In the waning weeks leading up to the election, numerous platforms have cracked down on QAnon, the baseless conspiracy theory positioning Trump as a savior from an evil deep-state leftist cabal. Facebook announced it would be banning the conspiracy theory, and Etsy has also revealed that it would be removing QAnon-related merchandise from the platform.
On one platform, however, QAnon-related merchandise thrives: Amazon. The behemoth marketplace is replete with QAnon content, from hats emblazoned with slogans referencing the conspiracy theory to mugs to onesies. Amazon declined to comment for this story regarding QAnon content on the platform.
A search for WWG1WGA — or “where we go one, we go all,” the unofficial slogan of the movement — yields seven pages of results (at the time of publication), including denim-washed baseball caps, flags, books, decals, and T-shirts bearing the slogan. A search for “follow the white rabbit,” a popular QAnon slogan, yields keychain rings, hats, bumper stickers, and mugs, some of which are available on Amazon Prime. Even a search for “the great awakening” — an otherwise benign term that has been coopted by the movement — surfaces a QAnon-related book as one of its primary results.
Amazon has long taken a haphazard, patchwork approach to policing merchandise for sale on its platform. Though its policies explicitly prohibit “products that promote, incite or glorify hatred, violence, racial, sexual or religious intolerance or promote organizations with such views,” it has long served as a bastion of white nationalist content, with a ProPublica investigation finding as recently as last spring that the platform actively promoted such books.
In 2019, after receiving criticism regarding spreading medical misinformation by hosting anti-vaxx content, Amazon removed a number of books promoting the idea that vaccines cause autism, as well as a handful of popular “documentaries” including the notorious anti-vaccine film Vaxxed. Yet it’s still relatively easy to find such content on the platform, and medical misinformation experts have publicly taken the platform to task for failing to appropriately police such items. (Amazon did not respond to Rolling Stone‘s questions about anti-vaccine content on the website.)
Under its offensive materials policy, Amazon’s content guidelines prohibit “products that promote, incite or glorify hatred, violence, racial, sexual or religious intolerance or promote organizations with such views.” Kathleen Stansberry, associate professor of communications at Elon University, says QAnon, which has a great deal of overlap with anti-Semitic conspiracy theories, falls in that category. “We should look to the experts to identify groups for inciting violence and those groups should be held accountable,” she says, citing the FBI’s referencing QAnon as a domestic terrorist threat.
Last month, Amazon was criticized for donating to the reelection campaign for Tennessee state lawmaker Rep. Susan Lynn, who had publicly promoted QAnon on social media. In a statement to the Associated Press, Amazon said it had made a donation to Lynn’s campaign a year ago, and did not plan on making another one.
Stansberry says she “doesn’t see any reason” why Amazon could not take the same steps that sites like Etsy or Facebook have taken in scrubbing QAnon from the platform. Yet even though the platform has previously been criticized for hosting QAnon merchandise, it has not taken a stance either way on the conspiracy theory, even as other marketplaces like Etsy have. “Amazon has a strong policy in place to address offensive and controversial materials and products,” as Stansberry explains, “And they have a responsibility to enforce that policy to the best of their ability regardless of cost.”