction of alternative facts. In making this argument, we share and build upon other scholars’ critiques of participatory media. Indeed, we conclude that it is precisely the participatory affordances of the social web that have made QAnon so potent.