A book promoting the batshit insane QAnon conspiracy theory is currently ranked in the top 75 most popular books on Amazon, according to a report by NBC. Amazon also promoted the book on their books division home page, where it was listed under the algorithmically generated category “Hot new releases.”
The book, titled, QAnon: An Invitation to the Great Awakening, is just as deranged as you would assume. The book’s author is anonymous, but several prominent Q believers claim to have written chapters.
The paperback, which cost $17 at press time, features outlandish claims, sometimes written in rapid succession with no evidence. On one page, the book baselessly claims that the United States government created AIDS, polio, Lyme disease, some natural disasters, two Indiana Jones movies and the Pixar movie Monsters Inc.
Sure, why not!
If you are lucky enough to have avoided knowledge of the QAnon conspiracy theory thus far, strap in. The theory, which was born from cryptic posts by someone, or someones, calling themselves “Q” on the internet cesspit 4Chan, claims that prominent liberals and Democrats including Hillary Clinton are part of a wide-reaching ring of Satanic child molesters and murderers. According to the theory, Donald Trump is secretly fighting this cabal through Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation. Mueller is supposedly indicting the conspirators in secret trials and releasing them with ankle bracelets. Also, John F. Kennedy, Jr. is actually alive, having faked his own death.
This brief summary hardly scratches the surface of the conspiracy, which has gained popularity through forums like 4chan, and was spread further by MAGA fans who wear Q-themed shirts and hold signs promoting the conspiracy on TV at Trump rallies.
But perhaps the most prominent avenue through with the conspiracy has gained popularity is the algorithmic recommendations of social media sites like Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube. The Amazon book recommendations algorithm is another example of this dangerous phenomenon. The book is currently at number nine out of all “Politics” books on the site, and number one in books about “Censorship,” ahead of Ray Bradbury’s classic Fahrenheit 451.
This is a problem. As amusing as its details can be, QAnon isn’t just a threat to our sanity—its supporters are also dangerous in the real world. Just last month, a QAnon devotee was accused of murdering his brother with a sword, telling authorities he believed his brother was a lizard person. Another believer, Ryan Jaselskis, was charged by federal authorities in January for attempting to burn down the pizza restaurant Comet Ping Pong in D.C., which both Pizzagate and QAnon proponents believe is a site of organized pedophilia. And in December, a Florida police officer was demoted when a photo showed him wearing a Q patch in a photo with Vice President Mike Pence.
Amazon declined to respond to NBC’s questions about their algorithm’s placement of the book on recommended lists.
Conspiracy theorist researcher Mike Rothschild told NBC that the book is a way for QAnon believers to make much needed money. YouTube has recently changed their algorithm to make it harder for channels promoting conspiracy theories to get new followers and monetize their content.
“They absolutely exploited flaws in Amazon’s algorithms,” Rothschild told NBC. “They also know that Q has a small but devoted fan base that is willing to spend money. So if it gets a huge spike of sales just as it’s released, it’ll shoot up Amazon’s lists and get in front of more people, even if those initial sales make up the bulk of who pays for it.”
Q supporters have also gamed the Amazon ratings system, telling followers to leave positive reviews. The book currently averages five stars.
Amazon, admittedly, is in a difficult position when it comes to handling books like these.
“To be clear, they absolutely shouldn’t be censoring the availability of books like this,” Jason Kint, CEO of trade association Digital Content Next told NBC. “But the fact we’re left only with the publisher’s own description of the book and a clearly gamed set of 5-star reviews—how is the average shopper supposed to know this is toxic garbage?”