‘Q: Into the Storm’ shows the power and danger of the internet

It's not always the most engaging documentary, but it's an important one

Brad Keefe
“Q: Into the Storm”

If four words have the potential to destroy us, they are “do your own research.”

As a longtime journalist, I’ve had a deep fascination and growing sense of dread with the prevalence of misinformation online, coupled with a growing distrust of traditional media — a distrust that is stoked by some of that same misinformation.

The internet can be a powerful tool for information, but few could have seen just how off the rails it could go. It turns out people are very, very bad at discerning good sources of information. And like many tools, this one all too easily became a weapon.

The six-part HBO docuseries “Q: Into the Storm” is a deep dive into the rise of the QAnon conspiracy theory, one which would have existed on the fringes before the internet. Now it’s a belief that was at one point held by millions. In November, voters elected multiple members of Congress who expressed support for it.

Director Cullen Hoback goes down a few rabbit holes in the uneven, six-episode series, but if you want a deep dive into some of the real dangers of the internet, you’ll find it.

Hoback spends some time asking sticky questions about any efforts to regulate speech online. He interviews Q followers and documents rallies that grow from comically small to the terrifying sights of the Jan. 6 insurrection that was inexorably linked to QAnon.

As he pulls back to the larger picture, Hoback seems to also pull back from the belief that all this speech should be protected.

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The other arc of the series involves trying to unveil the identity of the anonymous message board poster known as Q.

If you aren’t in for a deep dive into some of the worst parts of the internet, this may be less interesting to you, but Hoback was following this story before it went mainstream.

Thus, much of the series is pulled from extensive time spent with the founder of the imageboard 8chan, Fredrick Brennan, and the board’s operator, Jim Watkins, as well as his son (and board administrator), Ron.

Perhaps most significantly, Hoback clearly develops the trust of his subjects to the point that they say a lot more than they should.

So, yes, “Into the Storm” makes a pretty convincing case for who was actually posting as Q.

As the former president weaponized the term “fake news” to foster distrust in mainstream media, a lot of people were “doing their own research” on 8chan, which put Jim and Ron Watkins in a position of dangerous power.

It’s going to take time to realize the full impact of the Q movement. The misinformation that led to a violent insurrection at the Capitol was clear. The anti-mask and anti-vaccine movements that seem all but sure to draw out the pandemic also have roots and overlap with the Q crowd.

The reason “do your own research” works is that a person can feel a sense of discovery going down that rabbit hole, and sites like YouTube are all to willing to lead you there with algorithms.

“Into the Storm” isn’t always the most engaging documentary, but it’s an important one detailing a topic that’s actually a matter of survival of society at large.

“Q: Into the Storm”

Now streaming on HBO Max

3 stars out of 5