Where we go one, we go crazy - a beginners guide to the #QAnon conspiracy

As conspiracy theories go, QAnon is more than just a classic of the genre. It provides a strong narrative arc that stands as a grand unifying conspiracy theory. Complete with its own language and strongly participatory social structure. There’s something for everyone, in the world of QAnon.

QAnon would be little more than an entertaining internet story, were it not for the way it tends to leak into the real world - often with violent consequences.

Image credit - Ryan McGuire ( @BellsDesign ) via  Gratisopgraphy

Image credit - Ryan McGuire (@BellsDesign) via Gratisopgraphy

QAnon represents the apex of conspiracy theories, ranging as it does from ludicrous tales of organised child abuse by the world’s liberal elites to fictitious versions of the Mueller investigation.

As an esoteric American phenomenon it has largely passed the British public by. In this episode, writer and investigator Mike Rothschild offers a QAnon 101 and discusses where it fits in with a long tradition of internet storytelling.

Resources for further information, some of which are mentioned in the show, can be investigated below.

A sceptical guide to QAnon is available here at Rational Wiki

Vox published an account of the QAnon believer demographic, based on analysis of Reddit discussions here.

Vox published a feature on the origins of the QAnon story here .

QAnon is successfully monetised by a few key players, as NBC revealed here .

Will Sommer is a must-follow for QAnon and related news - on Twitter at @willsommer.

Mike Rothschild’s website is here .

You can pre-order Mike Rothschild’s forthcoming book exploring ‘The World’s Worst Conspiracies’ here .

Recommended resources for exploring more about the irrational world of conspiracies and more.

The Skeptoid Podcast

The Conspiracy Psychology website

The Committee for Skeptical inquiry publishes a digital & print magazine ‘The Skeptical Inquirer’. Find out more here (note: CSI was formerly CSICOP - the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal).

Game on! Quantified motivation & value capture: things we don't notice in online social life

There’s a lot more going on in the hellspace we know as social media than we necessarily notice. But it takes a philosopher to figure some of it out. This episode features the thoughts of Thi Nguyen, a philosophy academic at Utah Valley University.

An essay by Thi went viral in early 2018 - ‘Escape The Echo Chamber’ - published in Aeon. I recommend reading this before listening to the podcast, to best appreciate the jumping off point for this discussion.

Photo by  Ken Treloar  on  Unsplash

Photo by Ken Treloar on Unsplash

Thi Nguyen, an assistant professor of philosophy at Utah Valley University, went viral in early 2018 with an essay comparing some aspects of online hyper-partisan group dynamics to those of cults. Much of Thi’s scholarly work focuses on the philosophy of gaming and this discussion reveals many similarities between the reasoning frameworks introduced by operating in different online and offline environments.

This conversation represents a broadening of the issues covered in The Disinformation Age. Rather than just more examples of fake narratives, the podcast is now also an exploration of ideas around the concept of improving ‘digital citizenship’.

Show notes: sources for further investigation, mentioned in the conversation.

Thi’s website is https://objectionable.net/

Thi’s essay published in Aeon ‘Escape The Filter Bubble

The scholarly version of that essay can be found here, in PDF format.

More about the book 'Echo Chamber - Rush Limbaugh and the Conservative Media Establishment

Amazon listing for the book ‘The Filter Bubble - What The Internet Is Hiding From You’, by Eli Pariser.

Porter’s ‘Trust In Numbers’.

The research paper that spawned lurid headlines about Republicans having better sex than Democrats: Happy Partisans and Extreme Political Views: The Impact of National versus Local Representation on Well-being.

Twitter and Tear Gas’ by Zeynep Tufekci.

Zeynep Tufekci’s paper on the attention economy: “Not This One”: Social Movements, the Attention Economy, and Microcelebrity Networked Activism.

Zeynep Tuekci’s Ted Talk on the impact of ad-click driven content is on YouTube here.

