Technology & Science

Merchandise promoting QAnon conspiracy theory available on Amazon, eBay

E-commerce giants Amazon and eBay continue to sell thousands of items promoting QAnon, even as social media companies crack down on the dangerous conspiracy theory that the FBI has called a "domestic terror threat."

Canadian e-commerce platform Shopify takes down QAnon merchandise shops after CBC News inquiry

A search on Amazon.ca for the term 'QAnon' returned thousands of products for sale, including T-shirts, hats and face masks. The baseless conspiracy theory has been designated a 'domestic terror threat' by the FBI. (Craig Chivers/CBC)

E-commerce giants Amazon and eBay continue to offer thousands of products for sale that promote QAnon, even as social media companies crack down on the dangerous and baseless conspiracy theory.

A search for "QAnon" on Amazon's Canadian retail site Tuesday returned more than 6,000 results, including T-shirts, hats and stickers. The same query on eBay.ca offered 15,367 items.

It's unclear how many sales actually take place and how much profit the third-party sellers are making from them, but an expert worries their availability on prominent, mainstream websites is only helping to legitimize the cult-like conspiracy theory.

QAnon "is radicalizing people," said Alison Meek, a history professor whose focus includes cults and conspiracy theories. 

"For companies like Amazon and eBay to be selling this stuff is just absolutely mind-boggling," said Meek, who teaches at King's University College, affiliated with Western University in London, Ont.

WATCH | QAnon begins to gain traction in 2018:

CBC News looks at its origins and how QAnon supporters could impact U.S. politics in the months ahead. 2:12

QAnon supporters say a number of high-profile, and generally liberal, figures are Satan-worshipping pedophiles who are running  the world and operating a child sex-trafficking ring that can only be stopped by U.S. President Donald Trump.

The FBI last year designated QAnon a "domestic terror threat" because of its potential to incite extremist violence, and people who openly support QAnon are accused of being behind some recent violent incidents both in the U.S. and Canada.

A man wearing a QAnon T-shirt is seen at a pro-police rally in New York City on August 9. (Stephanie Keith/Reuters)

QAnon-inspired content had been posted on an Instagram account associated with the Canadian Ranger accused of ramming his truck through the gates of Rideau Hall in July. A QAnon believer charged with killing a New York Mob boss told investigators he did it because the target was part of the "deep state."

"I don't think everybody quite realizes just how serious, how deadly and how linked to violence the QAnon conspiracy theory has become," Meek said.

Twitter recently announced it would take steps to curb QAnon's presence on the social media platform. Facebook later followed suit, removing hundreds of groups and pages in a bid to restrict QAnon adherents' ability to organize online.

An online store removed from the Shopify platform this week had offered 'QANON GIRL' T-shirts with initials signifying the motto: 'Where we go one, we go all.' (Website screen capture)

Shopify takes down QAnon stores

This week, Ottawa-based e-commerce firm Shopify took down a series of online shops from its platform after CBC News inquired about the QAnon products it was selling.

The websites — including "QAnonMerch.net" and "TheBookofQAnon.com" — featured items with symbols related to the conspiracy theory: a white rabbit, the letter Q and the motto "Where we go one, we go all."

Another site sold "QAnon Girl" T-shirts meant for children "ages 2-6."

"We consider products and content promoting QAnon to be a violation of our Acceptable Use Policy," a Shopify spokesperson said in an email to CBC News. "When made aware of such products or stores, our team will investigate and take action when appropriate."

The Shopify representative said teams "actively review" potential violations, "and stores that violate our policies will be immediately addressed."

Amazon's public relations team and eBay Canada's communications manager did not reply to requests for comment.

QAnon allowed despite Amazon, eBay bans on offensive products

Both sites sell books that present QAnon fabrications as fact, including one for $9.99 that on Tuesday topped Amazon.ca's list of "Social Science Reference E-books." The publication warns in its first pages that a "deep state war" will soon break out.

Amazon and eBay both take fees from third-party vendors to list and sell products, but QAnon items may violate the sites' policies.

Amazon's "offensive products" policy bans items "that promote, incite or glorify hatred, violence, racial, sexual or religious intolerance or promote organizations with such views." 

For instance, in 2015, Amazon, North America's biggest online retailer, withdrew some Nazi paraphernalia for sale on the site, including flags and knives, after a report by CBC's Go Public

Similarly, eBay says it doesn't allow listings that "promote or glorify hatred, violence or discrimination."

Lindsay Meredith, a professor emeritus of marketing strategy at Simon Fraser University in Burnaby, B.C., said since the platforms facilitate the promotion of the products, "it's up to them to slam the brakes," even though the items may come from third-party vendors.

"The whole idea of this much more loosely structured supply chain," Meredith said, "is that product starts to gain legitimacy."

QAnon supporters falsely believe widespread arrests will soon come, targeting these "deep state" global elites who control the world. Since the arrests won't actually materialize in the real world, observers like Meek worry about QAnon supporters taking up arms themselves.

What began as a fringe, online movement "could easily move into terrorism," she said.

"If Amazon and eBay are normalizing this ... that's terrifying."

About the Author

Thomas Daigle

Senior Technology Reporter

While in CBC's London, U.K. bureau, Thomas reported on everything from the Royal Family and European politics to terrorism. He filed stories from Quebec for several years and reported for Radio-Canada in his native New Brunswick. Thomas is now based in Toronto and focuses on technology-related news. He can be reached by email at thomas.daigle@cbc.ca.

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