Misinformation has been spreading rampantly throughout the United States over the last few years. The widespread adoption of conspiracy theories has chipped away at political institutions and eroded personal relationships.
QAnon in particular has taken hold of American society during this time of heightened anxiety. The conspiracy theory has grown in popularity, as several political leaders’ have embraced the baseless claims. As QAnon gained traction, belief in the debunked conspiracy has torn friendships and families apart.
Listen: What to do when you’ve lost a family member to QAnon.
Greg Jaffe is a national reporter with The Washington Post and is one of the reporters behind a new interactive story titled “Life Amid the Ruins of QAnon.” He says the QAnon conspiracy theory relies on predictions, often ones that don’t come true. According to Jaffe, a significant frustration among the loved ones of QAnon supporters is that the goalposts keep moving. If a specific prediction doesn’t come to bear, then the conspiracy just metastasizes. That is why, Jaffe says, it’s crucial to understand QAnon support is not about fact, and supporters can’t be disarmed with evidence. “You can’t get into an argument about the fact. This is not about facts, it’s not about their intelligence… The key is to find common ground… talk about your feelings about each other,” says Jaffe. Isolation brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic has only made the situation worse. “The pandemic… creates a sense of isolation. You’re not talking with friends with different opinions.You’re living in this algorithm-based existence,” says Jaffe.
Ronnie Evan Hormel is a therapist who works at Birmingham Maple Clinic in Troy. He says families are coming to him strained due to the widespread adoption of conspiracy theories. “They’re coming in to me feeling hopeless, feeling sad. And they want to know, ‘How do I move past this? How do I move forward?'” says Hormel on the familial impact of conspiracy theories. He says it’s important to approach people in the throes of conspiracy with openness and to listen. It can be jarring, he says, to watch a family member suddenly shift away from their core values. That’s why Hormel says it’s important for friends or family members of QAnon supporters to model once shared values and stay consistent in the face of conspiracy.