The QAnon movement has grown to have a considerable following, and while the founder known as Q had been enigmatic, machine learning software might have helped to unmask his identity.
According to The New York Times, two forensic teams working separately have reached the same conclusion that a South African software developer, Paul Furber, was the first to talk about the conspiracy theory behind the Q movement. The two teams also discovered that Ron Watkins, an Arizona congressional candidate, later shared the identity with Furber, even collaborating. Watkins later took over the account on his father’s 8chan message board.
One French and the other Swiss teams used different approaches to unearth the movement’s originator. The French group set up an artificial intelligence that searched for patterns in Q writings. At the same time, their Swiss counterpart tried to break down Q’s literature into three-character sequence patterns and tracked how often the patterns appeared.
Both methods are known as stylometry and attempt to do measurable and replicable analysis. They also employed social media to enhance the accuracy of their analysis. In the end, they realized that the outputs of Furber and Watkins were markedly similar to the writing style of Q.
The French team said their software had 98 percent accuracy in identifying text produced by Furber and 99 percent for Watkins. They were even able to identify the proportions of Furber and Watkins in Q’s writings. “At first, most of the text is by Furber. But the signature of Ron Watkins increased during the first few months as Paul Furber decreased and then dropped completely.”
The analysis also considered tweets from Furber around the time Q writings started to appear online.
Researchers have been using machine learning to identify authors that use pennames. For example, J.K. Rowling has been ousted as the writer of Cuckoo’s Calling using the pseudonym Robert Galbraith. Law enforcement routinely uses stylometry to solve criminal cases, like the FBI did to identify Ted Kaczynski as the Unabomber.
Commenting on the effort of the two teams to identify the originators of the Q movement, Professor Patrick Juola, who identified Rowling as the author behind Cuckoo’s Calling, said, “What’s really powerful is the fact that both of the two independent analyses showed the same overall pattern.”
However, both Furber and Watkins have denied writing any of Q’s articles. Watkins told The Times he was not Q. Furber, on his own, tried to play down the similarity in styles, saying he admired Q’s writing style and decided to adopt their style in his own writing. Interestingly, Furber has admitted the research is correct in their conclusion.
As to Furber’s claim, linguist experts have said it was implausible.
The researchers hope outing the identities of the people behind the Q movement will slacken the hold it has on the adherents of the conspiracy theories. Authorities must take conspiracies like Q because they spread quickly. For instance, Q has not released any new material since 2020, but their message is still getting new converts. One of the major supporters of the movement became the face of the infamous riot that sought to disrupt the process of officially confirming the electoral victory of President Joe Biden at the Capitol on Jan 6th, 2021. Several prominent activists of the movement were also spotted inside the building during the riot.
According to the BBC, “At its heart, QAnon is a wide-ranging, completely unfounded theory that says that former President Trump was waging a secret war against elite Satan-worshipping pedophiles in government, business, and the media.
“QAnon believers have speculated that this fight will lead to a day of reckoning where prominent people such as former presidential candidate Hillary Clinton will be arrested and executed.”