Etsy Might Actually Be the Perfect Platform for QAnon
Etsy has a QAnon problem. The craft marketplace, like many other retailers that allow third-party sellers, lists products promoting the far-right conspiracy theory. QAnon’s core beliefs—that a global cult of Satan-worshipping child traffickers exist and President Trump is fighting to take them down—sounds implausible enough to almost be harmless to those on the outside. But Q believers have been tolerated, if not outright promoted, within the Republican party and by Trump. QAnon believers are running for state and local office and have been tied to violent crimes. But companies like Facebook, Amazon, and Etsy have been slow to crack down on groups and individuals spreading QAnon theories.
Etsy’s announcement that it will remove Q-related merch from its site feels, like many responses, too little, too late: After all, if you believe in a deep state conspiracy to protect a massive child trafficking ring, wouldn’t actions like Etsy’s merely confirm just how far those in power will go to hide the truth? At this point, any mainstream attempts to debunk Q can, for the Q believer, just be further confirmation of their views.
For many of us, however, Etsy’s move raises a question we’d never thought to ask: What kind of Q merchandise exists on a site that prides itself on selling handmade, one-of-a-kind objects? If you’re picturing cross-stitches of white rabbits or ceramic mugs with Q insignia on it, think again. The majority of QAnon merch disposable stuff that can be made by simply uploading a graphic to a website that can print it onto products for you.
While stores do not list where they get their products from, it’s not hard to see that few of these sellers are hard at work crafting. Many listings have a stock photo feel, with logos and designs edited onto the same images over and over again.
Q-branded items are not the only mass-produced goods being sold on Etsy. The company is associated with one-of-a-kind goods. But, if you peek beyond the hand-lathed wooden candlesticks, there are lots of stores making their money off of generic designs printed onto shirts, masks, and bags by third-party companies.
Sellers, whether they market to brides or conspiracy theorists, can quickly make a design and superimpose it onto blank shirts or bags or yard signs in seconds. If and when the order is placed, they can either actually make it or outsource the creation to companies like Printful, which offers an Etsy integration and will create and ship orders once they’re placed.
It’s possible with a little sleuthing to track stock models and size charts to companies like Printful.
Q sellers aren’t just mimicking a tried-and-true Etsy business model. They’re also using Etsy aesthetics to sell their merch. Many stores sell otherwise innocuous-seeming products, like a shirt referencing Hocus Pocus. Stores that sell Q merch also use common product images, like stock photos of flat-lays with canvas sneakers.
Some of QAnon’s rallying cries, like “Save the children,” could also easily appeal to and draw in people who otherwise have no idea what QAnon is. A lot of Q merch is sold in stores that list, in the same generic stock image format, more general pro-Trump sentiments. Browsing QAnon merch that has not yet been removed, it’s easy to see how closely knit Q and Trump are.
As Etsy attempts to cut off the many-headed hydra of Q merch, even a quick search shows how hard it will be. Etsy cannot review every product listed on site, and sellers can be nimble and create, at almost zero cost, new products with new QAnon codes and symbols. Etsy has made money off allowing sellers to sell generic or stolen designs on merch that a third party will mass-produce. QAnon, by using that classic playbook, has made itself nearly impossible to fully root out from the site. At this point, stores like this are in Etsy’s DNA.