<span class='p-name'>When Critical Evaluation Goes Too Far</span>

When Critical Evaluation Goes Too Far

I write a weekly newsletter that examines the intersection between tech, education, and literacy.

Several months ago, as the coronavirus started ramping up in the US, I covered the story of plandemic video that went viral online. As an Internet researcher, especially one that studies critical evaluation of online info…I thought this video looked bogus, and offered a ton of opportunities to critique the facts, source, and message.

But then a weird thing happened, the video continued to pick up traction and connect with other conspiracy theories and hoaxes. Several months later, I was on a Zoom call with my in-laws, and urging them to stay indoors and protect themselves. They asked why we were considering keeping our children at home for the start of the new school. When we asked why they were not concerned about coronavirus given their age, they indicated that “…they saw this video…”

Finding Truth

In my dissertation, and in most other research, we consider the challenges that exist as individuals do not critically evaluate what they read and share online. This has harmful effects for their inquiry based pursuits as individuals go online for information seeking behaviors.

Lately I’ve been wondering what happens when critical evaluation of online information, and the search for truth goes too far? What happens when the search for our own narratives in online spaces is harmful?

What if modern conspiracy theorists are altogether too media literate?

I often hear a certain rhetoric from friends, family, and students as they indicate in hushed tones that…”the truth it out there.” There is a mindset that the “main stream media doesn’t want you to see it.” There is an indication that “I read a number of sources” to get to the truth.


If you research fringe corners of conspiracy theories you will at some point come across Qanon. In this piece, Alice Marwick and Will Partin discuss QAnon, and the growing trend of people believing in things that are wrong.

QAnon is a right-wing conspiracy premised on the idea that Donald Trump is working with military intelligence to bring down a global ring of child-eating pedophiles. Q researchers call themselves “bakers” and turn “crumbs” of information from Q (a high ranking government insider). Some followers believe that “Q” often sends coded signals about his or her existence, using the number 17—the letter Q’s placement in the alphabet. The “bakers” research, aggregate, and combine these “crumbs” into “proofs” which are then “bread” or a form of worthy research.

In this, QAnon believers think they are paving the way for the “Great Awakening,” an earth-shattering event in which all of Trump’s enemies will be arrested for being Satan-worshipping pedophiles.

Before you dismiss QAnon, consider the fact that it’s quickly gaining popularity.

Qanon’s particular kind of literacy is as much about making and sharing content as it is consuming it. Ultimately, it seems like a mix of participatory civics and digital storytelling.

In truth, this coordinated campaign of harassment and disinformation has been around for some time. Many of us are now paying attention because it is increasingly impacting white folks and has penetrated mainstream consciousness.

Tip top tippy-top shape

To get a better understanding of some of the individuals and texts that are embedded in the Qanon folklore you’ll need to do a bit of digging. Qanon stories abound on chat spaces like Reddit, 4chan, 8chan, and Gab. You’ll see things bubble up on Facebook, Twitter, and Google have a love/hate relationship with Qanon and will tamp down these references in search results. This website provides a very slick interface to view, aggregate, and examine Q drops.

To provide an illustrative example of some of the narratives and “research” being conducted by the community, I tried to identify something that wasn’t that salacious, and may be something that could be examined in a classroom.

At one point, a QAnon believer posted online requesting Q to get Trump to say “tip top tippy-top shape” as a shout out to the community. Four months later, when speaking at the 2018 White House Easter Egg Roll, Trump used a version of that phrase.

Q researchers then pulled together a two part YouTube compilation of Trump repeatedly using that wording.

Sticky Questions

In closing, I’ll present these challenging questions about how to handle teaching and learning about possible next steps.

How do you address this…or perhaps proactively combat this thinking in your classrooms? Should this not be addressed? It was a challenge to identify an example of a Q narrative that did not involve pedophilia, sex rings, blood drinking, hate speech, or violence and real world crimes.

Do you have the ability to talk about this without bringing your own bias and perspectives into the discussion? Can you leave your political leanings out of the discussion as you review this topic with others?

Should we not talk about this? Giving it oxygen helps it spread. Perhaps “strategic silence” is what we need.

Lastly, in the earlier piece, Marwick and Partin compare QAnon and their practices to Henry Jenkins’s notion of participatory culture. How is this any different than Star Trek or Harry Potter fans? How is this different than people believing about the Kennedy assassination or UFOs?

I’m still trying to make sense of this in the context of my work. What are your thoughts?

Photo by Mikky Koopac on Unsplash

This post is Day 37 of my #100DaysToOffload challenge. Want to get involved? Find out more at 100daystooffload.com.

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