Constructing Alternative Facts: Populist Expertise and the QAnon Conspiracy
"Communication research is increasingly concerned with the relationship between epistemological fragmentation and polarization. Even so, explanations for why partisans take up fringe beliefs are limited. This article examines the right-wing conspiracy QAnon, which posits that the anonymous poster “Q” is a Trump administration insider who encourages followers (“Bakers”) to research hidden truths behind current events. Drawing on qualitative fieldwork on the 8chan imageboard, we position baking as a collective, knowledge-making activity built on the affordances of social media designed to construct specific facts and theories that maintain QAnon’s cohesion over time. Bakers demonstrate populist expertise, the rejection of legacy media accounts of current events in favor of the “alternative facts” constructed through their systematic research programs. We emphasize the politically ambivalent nature of participatory culture and argue that baking casts doubt on critical thinking or media literacy as solutions to “post-truth” dilemmas like hyperpartisan media and disinformation."