Follow Thi Nguyen on Twitter - @add_hawk

Ya basta! - a conversation with Erin Gallagher on digital information pollution in Latin America

In this episode Erin Gallagher offers a view of digital information pollution around Latin America.

Fake Twitter - Honduran style (Pic credit:  Erin Gallagher )

Fake Twitter - Honduran style (Pic credit: Erin Gallagher)

Find Erin Gallagher on Medium here.

Follow 3r1nG on Twitter.

My argument that disinformation is a demand-side problem can be found here.

Links for more detail on issues and stories mentioned in the audio:

Latin America (general): How to hack an election (Andres Sepulveda): https://www.bloomberg.com/features/2016-how-to-hack-an-election/ …

Honduras: Berta Caceres murder & trial: https://www.frontlinedefenders.org/en/case/case-history-berta-c%C3%A1ceres

Honduran elections: https://theintercept.com/2017/12/23/honduras-election-fraud-drugs-jose-orlando-hernandez/ …

Mexico: Ayotzinapa case: https://theintercept.com/2015/09/23/ayotzinapa-disappearances-in-mexico-one-year-later/ …

Alberto Escorcia's website: https://loquesigue.tv/secciones/sociedad/yo-soy-red/ …

Green Party of Mexico contract for trolls: https://www.sinembargo.mx/05-05-2015/1334032 …

Mexico articles about bots & trolls: https://medium.com/@erin_gallagher/news-articles-about-bots-trolls-in-mexican-networks-7b1e551ef4a6 …

Guatemala: Guatemala net centers: https://theintercept.com/2018/04/07/guatemala-anti-corruption-trolls-smear-campaign/ …

The Alabama Project: Alabama Project: https://www.nytimes.com/2018/12/19/us/alabama-senate-roy-jones-russia.html …

#Moggmentum & #FreeTommy busted - plus the power of digital sleuthing

In episode 10 John & Mike discuss the Digital Sherlocks 360/OS conference staged by The Atlantic Council and lift the lid on the #Moggmentum & #FreeTommy hash tags.

Photo by  Edu Lauton  on  Unsplash

Photo by Edu Lauton on Unsplash


Show notes:

John's reflections on the #DigitalSherlocks 360/OS conference https://medium.com/mentionmapp/digitalsherlocks-360-os-berlin-unbound-2cd12876b56d

The Bellingcat case study 'Finding Bana'  https://www.bellingcat.com/news/mena/2016/12/14/bana-alabed-verification-using-open-source-information/

The Buzzfeed article showing how the Red Hen restaurant story was weaponised online https://www.buzzfeed.com/charliewarzel/yelp-the-red-hen-and-how-all-tech-platforms-are-now-pawns?utm_term=.wjmJz9dQG#.vw8bwW0AL

The Mediapart story showing how we are right to fear 'fake news' laws https://www.mediapart.fr/en/journal/france/130618/how-frances-anti-fake-news-law-fact-threatens-truth

Case study: how France successfully fought off interference in the 2017 Presidential election




Follow Bot Pro EU

In this episode John and Mike discuss the problem of hyper partisan social media activity and the bot-like characteristics of some actors in the 'Follow Back Pro EU' or #FBPE movement on Twitter.

Photo by  Markus Spiske  on  Unsplash

Show notes

Mentionmapp's observations and notes (listen to audio for explanations).

Number of maps - 13 total

Feb 5, 6, 7, x 3

Feb 8, 9, x 2

2600 total tweets


698 unique profiles - at least 1 tweet

Selected those profiles who appeared in 2 or more maps = 121 profiles (116 classified as remain)


Big problem -  69 of 116 (remain) = Oxford Internet Institute baseline tweet level (50+ per day)  to be considered cyborgs (2 real bots)

400+ tweets = 2

300+ tweets = 6

200+ tweets =13

100+ tweets = 24

50+ tweets = 25


As well -

50 profiles anonymous

6 grey-eggs

11 - “sockpuppet-like”


screen name

date joined

ave. tweets/day



Trust me, I'm an influencer

In this episode Mike and John discuss the pernicious use of paid-for social signals by non-political actors. Many entrepreneurs and those who wish to be perceived as influential use fake approval markers such as likes and shares from fictitious social accounts. We identify a number of risks that come with this kind of gaming of social platforms, including possible reputational damage to real people caused by account hijacking. Also the increased risk of spreading malware infections, when links are shared by accounts which may enjoy misplaced trust through being apparently connected with the supposed great and the good. We also discuss the risks to your own online reputation posed by automating your own follow back policies.

