Checking in with the real housewives of QAmom

In this week's edition: metrics, mysteries, clueless travel bloggers, possibly-talking dogs, deepfake pop music and the pivot to pizza

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In the lead up to the 2020 presidential election, the Iowa-based fitness instructor Sage Miller* Instagrammed about/against child trafficking on at least three separate occasions. First she appears in leopard-print hot shorts on a nondescript vinyl porch, her manicured nails flashing a peace sign in front of a tell-tale “Defund Hollywood” shirt. Later, she draws an “X” on her palm and hashtags the selfie #kidslivesmatter. On November 3, Miller — whose feed, it must be noted, generally features gym-mirror thirst traps and well-staged portraits of the Christian Girl Autumn variety — urged her followers to “RESEARCH” before they cast their votes. (#womenfortrump, #weightlossjourney).

These are all catchphrases and dog whistles closely linked to the cult of QAnon. But since the election, Miller’s feed has mellowed. She’s posted a few workouts (… from the gym, maskless — of course!). On November 12, she posted a selfie in a black felt hat and plum-colored lipstick with an aspirational caption about maintaining year-end health goals.

Miller is not a huge influencer, by any means. With fewer than 3,000 followers, she might not even qualify for that designation. But Instagrammers like Miller represent, I think, a singular window into both the spread of Q ideology online, and where that movement will go after the election.

In The Washington Post, Drew Harwell reports some Q adherents are doubting the faith. In The Atlantic, Kaitlyn Tiffany reports they’re keeping it. Certainly the astronomic rise of Parler, the on-again, off-again “free speech social network,” would suggest that many true believers are doubling down on their religion.

But what about the influencers who occupy a flossy liminal zone: the women — because they are women, almost exclusively — who mix brow-grooming tips and pouty-lipped selfies with appeals to “Save the Children”? They are not, for the most part, “extremely online”; they are not awaiting Q’s every drop; they could not, one suspects, describe the difference between 8chan and 8kun. By all accounts, some of these Instagrammers may not even understand that the hashtags and catch phases they’re promoting come from QAnon, though in the process of affixing them to selfies and skin tutorials they’re effectively laundering the conspiracy for a larger audience. Personally, I want to know what those ladies are up to after the election.

This is a wide Instagram universe — made only marginally less discoverable by Instagram’s ban of QAnon-linked hashtags. In Utah, Jalynn Schroeder (“light worker,” 54k followers) wrote last week that she voted for the first time in her life in order “to end trafficking of innocent individuals and children. 💔⁣” In Arizona, Maddie Thompson (“mom, wife, truthteller,” 43k followers) voted “to save the innocent victims of sex trafficking and prosecute their abusers.” In California, Emily Renee Barton (“where glamour meets green,” 4k followers) posted a smiling driver-seat selfie with an “I Voted” sticker and a “Save The Children” cap. “Is your hat a QAnon reference?” one follower asked.

But since the election, as far as I can tell, most of these accounts have largely reverted to business as usual, back to makeup tutorials and heavily filtered autumn landscapes and platitudes rendered against pastel, sponge-brush backgrounds. Does this mean the conspiracy will fade with Trump? I doubt it. But this is the space I’ll be watching for future signals.

“Have compassion and grace,” wrote Chanelle Alyssa a few days ago (“plant-based vegan, seeker of light,” one-time proponent of the Wayfair child-trafficking bugaboo).

“Love those you are around,” her post continued. “Realize people are more than their political beliefs. Spread kindness … let’s come together.”

* You could probably find this woman’s real name without too much digging, but I’ve changed it for the purposes of this newsletter. Unlike the other people named here, she doesn’t have a massive following or make her living off the ‘grams — and I’m not trying to blow up her spot on Substack.


If you read anything this weekend

  1. This meandering essay on the myriad, novel joys of the TikTok algorithm. Packed with the type of tiny, glimmering observations that you keep thinking about long after you’ve read it. [Kyle Chayka / Substack]

  2. This provocative profile of the Western ‘grammers cluelessly tromping around Pakistan. I will read most things in the unintended-consequences-of-influencers genre, but this is a masterclass. (See also: further reading from Rest of World on travel influencers & authoritarians.) [Samira Shackle / The Guardian]

  3. This maddening yarn about one mystery the internet can’t solve. A hiker died in Florida, close to help and in good health … and all the hordes of WebSleuths haven’t even figured out what his name is yet. [Nicholas Thompson / Wired]

  4. This somehow-fresh take on the shit-postification of modern commerce. Brands have long embraced/appropriated memes, but the growing focus on “Twitter anarchy” feels like a race to the bottom. [Luke Winkie / Vox]

  5. This deeply personal essay on our obsession with “metrics,” which feels even more relevant as Covid numbers spike up. From Peloton to Parse.ly, we’re all just searching for “crumbs of control” in a chaotic universe. [Maya Kosoff / Medium]


And now for something completely different

I do not endorse buying puppies for children, but this is definitely — per that Chayka essay — a “specific genre of content” TikTok has nailed for me. (See also: this one. Aww. Bbs.)


Postscripts

The rise of the roommate and deepfake pop music. The great pivot to pizza. The Instagram poet for people who can’t stand them & the songs that soundtracked last weekend’s celebrations. Pour one out for the digital nomads. Wtf happened to Quibi? V. intrigued by this TikTok dog that can talk (!!). Well, the science is out. So maybe.

I *did* need a fluffy Jason Momoa interview! However did you know? Why you should archive your Instagram photos. (I’m too young to feel this old.) The Kornacki khaki effect. The uncanniness of living in interesting times. Last but not least, in light of this week’s news: A great Alex Trebek profile from the archives.


Sharing is caring

I appreciate Emma both for sharing Links last week and for inadvertently leading me down a delightful trans-Pacific rabbit hole. ‘Emma Chizzit is not a real name,’ I thought. ‘I should Google that before it goes in the newsletter.’ And sure enough, Emma Chizzit is … an obscure Australian joke? Or a mystery series? One or the other! Either way, THANK YOU to Emma/not-Emma & everyone else who shares this newsletter. Your referrals are the main way it finds new readers!!

— Caitlin