Alethea Group CEO Lisa Kaplan and VP of Analysis Cindy Otis explore how QAnon conspiracy theories gain traction on social platforms.

Lisa Kaplan and Cindy Otis lead Alethea Group, a company that tracks disinformation to protect its clients' brands. They followed false claims that Wayfair was complicit in a child exploitation plot as they spread from havens for QAnon to the mainstream in the summer of 2020.

"I think we tend to underestimate the extent to which these sorts of narratives are appealing," Alethea Group's Otis said, "especially when we're in a time of great stress and emotions are high."

Otis noted that the 2016 US presidential election was one of those times for many people. Now the coronavirus pandemic means uncertainty and anxiety are once again at a high point.

"It's a very compelling narrative to say all of this is orchestrated," Otis said. "There's a cabal coming after you. They're trying to make your life miserable. You want an answer for why bad things are happening? Here they are."

QAnon theories often start out on fringe internet forums like 8kun and 4chan, according to Alethea Group's Kaplan. But once a claim gains popularity there it can quickly catapult onto mainstream social media networks. "It becomes especially dangerous once these conspiracies go on to platforms like Twitter and Facebook, because it increases the breadth of the reach that these false conspiracies have," she said.

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