Paved with Bad Intentions: QAnon’s Save the Children Campaign


How to Cite

Buntain, C., Deal Barlow, M., Bloom, M., & A. Johns, M. (2022). Paved with Bad Intentions: QAnon’s Save the Children Campaign. Journal of Online Trust and Safety, 1(2).


In the lead-up to the 2020 US presidential election, adherents to QAnon conspiracy theories parlayed the “Save the Children” slogan from a well-known charity into a vector for exposure and political mobilization. This paper introduces three factors that potentially contributed space for appropriating the slogan into the QAnon-backed #SaveTheChildren campaign and, in this context, examines images of children shown alongside QAnon #SaveTheChildren messages. For these factors, we examine the use of race, age, gender, and graphic depictions in this exploitative imagery. Results show QAnon-related images massively over-represent preteen, white children compared to child-trafficking statistics and include a substantial proportion of graphic imagery. Building on studies of child-advocacy campaigns, we contend that QAnon imagery uses the familiar motif of distressed children while presenting a narrative distinct from both these child-advocacy groups and the realities of child trafficking. Embedded in broader contexts of race, gender, and emotional manipulation in online spaces, we discuss how these images are particularly impactful for conservative, white, and especially female audiences in the US and how other movements might be at similar risk of appropriation. The paper then closes by describing possible interventions to protect the safety of online audiences.
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