Sunday, October 18, 2020

QAnon: How a fringe internet phenomenon is now mainstream

This article is by

Share this article

Article Contributor(s)

Vanshita Banuana

Article Title

QAnon: How a fringe internet phenomenon is now mainstream

Publisher

Global Views 360

Publication Date

October 18, 2020

URL

QAnon supporter in a Trump Rally

QAnon supporter in a Trump Rally | Source: Tony Webster via Wikimedia

In the age of the internet, conspiracy theories come a dime a dozen. They can be shared with an unimaginably huge audience with extreme ease. Most conspiracy theories center around specific large-scale events, but sometimes they do end up centering around a person instead. This has been recently observed in a group of conspiracy theorists called ‘QAnon,’ who are essentially supporters of incumbent U.S President Donald Trump, and believe that he is on a mission to expose a global secret network of high-profile pedophiles (and also cannibals, depending on who you ask).

QAnon followers believe that Democratic party members such as Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama are a part of this group, along with Hollywood celebrities such as Oprah Winfrey and Ellen DeGeneres. It is even believed that religious leaders like Pope Francis and the Dalai Lama are also in this group.

What is QAnon?

QAnon is an umbrella term for a large set of theories and sub-theories. It is considered a ‘big tent conspiracy theory,’ which means that it is still evolving and adding more claims under its belt. The most pervasive and foundational claim is that of a global cabal of pedophiles, and that Trump’s sole purpose is to unmask them.

It all started in October 2017, an anonymous account calling themself “Q Clearance Patriot” posted the first message associated with QAnon, on a site called 4chan. Q claimed to be a high ranking intelligence officer who knew classified information about Trump’s “war” against the aforementioned global cabal. Q also claimed to predict something called “The Storm,” which refers to the time Trump finally exposes the cabal and brings its members to justice.

The event’s title, “The Storm,” was inspired by a remark made during a photo op around the same time the first post appeared on 4chan. While standing with military generals (who QAnon followers believe recruited Trump to run for President with the aim of destroying the cabal) Trump made a remark about “the calm before the storm.” QAnon followers consider this to be a message for them. There have been many predictions about when this storm will occur, as well as other predictions that later never happened, such as Republicans winning a large number of seats in the 2018 midterm elections. As is common among conspiracy theorists, they twisted the results to continue to fit their beliefs.

The person(s) behind ‘Q,’ as the original poster is known, remains unknown. After first appearing on 4chan Q’s posts bounced around on similar sites. These days the posts— known as “drops”— are posted on a site called 8kun. To date, Q’s posts total to around 5,000, and there are some apparently popular apps that collect all past and present posts in one place. They are usually cryptic and use initials or codes to refer to people, such as HRC for Hillary Rodham Clinton, and POTUS (President of the United States) for Trump. QAnon followers use many common social media platforms like Twitter and Discord to discuss the meaning of the Q Drops.

Other QAnon claims include: Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russia’s collusion with the Trump campaign was actually a cover for investigating Clinton and Obama while Trump only pretended to be involved with Russia in order to force a third-party investigation; the cabal is involved in pedophilia and child murder either because they’re satanists or being blackmailed by the CIA (take your pick)

What was President Trump’s response?

President Trump (L) with Vice President Pence | Source: History in HD via Unsplash

Trump is idolised in QAnon theory, and what he says is monitored as closely as what Q says, and similar to Q’s drops, QAnon followers see messages and codes in things ranging from what number Trump says to what tie he wears, and decode the meaning of these perceived signals.

Anyone who knows anything about Trump knows he is incapable of denouncing anyone who supports him regardless of the absurdity of, or dangers posed by their actions. When asked about QAnon, Trump stated that while he didn’t know much about QAnon, he understood that they “like me very much.” The reporter explained Trump’s role in the conspiracy as a saviour from pedophiles and cannibals, to which Trump replied, “Is that a good thing or a bad thing?” He added that he hadn’t heard about that, but was “willing” to help “save the world from problems” if he can. On top of that, whether he knows or not, he has retweeted content from QAnon supporters multiple times.

Public figures are also revealing themselves to be QAnon followers, such as Marjorie Taylor Greene, a Republican candidate in Georgia who promoted QAnon— and she’s not the only one, joining a small-town mayor who supported QAnon during a radio broadcast. She was backed by Trump, who reportedly called Greene a future star, and called QAnon followers lovers of their country. Greene supposedly has a good chance of being elected to Congress.

Why is this becoming mainstream now?

