Experts inspect tin-foil forums
Australian researchers have delved into the world of online conspiracy theories and the people who push them.
The study looked at eight years of content, sifting through billions of comments including everything posted to the Reddit channel r/conspiracy.
R/conspiracy covers everything from UFOs and 9/11, to the assassinations of JFK and Jeffery Epstein.
But despite the subject matter, lead author of the study Dr Colin Klein says conspiracy theorists aren’t always a bunch of “crackpots wearing tinfoil hats”.
“In the past before the rise of online forums like Reddit, we tended to only hear about the most extreme views, and those people tended to naturally be wary about talking to someone else about their beliefs,” Dr Klein said.
“These massive online forums paint a very different picture.
“The enormous set of comments we examined show many r/conspiracy users actually have more ‘sensible’ interests.
“For example conspiracy theories about police abuse of power are common. That’s not so crazy.
“These people might believe false things, but with good reason – because similar things have happened in the past.”
Professor Klein and his team also found that there was barely any difference in the language used by conspiracists versus other Reddit users.
“You might find they talk more about power or power structures, but their language is not that different from what ordinarily goes on in a forum like r/politics. You can’t distinguish them that way,” he said.
“It’s very easy to look at conspiracy theories and think they’re super wacky, and the people who believe in them are crazy, but it’s actually much more continuous with a lot of things we do every day.
“Low level theorising goes on a lot in everyday life, I’m inclined to think the stuff you see online is just a strong outgrowth of that.”