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A Guide to the Most Influential Groups Online

Nov 13, 2020

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Educating yourself on factions’ motivations, and how their ideas originate and spread, is the first step to staying ahead of disinformation and narratives that could do swift damage to your brand. We’ve put together a guide to some of today’s most active factions – influential online groups with common interests and agendas, who play a significant role in how your brand narrative may play out online.

Guide of Most Influential Factions

The factions detailed here are particularly active now due to the coronavirus pandemic and presidential election as we discussed on a recent webinar (watch below).

Factions Deep Dive 

QAnon: A Fanatical Faction

Goals: Save the children; help Trump take down the “deep state.” 

What to Know: QAnon’s fierce belief system and fanaticism is often compared to a religious cult. The faction has been labeled as an extremist group and banned from every major social media platform. However, this type of action tends to engage and mobilize true followers of a movement. Absent access to mainstream media, QAnon has been pushed to the fringe media (think: Parler, 4chan, 8kun) once again. Additionally, to circumvent the social media ban, QAnon has modified its tactics to appear more palatable to the general public so members can maintain a presence on Facebook and Twitter, and ultimately hijack the public’s attention.

Notable Incidents:

  • Pizzagate: A conspiracy theory that originated on 4chan in 2016 that alleged Hillary Clinton and other Democrats were running a child sex-trafficking ring out of a Washington pizzeria, Comet Ping Pong.
  • Wayfair Conspiracy: An unfounded conspiracy theory that claims U.S. furniture company Wayfair is selling pieces of furniture with missing children hidden in them as part of the company’s involvement in a child trafficking ring.

Motivated by

  • Conservative agenda/President Trump
  • Radical change and vigilante justice
  • Desire to be part of a historical movement

Primary platforms used:

  • 4chan
  • 8kun (spinoff of 8chan)
  • Parler

Antivaxxers: The Fight for Safety 

Goals: Protect children, prevent diseases, protect rights to medical freedom. 

What to Know: This faction’s refusal to vaccinate often stems from sanitary, religious, and political objections. At its core, there is also a fear of causing harm and unwanted illness (notably autism) in children. Because of this, many antivaxxers are women – specifically mothers, new mothers, and pregnant women, who believe they’re being coerced into doing something dangerous to their child. 

Additionally, they also often lead public attacks against policies, events and businesses that they deem having a negative impact on health, including things like the development of 5G towers, big pharma hiding cures and the ineffectiveness of masks.

Notable Incidents: 

  • Vitamin C as COVID-19 Treatment: In April 2020, when very little was known about Covid-19, anti-vaxxers were falsely promoting the idea that vitamin C can prevent COVID-19. The group also used reporting about actual COVID-19 treatments to further its agenda.
  • AstraZeneca Incident: AstraZeneca paused its COVID-19 trial due to an adverse reaction in a participant. A post from The Children’s Health Defense, a known anti-vaccine organization, alleging these researchers had “yet to produce a safe and effective vaccine against any coronavirus,” was amplified in an effort to sow public doubt about the safety of all vaccines. 

Motivated by: Fear. Members of this faction are overwhelmingly motivated by fear of adverse vaccine side effects (autism, “vaccine overload,” seizures) and the larger implications those side effects could have on themselves, their children, and society as a whole.

Notable Supporters: Jessica Biel (actress), Jenny McCarthy (actress) 

Hong Kong Anti-China Protesters: International Political Activism

Goals: Political autonomy, human rights.

What to Know: This massive anti-Chinese government movement isn’t just confined to demonstrations in Hong Kong. It has reached an international scale that’s being played out online, in the media, and across a plethora of brands. Well-known companies and brands such as Apple, Versace, and video game developer and publisher Blizzard Entertainment (to name a few) have all been caught in the crosshairs of this movement. Many brands are struggling to weigh the consequences of speaking out in support of the movement – which aligns closely with American, pro-democracy values – at the expense of losing valuable business from China. 

Notable Incidents:

  • #BoycottMulan: Liu Yifei, the Chinese-born actress who plays the titular Mulan, expressed support for Hong Kong police on Weibo (a Chinese social media site) and their tactics in response to pro-democracy protesters, leading to public backlash against her, the film (including a trending hashtag, “#BoycottMulan,” on Twitter) and Disney as a whole.
  • Blizzard Entertainment vs. Blitzchung: After Hong Kongese e-sports player Ng Wai Chung (also known by his gamer tag/name, Blitzchung) voiced his support of the Hong Kong protests during an official streaming event, Blizzard announced it would ban Blitzchung from the current tournament, forfeiting any prize money, as well as other Grandmaster tournaments for one year. The public responded with outrage, including a #BoycottBlizzard movement, eventually prompting Blizzard to reduce – but not eliminate – the punishment. 

Motivated by

  • Pro-democracy agenda
  • Right and wrong; social justice
  • Anger/outrage

Identify Your Potential Blindspots

Factions are not created equal. But while each of these groups have different goals, motivations, and values… they are all extremely successful in targeting brands with weak spots in their tech stack. The best defense is to bolster your crisis management strategies with social intelligence.

Cultivating a deep understanding of each faction’s motivations, goals, and values allows brands to better identify behaviors or conversations online that are often associated with specific factions and specific topics – and often signal to a potential event or attack.

Remember: Any corporate behavior has the potential to be dissected, politicized, and attacked. To identify where your brand’s vulnerabilities are, reach out to set up a call and receive a sample incident report on a topic that matters most to you and your brand.

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