A QAnon supporting sticker in Brooklyn, United States | Source: Robby Virus via Flickr

The QAnon member base is not a small one by any means. A singular QAnon on one social media platform like Facebook can reportedly have hundreds of thousands of members. It also seems that due to increased Internet usage during pandemic related lockdowns and work-from-home, more and more people are coming to know about QAnon, thereby increasing the number of people who believe and take part in it. There is, apparently, even a recently established church based on QAnon rhetoric that holds sessions via Zoom, and works to indoctrinate people into QAnon through tools such as videos and discussions.

In terms of group dynamics, QAnon has been compared to puzzle games due to the intricacy of the plot it weaves with the help of members’ contributions. Creating a shared reality, a common phenomena among conspiracy theorists, turns a political forum into a social environment, thereby deepening a person’s connection to a conspiracy via that people that they meet in these groups and other social media interactions with QAnon followers.

Perhaps due to the activity of coming together to decode Q’s drops, QAnon followers are intensely involved in the creation of the conspiracy itself, which makes this a unique kind of conspiracy theory, despite many elements of it being those often seen in various older conspiracy theories.

QAnon followers have been making waves offline as well, with a murder and a threat of a murder being attributed to QAnon followers. The FBI considers that QAnon poses a potential threat of domestic terrorism. Photos of Republican rallies in which signs of the letter Q and posters about QAnon are visible are becoming more and more common.

Additionally, QAnon followers seem to be making a joint effort to infiltrate anti-trafficking movements, both online as well as by attending rallies. Many members of QAnon believe that the global cabal is made up of child sex-traffickers or child-eating Satanists, thus making it easy for them to use campaigns such as #SaveTheChildren to lure or recruit people into their ideology. They have also been linked to spreading misinformation about COVID-19 and Black Lives Matter on social media sites such as Twitter and Facebook.

QAnon is a conspiracy theory that combines old and new elements, and which is already causing real harm to people and social causes. What truly makes matters worse, though, is that fact that the person at the center of the QAnon conspiracy, Donald Trump, is just as unlikely to see reason as QAnon followers themselves.

Support us to bring the world closer

To keep our content accessible we don't charge anything from our readers and rely on donations to continue working. Your support is critical in keeping Global Views 360 independent and helps us to present a well-rounded world view on different international issues for you. Every contribution, however big or small, is valuable for us to keep on delivering in future as well.

Support Us

Share this article

Read More

April 13, 2021 2:10 PM

Detecting The Ultra-High Energy Cosmic Rays With Smartphones

Smartphones have become the most commonplace objects in our daily lives. The unimaginable power that we hold in our hands is unrealized by most of us and, more importantly, untapped. Its creativity often gets misused but one can only hope that it’s fascinating abilities would be utilized. For example, did you know that the millions of phones around the globe can be connected to form a particle detector? The following article covers the CRAYFIS (Cosmic RAYs Found in Smartphones) phone-based application developed by the physicists from the University of California—Daniel Whiteson, Michael Mulhearn, and their team. CRAYFIS aims to take advantage of the large network of smartphones around the world and detect the cosmic or gamma rays bursts which enter the Earth’s atmosphere almost constantly.

What Are Cosmic Rays?

Cosmic rays are high velocity subatomic particles bombarding the Earth’s upper atmosphere continuously. Cosmic ray bursts have the highest energy compared to all forms of electro-magnetic radiation. When we say ultra-high energy particles (energy more than 1018^eV), we mean two million times more energetic than the ones that can be produced by the particle colliders on Earth.  These rays are thought to be more powerful than typical supernovae and can release trillions of times more energy than the Sun. They are also highly unpredictable as they can enter Earth’s atmosphere from any direction and the bursts can last for any period of time ranging from a few thousand seconds to several minutes.

Despite many theoretical hypotheses, the sources of these ultra-high energy cosmic rays are still a mystery to us even after many decades of their discovery. These rays were initially discovered in the 1960’s by the U.S. military when they were doing background checks for gamma rays after nuclear weapon testing. Cosmologists suggest that these bursts could be the result of super massive stars collapsing - leading to hypernova; or can be retraced to collisions of black holes with other black holes or neutron stars.

How Do We Detect Them?

