QAnon power vacuum on Telegram is being exploited by antisemitic extremists, ADL says

Top Tech

QAnon power vacuum on Telegram is being exploited by antisemitic extremists, ADL says

A power vacuum in the QAnon Telegram community is being exploited by extremists and conspiracists, according to a new report from the ADL.  

GhostEzra is one of the most popular QAnon channels on Telegram. From January through August, the account amassed over 300,000 followers and posted a wide spectrum of COVID-19 conspiracies and antsemitic memes; published the personal information of Jewish executives and CEOs; and often encouraged violence. In August, data firm Logically.AI connected the GhostEzra persona to Robert Randall Smart of Boca Raton, Florida. 

Although Smart now updates infrequently, the channel remains one of the largest QAnon forums on the network. Posts generate hundreds, sometimes thousands, of comments. 

“GhostEzra is easily the biggest pro-Hitler voice on Telegram and the single largest QAnon influencer on the platform,” said Aryeh Tuchman, a senior researcher at the ADL’s Center on Extremism. “Telegram has become a preferred platform for QAnon because it allows QAnon leaders to create channels which they directly control, with little fear of moderation from platform administrators.”

Telegram did not respond to multiple requests for comment. CBS News was unable to reach Smart for comment.

The average QAnon account has no more than a few thousand subscribers. Only a handful of the largest neo-Nazi channels have more than 10,000. Few are as big as GhostEzra. The persona’s first Telegram post was on January 10, two days after being banned from Twitter. Within days the account started posting overtly racist content and its follower count eclipsed Twitter.

Accounts advancing conspiracy theories proliferate across the messaging service because extremists can use the service without fear of deplatforming, said Mike Rothschild, author of “The Storm is Upon Us: How QAnon Became a Movement, Cult, and Conspiracy Theory of Everything.”

“Telegram emerged as a useful alternative to mainstream social media because of its lack of moderation and because it was already in use as a secure messaging app by extremists here and in other countries,” Rothschild explained. “Telegram has channels where promoters pushed out conspiracy theories and chats where fans can interact, and it has virtually no terms of service to violate. The door was open for them already, and smaller, more extreme groups were waiting.”  

This creates an environment primed for exploitation, Rothschild said. “The QAnon conspiracy will evolve, and extremists will be on Telegram waiting for them.”