8chan is an anarchic web forum that has historically played host to trolls, meme-makers, pornographers, and racists. Pinterest is a photo-cataloguing site beloved by moms saving weeknight dinner recipes.
At least that’s how it used to be.
But as a series of fringe-right conspiracy theories—particularly the bizarre and baseless QAnon conspiracy—find a growing audience in America’s baby boomer set, the boundaries between the “normie” web and the internet’s underbelly are bleeding. Nowhere is the strange alliance more visible than on Pinterest, where users share QAnon memes alongside pancake recipes, and on 8chan where irony-poisoned young trolls are mollified by an influx of earnest, middle-aged conspiracy fans.
8chan is ground zero for the QAnon conspiracy, which claims that an anonymous 8chan poster is actually a high-ranking military member dispensing secrets about the government. The vague and oft-debunkable posts falsely claim Donald Trump is not actually under investigation, but is actually helping Robert Mueller III investigate a satanic pedophilia ring in which virtually all prominent Democrats or Hollywood figures are involved.
It’s the stuff of spam email chains. But the conspiracy has ardent adherents. Recent Trump rallies have seen a wave of mostly middle-aged fans wearing Q apparel. The conspiracy has also spawned several real-world standoffs, including outside Tucson, Arizona, where a man baselessly claiming to be hunting child sex-traffickers has amassed a large online following. The man’s following, which funds him through mailed gift cards, is “mostly middle-aged white Christian women who fawn over his rants, tell him he has pretty eyes, and pray fervently for God to smite his critics,” JJ MacNab, an extremism expert who has been following the standoff wrote on Twitter.
Originally based on 4chan and 8chan, QAnon reached an older, less tech-savvy audience through Reddit and specialized blogs, run by people profiting off the conspiracy, NBC News reported. The conspiracy’s growing fanbase among what 8channers call “normies” (earnest people with generic consumption habits, who are typically excluded from internet in-jokes) led to its spread to “normie” social media. The pinnacle of normie social media is Pinterest.
Stereotyped as a home for gardening tips and baking hacks, Pinterest surprised casual observers last week when it announced that it had banned Alex Jones, the host of the conspiracy website Infowars. The red-faced Sandy Hook truther seemed an odd fit for the website, but an Observer investigation found a burgeoning Infowars fandom on the site.
Many of those users also pinned QAnon memes. The net effect is a community of middle-aged women, some with hundreds of followers, pinning style tips and parfait recipes alongside QAnon-inspired photoshops of Clinton aide John Podesta drinking a child’s blood. The Pinterest page for a San Francisco-based jewelry maker sells QAnon earrings alongside “best dad in the galaxy” money clips.
Pinterest’s algorithm automatically suggests tags with “ideas you might love,” based on the board currently being viewed. In a timely clash of Trumpist language and Pinterest-style relatable content, board that hosts the Podesta photoshop suggests viewers check out tags for “fake news” and “so true.”
But some QAnon followers left Pinterest and went searching for the original QAnon posts. The hunt brought them to 8chan, whose confusing interface and propensity for anime porn make it an unlikely home for older users, Matt Binder, a journalist who has monitored 8chan for years, and written about QAnon’s staying power with baby boomers said.
“By the nature of image boards having fairly bad user interface which can make it confusing for people who aren't too tech-savvy, you can find numerous threads elsewhere, like on conspiracy subreddits and on Twitter, of people who are clearly older asking how can they find Q on 8chan,” Binder told The Daily Beast.
8chan’s management noted the phenomenon early this year.
“We joked about it for years, but #QAnon is making it a reality: Boomers! On your imageboard,” the site tweeted in January above memes of elderly people squinting at computers.
“I don't think you're seeing them post too much outside of the [main QAnon] board,” Binder said, “but they're looking for it and when they get there you can tell because the users on that board are some of the only earnest people on all of 8chan.”
Some of 8chan’s more typical users—young, meme-literate, and cranky—have taken issue with their new digital neighbors.
“Your everyday shitposters range from not caring, to finding it funny, to very much hoping they don't spread off the Q board,” Binder said.
The two most-active QAnon-related boards on 8chan are the main forum for QAnon discussion, and another, misleadingly titled “QAnon” which is actually anti-QAnon and begs users to “fuck this board’s shit up.” Its posters, frequently racist, rail on the “boomers” who have overtaken other boards and post Pokemon porn, speculating that the person behind QAnon would like to have sex with Pokemon.
8chan’s third most-active QAnon board is home to a different sect of people who claim to have been “banned from QAnon” over their splinter conspiracy that claims the original QAnon poster was legitimate, but that the posts have been overtaken by an imposter.
A popular post on “banned from QAnon” lists the splinter theory’s most prominent promoters. The post concedes that the second group on the list was “exposed for being a cult,” but that they still made some very good points.