‘Q’, a mysterious messenger who converted millions of Americans to his conspiracy theory and galvanized Donald Trump followers who stormed Congress, is played by two people, say start-up experts Swiss.
OrphAnalytics, which first developed algorithms to chase away plagiarism but which has since extended its field of expertise, put them to work to try to unravel the secret of “QAnon”.
“The conclusions are that we have two different authors at two different periods”, explains Claude-Alain Roten to ., during an interview at his home in western Switzerland, which he wishes to keep. secret address for obvious security reasons.
The conspiracy movement was born in October 2017 on the online forum 4Chan – and later 8Kun – and fed on messages called “Q-drops”, baselessly claiming that Donald Trump was waging a secret war against a clique of pedophile Democrats and worshipers of Satan.
Treated at first with disdain, QAnon has become a powerful movement and for Claude-Alain Roten there is no doubt that the thousands of cryptic messages are made by two people.
“The approach we use is stylometry, but the one we have focused on is stylometry of sequences, strings of characters. We are not trying to get out of properties on units. Linguistic things like words or turns of sentences or syntax. We are looking for information about characteristics that characterize a string of characters, “says Roten.
For OrphAnalytics, it is a question of exploiting the statistics of appearance of character strings to determine the authors of a text.
The small business can intervene as well on the authentication of a will, as to detect plagiarism and contribute to police investigations.
The interest in QAnon comes from the concern of the founder of the company about the manipulation of the population of a country where he lived for three years.
Mr. Roten is a biologist by training but changed his specialty when he realized that the methods used to decipher genetic codes could help detect the specifics of a person’s writing style.
“I have the impression of always doing the same job,” he confides.
A colleague, gray hair and a cloth mask, who asks that he only be identified as René, demonstrates on a laptop perched on the dining room table.
After removing the slag that could jam the “signal” of some 4,950 “Q-drops”, he passes them through the in-house software grinder and on the screen clearly appear two separate sets.
“The difference in the signal is large enough to leave little doubt about the copyright change,” according to a report released last month by the company.
For Florian Cafiero, researcher at the CNRS specializing in quantitative linguistics, the work of the Swiss on QAnon “seems convincing”.
If stylometry has been around for a long time, it has been revolutionized – like many other fields – by the advent of machines capable of processing phenomenal amounts of data.
OrphAnalytics has already hit the headlines by throwing itself into the fray over the Elena Ferrante affair, which rocked the literary world in Italy, claiming that the pseudonym author was in fact an author: Domenico Starnone.
The dark side?
The start-up, born in 2014, would also have been involved in criminal investigations, such as the case of the murder of little Gregory Villemin in France, according to the press.
But Claude Alain Roten refuses to confirm or deny.
For him, his approach based on pure statistical analysis allows him to remain neutral where context and hypotheses are generally pillars of text analysis.
Florian Cafiero believes that this new way of approaching a proven technique and applying it to the legal process can help “avoid mistakes”.
But he also expresses his fear that this type of technology will allow whistleblowers to be unmasked, for example.
“As with all technology there is a bright side and a dark side,” recognizes Mr. Roten, while emphasizing the strict ethical rules that his company applies in order to avoid “our approach to sequence stylometry being used to serve the dark side “.
As for the investigation into QAnon, he feels compelled to help lift a corner of the veil.
“We are responsible people. If we can act, we act.”