Congress has been warned about QAnon. Hours later, Trump stepped it up.


What happened next: At a town hall event on NBC later that evening that replaced the second presidential debate, which was canceled due to concerns about the president's recent Covid-19 diagnosis, Trump was asked to reject QAnon's false theory that senior Democrats were part of a satanic abuse operation and traffic children. At first he claimed, "I don't know about QAnon" before adding, "I know they are very much against pedophilia", arguing that what he was told by host Savannah Guthrie "doesn't necessarily make it that way".

More from the experts: Congressional witnesses testified that online disinformation is now more widespread than ever and is increasingly sophisticated, nuanced and difficult to monitor. They emphasized recent trends such as coordinated news across groups and platforms, information laundering through trusted local sources, and "hidden virality" where disinformation is amplified in closed, non-verifiable spaces that make detection and removal difficult.

What now: A variety of solutions have been mentioned, if mostly in passing, including the revision of Section 230, the law protecting internet platforms from responsibility for user-produced content, as well as removing and creating tax breaks for social media companies of accountability mechanisms for their websites. Witnesses called for a redesign of the recommendation algorithms and more user-friendly reporting features for those encountering online disinformation.

Unlearned lessons: In his closing statement, Schiff said: "In many ways we seem to have taken a step forward and two steps back when we look at where we are now compared to four years ago." In fact, it took Trump less than a day to woo the conspiracy crowd again.


Steven Gregory