Photo by  Nick Fewings  on  Unsplash    

Photo by Nick Fewings on Unsplash


Show note links

The New York Times feature The Follower Factory

The Bureau of Investigative Journalism feature Astroturfing, Twitterbots, Amplification - Inside The Online Influence Industry


How Mentionmapp analysed the 'influencers' buying influence:

Episode #8 Show Notes: “Bot Influence”


Revealing potential 10 “influencers” all buying Bot services

No mistaking patterns of behavior.


Our process/methodology -

From these 10 people:

  • 1: we exported 23 snapshots (200 tweets per snapshot) with data about the profiles that mentioned or retweeted them.

  • 2: from this we collected 2461 spreadsheet rows (includes duplicates) of Bots/Fake profiles (many we can find their twins, their real profile owners) Total Number of Unique Accounts: 2159  

  • 3: created a list of 232 Bots… the duplicates, as they have retweeted more than 1 of our featured 10 bot users.

  • 4: from these 232 bots, we then gathered every profile mentioned and hashtag used by 100 Bots from their previous 200 tweets..

  • 5: from these 100 Bots we collected 19,236 spreadsheet rows (includes duplicates) of profiles mentioned. Total Number of Unique Mentions: 9419… the customers, and the astroturf “farmers” ( and unsuspecting/unwitting provides of content… layer of legitimate and attractive content to give these Bot feed the look of real)

  • 6: from these 100 Bots we collected 17,267spreadsheet rows (includes duplicates) of hashtags used. Total Number of Unique Hashtags: 6785


The Who:

Already published:

@CraigBrownPhd *Onalytica’s #2 Big Data influencer 2016




Grabbed data: Dec. 31, ‘17; Jan. 4, ‘18; Jan. 8 ‘18



Grabbed data: Dec. 31, ‘17; Jan. 4, ‘18; Jan. 8 ‘18



Grabbed data: Dec. 31, ‘17; Jan. 4, ‘18;  Jan. 8 ‘18

Via Onalytica Top VR Influencers 2017


#1 Influencer @RickKing16

Grabbed data: Dec. 31, ‘17; Jan. 4, ‘18; Jan. 8 ‘18

#16 influencer @Sanemavcil

Grabbed data: Dec. 31, ‘17; Jan. 4, ‘18 Jan. 8 ‘18


Grabbed data: Jan. 4, ‘18; Jan. 8 ‘18


*massive follower increase… less than 3000 in December.

Grabbed data: Dec. 31, ‘17; Jan. 4, ‘18; Jan. 8 ‘18

@TheAvaCantrell (verified)

Grabbed data: Dec. 31, ‘17;Jan. 4, ‘18;Jan. 8 ‘18

@redragdolly (verified)

Grabbed data: Jan. 8 ‘18

Rhizome theory, Remainers and news pollution

In this episode John introduces Mike to Rhizome theory in relation to the information structures of the internet as a "uniquely distributed network with no centre and a uniquely changing form" - and the challenges that presents to dealing with information pollution.


Photo by  Matt Artz  on  Unsplash

Photo by Matt Artz on Unsplash

An introduction to Rhizome theory can be seen here.

This article on Russia's outsourcing of propaganda content is referenced in the discussion.

Russia's troll factory also paid for 100 activists in the US


Volume 1 of the Mentionmapp e-book is now available to download.

Ecosystem of Fake - Bots, Information, & Distorted Realities - Vol. I - History

This unique study of the background to today's information crisis is a must-read.