When the high-energy particles collide with the Earth’s atmosphere, the air and the gas molecules cause them to break apart and create massive showers of relatively low-energy particles. Aurora borealis i.e., the Northern and the Southern lights are the lights that are emitted when these cosmic rays interact with the Earth’s magnetic field. Currently, these particles are hitting the Earth at a rate of about one per square meter per second. The showers get scattered to a radius of one or two kilometers consisting mostly of high-energy photons, electrons, positrons and muons. But the fact that these particles can hit the Earth anytime and anywhere is where the problem arises. Since the Earth has a massive area, it is not possible to place a detector everywhere and catch them at the exact moment.

Energetic charged particles known as cosmic rays hit our atmosphere, where they collide with air molecules to produce a shower of secondary particle | Source: CERN

Detecting such a shower requires a very big telescope, which logically means a network of individual particle detectors distributed over a mile or two-wide radius and connected to each other. The Pierre Auger Observatory in South America is the only such arrangement where 1,600 particle detectors have been scattered on 3,000 square kilometers of land. But the construction cost of the same was about $100 million. Yet, only a few cosmic ray particles could be detected using this arrangement. How do we spread this network around the Earth?

In addition to being cost-effective, such a setup must also be feasible. The Earth’s surface cannot possibly be dotted with particle detectors which cost huge fortunes. This is where smartphones come into the picture.

Detecting The Particles Using Smartphones

Smartphones are the most appropriate devices required to solve the problem. They have planet wide coverage, are affordable by most people and are being actively used by more than 1.5 billion users around the planet. Individually, these devices are low and inefficient; but a considerably dense network of such devices can give us a chance to detect cosmic ray showers belonging to the highest energy range.

Previous research has shown that smartphones have the capability of detecting ionizing radiation. The camera is the most sensitive part of the smartphone and is just the device required to meet our expectations. A CMOS (Complementary Metal Oxide Semiconductor) device is present in the camera- in which silicon photodiode pixels produce electron-hole pairs when struck by visible photons (when photons are detected by the CMOS device, it leaves traces of weakly activated pixels). The incoming rays are also laced with other noises and interference from the surroundings.  Although these devices are made to detect visible light, they still have the capability of detecting higher-energy photons and also low-ionizing particles such as the muons.

A screenshot from the app which shows the exposure time, the events- the number of particles recorded and other properties

To avoid normal light, the CRAYFIS application is to be run during nighttime with the camera facing down. As the phone processor runs the application it collects data from its surroundings using a camera as its detector element. The megapixel images (i.e., the incoming particles) are scanned at a speed of 5 to 15 frames per second, depending on the frame-processing speed of the device. Scientists expect that signals from the cosmic rays would occur rarely, i.e., around one in 500 frames. Also, there is the job of removing background data. An algorithm was created to tune the incoming particle shower by setting a threshold frequency at around 0.1 frames per second. Frames containing pixels above the threshold are stored and passed to the second stage which examines the stored frames, saving only the pixels above a second, lower threshold.

The CRAYFIS app is designed to run when the phone is not being used and when it is connected to a power source. The actual performance would be widely affected by the geometry of the smartphone’s camera and the conditions in which the data is being collected. Further, once the application is installed and is in the operating mode, no participation is required from the user, which is required to achieve wide-scale participation. When a Wifi connection is available the collected data would be uploaded to the central server so that it could be interpreted.

There is much complicated math used to trace back the information collected from the application. The most important parameters for the app are the local density of incoming particles, the detection area of the phone and the particle identification efficiency. These parameters are used to find the mean number of candidates (photons or muons) being detected. Further, the probability that a phone will detect no candidates or the probability that a phone will detect one or more candidates is given by Poisson distribution. The density of the shower is directly proportional to the incident particle energy with a distribution in x and y sensitive to the direction in which the particle came from. An Unbinned Likelihood (it is the probability of obtaining a certain data- in this case the distribution of the cosmic rays including their energy and direction, the obtained data is arranged into bins which are very, very small) analysis is used to determine the incident particle energy and direction. To eliminate background interference, a benchmark requirement has been set that at least 5 phones must detect and register a hit to be considered as a candidate.

It is impossible to express just how mind-blowing this innovation is. As the days pass, Science and Technology around us keep on surprising us and challenge us to rack our brains for more and more unique ways to deal with complex problems. The CRAYFIS app is simply beautiful and it would be a dream-come-true to the scientists if the project works out and we are able to detect these high energy, super intimidating cosmic rays with smartphones from our backyard.

Further Reading

The paper by Daniel Whiteson and team can be found here.

An exciting book “We Have No Idea” by Daniel Whiteson and cartoonist Jorge Cham can be found here.

The CRAYFIS app can be found here.

Read More