California State Senator Scott Wiener on personal attacks by QAnon, and misinformation on social media

The QAnon conspiracy theory is that a cabal of Satan-worshipping pedophiles, mostly Democrats, are operating a global sex-trafficking ring, and that President Trump is secretly fighting to dismantle it. The baseless idea continues to gain steam, and President Trump has refused to disavow it. Political candidates who’ve embraced the theory may be elected to public office in two weeks. 

QAnon followers are also targeting incumbent lawmakers with vicious online attacks and death threats. California State Senator Scott Wiener is one of those lawmakers. He’s a Democrat who represents San Francisco. He just wrote an op-ed in the New York Times headlined “What I Learned When QAnon Came for Me.”

In the op-ed, he says what happened to him was a “perfect QAnon storm.” He explains to Press Play that this year, he authored a bill that passed, ending significant discrimination against LGBTQ young people on the sex offender registry. 

“All we were doing was saying, ‘Let's treat everyone exactly the same way that straight kids are already treated.’ QAnon latched onto this legislation. And people started to spread misinformation that we were somehow ‘legalizing pedophilia.’ That was absolutely false.”

He says on social media, he received about 1000 death threats from QAnon followers and tens of thousands of comments calling him a pedophile and other negative things. Wiener explains that the attacks were most intense between mid August to mid September, and he reported them to police.

He says, “People like Donald Trump Jr. and Ted Cruz and Rush Limbaugh and others amplified this slander. ... It really sends a loud signal to elected officials that if you dare to try to do the right thing, you might get attacked.”

Wiener’s staff were affected too. “At one point, we had to tell our interns to stop answering the phones because people were saying just horrific things.” 

He points out that fortunately, Facebook just announced that they are shutting down all the QAnon accounts. “If they can do that effectively, that will be helpful in terms of reducing the spread of the misinformation.”

He adds, “I also saw that Google announced that YouTube will be doing the same thing, which is great because YouTube has a particular issue with its algorithm that once you start watching YouTube videos, it takes you down a rabbit hole, and it can radicalize people. … So I think that the social media companies are starting to step up on this issue, and I just really pray that their approach is effective.” 

— Written by Amy Ta, produced by Brian Hardzinski