My Friend Got into QAnon over Lockdown and Now We Can't Be Friends

Em Unravelling

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One weird thing about the pandemic and its various tiers of badly-managed lockdowns is that some of the background people on Facebook have suddenly become very much front-and-center. Have you noticed? 

One minute they were in the background, burbling on every few days about how badly their babies were sleeping that week or getting excited about the latest flash sale on Body Shop shower gels. You could almost forget they existed until the next polite 5-minute chat at your kids’ school bake sale. 

Then all of a sudden Covid became a thing, and so did the social media presence of these previously placid fringe folk. 

My Facebook friend Gemma is one of these individuals. We met at book club and bonded over a shared love of Gone Girl (the book, not the film, please) and cheesy nachos. We’re exactly the same age and we had some of the same schoolteachers. We like the same tacky cocktails and some of the same music. We fell easily into a casual friendship based on these things.

In April, when we all suddenly had to stay at home, I began to notice that Gemma rapidly became more vocal on Facebook than she had ever been before. She was not happy that the schools were closed. She was not happy that she had to home educate her children. She was not happy that some businesses were insisting on face masks. There was a great deal she wasn’t happy with and this became an amusing theme as we segued into summer.

And then one morning, a few months later, I woke up and saw that Gemma had been very busy overnight. She’d posted many times, starting with an Amazon link to a baby’s vest with a Pizza Hut logo on it (complete with angry-faced emoji). “Wake up and see who Chrissy Tiegen really is!” read her caption. “Educate yourselves, sheeple! It’s not hard to do the research! I can’t believe what I’m learning when I stop listening to the mainstream media lies!”

I was baffled. I hadn’t heard, at this point, much about the QAnon conspiracy theorists or of the bizarre links (which began life in the US in 2017, probably as a spoof or prank) that they apparently draw between pedophile rings and John Legend’s wife, or between Pizza Hut and child trafficking. To me, a pizza logo on a baby’s t-shirt was just… a pizza logo on a t-shirt. Because that’s what it is. A bit tacky, but I’m not going to tell you how to dress your kid.

I didn’t know it then, and even Gemma would probably be horrified if she genuinely understood how hard she’d been played, but the pandemic was a total gift to the QAnon proponents. Suddenly in the UK we were all at home, a bit confused, a bit scared, a bit willing to be even more wary than usual of the people who were supposedly in charge of running the country. 

Add a healthy slug of the natural “our babies!” overprotectiveness that many people were feeling towards their children in the light of an unknown illness, a pinch of guilty defensiveness over the Black Lives Matter protests, and you’ve got a patch of horribly fertile soil in which to begin spreading the seeds of anti-authoritarian paranoia on this side of the pond.

By the end of summer, when the more radicalized “believers” were arranging apparently innocuous #SaveOurChildren protests in London, Gemma had learned enough to keep her head down on social media. There were no more posts about pizza slices or hotdog logos. She carried on being vocal about the “big lie” of Covid-19, and she carried on refusing loudly ever to wear a mask, but then she caught Covid and was too ill to post for a while.

She’s back now, though. A little bit quieter about Covid being a fake illness, but still fairly strident about how ludicrous the whole system of masks and lockdown is. And still very much anti-government, anti-rules, anti-mainstream. Still, basically, just a little bit better than the rest of us idiots who carry on believing every bit of information the government spoon-feeds us. 

I have no affection for her anymore. I can’t imagine laughing with her over a mojito again or sharing popcorn at the cinema when one of our book club books hits the big screen. Several of our mutual friends have already deleted her from their Facebook lists, and I know I ought to do the same; I have absolutely no doubt that with my woolly liberal views and left-leaning meme-shares, I annoy her just as much as she infuriates me.

I haven’t, though. I’ve hovered over the “unfriend” button many times and retreated, every time, at the thought of the little needle of embarrassment I’d inevitably feel every time we passed each other on our adjacent streets. And again, I’m sure she’s done the same. From some misplaced and mutually ridiculous politeness, we remain in each other’s lives, albeit peripherally and probably — let’s face it — temporarily.

But…I’m supposed to be the sensible one here. Aren’t I?

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A lover of horizons, hills, and words. Likes to write about uncomfortable things because too many people steer round those parts of life.

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