'Look over there!' How the social media giants got a free pass on Twitter during the #techhearings

In this episode Mike and John discuss how the conversation on Twitter unfolded around the appearances of Google, Facebook and Twitter at the so-called 'tech hearings' before representatives of Congress and the Senate in the United States.

They conclude that because so much focus was on 'Trump-Russia' rather than the role of the platforms themselves, the social media giants are getting a free pass on their position as aids to weaponised disinformation.


Show notes & links:

Zachary Elwood - Examining fake-American Facebook accounts posting rightwing and pro-Trump content

Business Insider - Facebook's Russia scandal isn't hurting its credibility with investors

Business Insider - Big Tech blew its big moment at the Russia hearings

Mentionmapp on Medium

Support Mentionmapp on Patreon and get a free volume of the forthcoming e-book on anti-social bots and more.

The Brexit Botnet and User-Generated Hyperpartisan News by Marco T Bastos & Dan Mercea, City University London - please note there will be a full episode soon devoted to discussing this paper, with the authors, on the Disinformation Age.


Episode 1 - setting the scene for a journey into fake

Now available on iTunes here


The Disinformation Podcast begins with an introduction to John Gray, co-founder of the Twitter network visualisation tool Mentionmapp Analytics. Over time, John and me will be taking a closer look at the gaming of social media platforms - and Twitter in particular - by the purveyors of false information and creators of fake online personas. 

In this first episode we set the scene for our future work and I give a heads up on a story that will unfold over time. It's about an apparent multi-platform network of social media accounts that connect across Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn. A fake information network that appears to be run by two real people.

Keep an eye on this page - this is where we'll be posting the show notes for every future episode, including network visualisations and other material illustrating our investigations.

You can also listen on Soundcloud, below.

Visit Mentionmapp to discover the power of Twitter network visualisation - for brands, individuals and organisations who want to better understand the online conversation around the issues they care about.

Read the Mentionmapp blog on Medium.

And follow Mentionmapp on Twitter.

If you enjoy this podcast, please share it.

Who the hell is @DavidJoBrexit (formerly @DavidJo52951945)?

The anonymous Twitter account 'David Jones' identified by The Times as a Kremlin agent - but probably just a Northern Ireland UKIP creation

The anonymous Twitter account 'David Jones' identified by The Times as a Kremlin agent - but probably just a Northern Ireland UKIP creation

In December 2016 I became curious about an influential pro-Brexit Twitter account called 'David Jones' aka @DavidJo52951945.

Although 'DavidJo' claimed a location of 'Southampton/Isle of Wight' my investigations of the account's origins led to the office of a UKIP councillor in Upper Bann, Northern Ireland, called David Jones.

I interviewed Mr Jones, who denied any connection, and the mystery of who was behind such a popular account remained. The story of my findings and interview with Mr Jones was published in print only, by the New European, with no further developments until August 2017.

Then a threaded Twitter post by @Conspirator0 argued that 'DavidJo' seemed to be a Russian actor. The Times of London picked up the story and ran it under a front page headline Thousands of Twitter users 'deceived by Russian agent'.

I was invited onto LBC's James O'Brien show that morning to discuss that story and the wider issues around politically hyper-partisan social media activity. You can listen to that interview below.

Meanwhile, the elusive 'DavidJo' has locked its account to private mode, reconfigured its biography and taken a new name 'DavidJoBrexit'. At the time of writing, no one is any the wiser as to who he, she or they are. 

Computational propaganda bots, personal data abuse & how to fight back

New European feature on computational propaganda bots, personal data and more.

New European feature on computational propaganda bots, personal data and more.

The New European recently published my feature on computational propaganda and the need for digital media literacy in the age of online disinformation. A related issue was also covered - who holds personal data about us, what it's used for and the steps we can take to take control of our own information. Link through via the picture above to read the full article.

There is also a wealth of additional insight to be heard in the interviews I conducted for the piece. You can listen to the interviews below.