Facebook today confirmed that it will be limiting the distribution of the hashtag “save our children.” Over the past several months, the phrase — and ones like it — have become associated with QAnon. These terms have served to provide a kind of innocuous cover for the popular online conspiracy theory.
A spokesperson for the social network confirmed the move today, noting that child safety resources will be prioritized in search above those potentially tied to QAnon.
“Earlier this week, we stepped up how we enforce our rules against QAnon on pages, events, and groups,” a spokesperson told TechCrunch. “Starting today, we’re limiting the distribution of the ‘save our children’ hashtag given we've found that content tied to it is now associated with QAnon. When people search for it, they will now see the credible child safety resources.”
In early October, Facebook finally took action to remove the constellation of dangerous conspiracy theories, banning QAnon content across both Facebook and Instagram. The company had previously announced a ban on QAnon groups that “discussed potential violence” but the expanded ban evinced a deeper understanding of how conspiracies draw in and radicalize regular users. The ban has actually proven quite successful so far, making it more more difficult for QAnon-related posts and accounts to be discovered and amplified.
Over the summer, the service began to crack down on QAnon-adjacent hashtags like SaveTheChildren. It even went so far as temporarily blocking the phrase, which, for around a century, has been associated with nonprofit youth organizations. “We temporarily blocked the hashtag as it was surfacing low-quality content,” Facebook told the press at the time. “The hashtag has since been restored, and we will continue to monitor for content that violates our community standards.”
By then, however, the movement had already gained life beyond social media, with several well-attended rallies being held across the U.S. and in different locations across the globe. Organizers have broadly purported to be protesting child exploitation, ranging from accusations of pedophilia among the Hollywood elite to outrage over the Netflix film "Cuties."
In August, the U.S.-based Save the Children Federation, Inc. released a statement seeking to clarify and distance itself from the trend. "Our name in hashtag form has been experiencing unusually high volumes and causing confusion among our supporters and the general public," the org wrote. “In the United States, Save the Children is the sole owner of the registered trademark ‘Save the Children.’ While people may choose to use our organization’s name as a hashtag to make their point on different issues, we are not affiliated or associated with any of these campaigns.”
Facebook’s crackdown on QAnon and adjacent #SaveTheChildren content come after the company allowed the dangerous conspiracy theory group to thrive on its platform for years, moving from the fringes of online life into its center. While President Trump and a handful of QAnon-friendly Republican political figures have given the conspiracies a boost, mainstream social networks allowed adherents to ferry the revelations of so-called “Q drops” from the obscure and often extreme message board 8chan into the center of American political life.
Some users happen upon conspiracy content organically, but algorithmic recommendations on platforms like Facebook and YouTube are known to usher users from the edges of conspiracies like QAnon into their often more extreme core ideas. Dedicated QAnon believers are responsible for a number of real-world violent actions, including an armed occupation of the Hoover Dam. Matthew Wright, the man who pled guilty to a terrorism charge for blocking the bridge, explained in a video that his agitation stemmed from President Trump’s failure to arrest his political enemies, which disappointed QAnon believers. Last year, a 29-year-old QAnon adherent shot and killed a mob boss who he believed was part of the “deep state” — a frequent preoccupation of Q followers.