QAnon and the information dark age
We are entering a dark age for information literacy, an age predicated on a strange reversal of accepted wisdom. Whereas early Internet advocates predicted a utopian age of information access and literacy, the twenty-first century has witnessed a paradoxical technological expansion of communications technologies and, at the same, the growth and spread of bizarre, vast, complex conspiracies. Although many argue that belief in conspiracies is the mark of a “crippled epistemology” (Sunstein and Vermeule, 2009), I argue that this particular fusion of information access and ignorance is emblematic of what Chun (2015) has described as the combination of individual content creation within a mass medium. It is our incredible access to information, when combined with anonymized mass communications platforms, which has exacerbated networked conspiratorial thinking and given rise to the most complex example of this problematic: QAnon. In this article, I analyze QAnon through the lens of a theoretical frame I call the information dark age, and I argue that QAnon represents a new paranoid permutation, which takes advantage of information technology to spread its shadow across the Internet. The power of the QAnon conspiracy is its protean nature, its ability to grow quickly through crowd-sourced contributions to the overarching theory. Perhaps even more disturbing is that QAnon has weaponized this network in an effort to derail the 2020 presidential election in favor of President Trump and spread misinformation about the COVID-19 pandemic. Without a dramatic evolution in our current media infrastructure, we are facing the increasing spread and worsening effect of this information dark age.
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