Twitter and YouTube have already taken steps to crack down on QAnon content on their platforms © AP

Donald Trump defended the rightwing QAnon conspiracy movement on Wednesday, saying its adherents “love our country”, even as Facebook disabled the accounts of hundreds of groups that perpetuated its messaging.

When asked about QAnon at a White House news conference, Mr Trump replied: “I don’t know much about the movement other than I understand they like me very much, which I appreciate.” He added: “I have heard it is gaining in popularity . . . I’ve heard these are people who love our country.”

In response to a question about QAnon’s belief that the president is protecting Americans from a global cabal engaging in cannibalism and paedophilia, Mr Trump replied: “Is that supposed to be a bad thing or a good thing? If I can help save the world from problems, I’m willing to do it.”

The comments were Mr Trump’s most direct to date on the QAnon conspiracy, which, fuelled almost entirely by social media, has gained a large following and, more recently, a toehold in US politics.

Several Republican congressional hopefuls have publicly embraced QAnon. One of them, Marjorie Taylor Greene, won her primary to stand in elections this November in a deep-red district in Georgia.

Mr Trump has called Ms Greene a “future Republican star” who was “strong on everything”. When asked twice last week whether he supported the QAnon movement — described by the FBI as a potential domestic terrorism threat — Mr Trump avoided the question.

Hours before Mr Trump’s comments on Wednesday, Facebook said it had shut down 790 QAnon-related groups, restricted 1,950 more, and removed 440 pages. On Instagram, 10,000 accounts were disabled and 300 hashtags were blocked. Additionally, 1,500 ads tied to the conspiracy theory were taken down.

It represents Facebook’s largest effort yet to quell the spread of QAnon.

The QAnon conspiracy theory focuses on the anonymous internet postings of an individual or group named “Q”, which claims insider knowledge on how the US is being run by a shadowy “deep state” involved in child-trafficking, while making vague and often wildly inaccurate predictions about future political events.

As part of its clampdown, Facebook said it was expanding its policies on “dangerous individuals and organisations” to restrict groups that demonstrate “significant risk” to the public but do not meet the company’s threshold for an outright ban.

As well as posts about QAnon, these guidelines will include restrictions on other “militia organisations”, including some identifying with the “antifa” movement. Facebook said 980 groups, 520 pages and 160 advertisements related to those militia groups had been taken down, while 1,400 hashtags were blocked.

Mr Trump has claimed, without evidence, that antifa — a portmanteau of “anti-fascist” — has been behind some of the violence and rioting seen in US cities in the wake of the George Floyd protests. In June, Facebook removed several ads posted by Mr Trump’s re-election campaign that used a Nazi symbol while denouncing “dangerous mobs of far-left groups”.

“While we will allow people to post content that supports these movements and groups, so long as they do not otherwise violate our content policies, we will restrict their ability to organise on our platform,” Facebook said in a blog post published on Wednesday.

Other measures include no longer proactively recommending such accounts to users who had shown a previous interest in the material. Content would be “ranked lower” in users’ newsfeeds, reducing visibility and its chances of going viral.

Twitter and YouTube have also announced efforts to curb the spread of QAnon-related activity on their networks.

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