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The Premier Free Speech Platform: Hunting down an Interview on Parler and 8kun

by Joshua Bowen

[originally posted December 2020]


Upon creating your Parler account, a list of fellow users you might have some interest in following appear on screen: American Greatness, PragerU (which, despite the U following the name of conservative talk show host Denis Prager, is not a university), Tucker Carlson. Ya know, just some boilerplate social media influencers.

Parler is a sort of the Bizarro version of Facebook and Twitter, and a refuge for those “shadow banned” (accounts suspended or deactivated for disruptive behavior) on more mainstream platforms. Parler advertises itself as the “premier free speech platform”, which has certainly appealed to conservatives that feel disenfranchised by perceived censorship. In addition to the right pundits now freed from the shackles of political correctness, Parler has also attracted conspiracy theorists, not the least of which, believers of Qanon.

For those in an enviable enough position of not knowing much about Qanon, allow me to enlighten (burden) you with a few snippets of info. Like any belief system, the particulars vary from adherent to adherent, but at its heart Qanon is a far right conspiracy which claims elites within the political, financial, and corporate world are all working on behalf of the deep state (a sort of shadow government that within the Qanon narrative clandestinely runs the planet) to undermine American democracy, instrument secret networks of child-trafficking, and just be exaggeratedly, mustache-twirlingly evil. What’s so special about Qanon, however, is its belief that Donald Trump is a sort of messianic figure—for some adherents, literally a messiah—who, with the help of the military, will defeat the deep state, revive American democracy, and—ironically—free the children abducted by its agents.

I created my Parler account and followed several Q-related profiles (which I’m sure won’t come back to haunt me) with the express purpose of finding anons willing to talk about where they stand in the still contentious transition of power from Donald Trump to president elect Joe Biden. Q themself, the poster claiming to be a covert military operative who has provided coded messages to followers since 2017, actually seemed to implicitly refer to Trump’s defeat in their last post, and has remained dark for several weeks since, although it’s not been uncommon for Q to remain silent for even a month at a time.

Even if this is Qanon’s death knell, many of its proponents don’t seem to have heard, as I scroll through Parler posts featuring mostly memes related to Biden’s steal of the election, made by accounts like “The Storm” (a reference to a statement made by president Trump that was co-opted by Qanon) with 130,000 followers. Because Parler requires you to verify who you are with some piece of identification in order to directly message other accounts, and I’m a little reticent to expose all that information about myself, I have to go through the laborious process of leaving requests for an interview on the most recent posts.

I wait several days, and my patience is rewarded with an accommodating, if difficult to understand response from a user who says they voted for Trump because he believed in capitalism, and that they hoped this helped me. Not really, but any further attempts to reach Qanon followers on Parler didn’t seem like they were going to bear any fruit..

So, against my better judgement, I went to the source; 8kun is the next iteration of 8chan (the original platform Q began posting on), and therefore the place to find Qanons willing to speak about their continued support for the president and belief in the cause. I find a vast array of message boards, and to my surprise, many seemingly based outside the U.S.: Q research Scotland, Q research Mexico, Q research Brazil. I’m not quite sure if these arms of the Qanon have the same Trump fixation. On a german message board, most of the posts seem to be Coronavirus conspiracies and polemic against socialism, though there are a number of supportive comments about the American president and his campaign to “stop the steal”.

I’m scrolling through one of the general research pages, and though I had been preparing myself for the maelstrom of Pepe memes and links to dubious websites, I’m kind of surprised how much pornography users have posted that day; I guess I assumed those charged with taking down the deep state would have a bit more professionalism. I ask some users if they’re willing to talk about the election, and I’m greeted with suspicion and shitposting. Further enquiries receive kurt, sarcastic replies, and I can’t imagine anyone on that board is interested in talking to a brainwashed college student. In any case, the petitions beseeching the president to declare marshall law and the continued activity of these boards tell me all I needed to know. Qanon is by no means dead.

But it will change. Qanon is a conspiracy theory that has Donald Trump central to its narrative now, though like PizzaGate (its forebear), can live on without him. Anons will find something new to latch onto. The most fascinating thing about conspiracy theories, after all, is their infinite plasticity. The question is, however, will we even hear about whatever the next iteration of Qanon is without a focus on Donald Trump? I don’t think mainstream media rubes like us would have a foothold into that sort of world without him. There’s at least a hope then, that the flood from Parler to 8kun, from Fox viewer to Qanon poster will abate.

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