A popular Reddit board dedicated to promoting and discussing the QAnon conspiracy theory was banned from Reddit on Wednesday for “repeated violations of the terms of our content policy,” Reddit said in a statement.
As of Wednesday, visitors to the r/greatawakening subreddit were instead greeted with a message explaining the ban. A Reddit spokeswoman said that “posting content that incites violence, disseminates personal information, or harasses will get users and communities banned from Reddit.”
According to an archived version of the board, visible via the Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine, r/greatawakening had more than 70,000 subscribers before the ban.
The r/greatawakening subreddit became the main Reddit board dedicated to QAnon believers after the site banned its predecessor, r/CBTS_stream (CBTS stands for “calm before the storm”), in March for “inciting violence.” There are a few smaller Reddit boards dedicated to the conspiracy theory, but none on Reddit has been quite as central as r/greatawakening. Some of those smaller boards, like r/The_GreatAwakening, were also banned as of Wednesday.
Subreddits are run by volunteer moderators who are responsible for enforcing Reddit’s sitewide rules, in addition to the subreddit’s own specific policies. In general, Reddit tends to ban subreddits when there are repeated rule violations and a breakdown in enforcement from those moderators. Over the past several years, Reddit has made a series of rule changes banning harassment and other objectionable behavior, leading to a slow-burning series of bans targeting some of the platform’s most notorious boards.
QAnon, whose supporters also call it “The Storm” or “Great Awakening,” is a wide-ranging conspiracy theory that burst into greater visibility this summer, after supporters at a Trump rally wearing Q shirts prompted a rush of national media coverage about it. The conspiracy theory has its roots in a cryptic statement from President Trump in October 2017, referring to “calm before the storm.” But it grew online thanks to a series of posts from an anonymous figure called “Q.”
“Q,” claiming to have access to high-level information about what Trump meant by the coming storm, wrote posts on 4chan that gave followers hope that Trump was about to arrest Hillary Clinton and remove other liberals from access to power. Although few of Q’s specific predictions came true, believers ate up the posts like horoscopes and found reasons to ignore or explain away anything false in Q’s long archives of mysterious messages. The resulting QAnon communities are dedicated to decoding and spreading “Q’s” message as far as possible. QAnon is part far-right memes, part online sleuthing, and wholly dedicated to finding and outing those who would try to stop their dream — or debunk their theories.
Conspiracy boards have a history of getting banned from Reddit as the theories they support gain more followers and attention. In November 2016, just after Trump’s election, the Pizzagate subreddit was banned for violating its policy against posting the personal information of others.
As QAnon has grown, the conspiracy theory’s consequences have spread from the fringes of the Internet into mainstream media and real life. Sean Hannity and Roseanne Barr have used their large platforms to signal-boost its message. Earlier this year, a group of believers patrolled around a makeshift homeless shelter, convinced that it was part of a secret child sex trafficking ring that is central to the QAnon conspiracy.
Saagar Enjeti, who reports for the Daily Caller, told The Washington Post last month about the barrage of requests he got from QAnon believers, demanding he ask the White House about their theories. “I’m no stranger to nasty DMs, but this was insane,” Enjeti said in August. “I think I probably got over 60 to 70 DMs on Twitter; people went to my Facebook page; people found my Instagram and started going through old photos: ‘Ask about Q. You’ll be famous. What is there to lose? Ask about Q, you coward.’ ”
Although the r/greatawakening subreddit was a major hub for QAnon believers, there are other places online where the conspiracy theory circulates: on Twitter hashtags, on stand-alone websites dedicated to displaying and analyzing “Q” posts, on 4chan and 8chan (where the whole thing originated) and in semiprivate chats on, for instance, Discord. On Voat, a Reddit-like site that often welcomes communities banned from Reddit for rule violations, there’s a smaller Great Awakening board. After the ban, users there speculated that the decision was part of the conspiracy, aimed at silencing their voices as the midterm elections approach.
The ban is not the first high-profile subreddit ban this week. Reddit banned r/MillionDollarExtreme for violating its rules against violent content. The subreddit, a hub for alt-right comedy and memes, had more than 40,000 subscribers. As BuzzFeed noted, the subreddit’s more recent posts before the ban included ones mocking minorities and transgender people, and accusing Jewish people of promoting pedophilia.