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PLoS One. 2019 Nov 18;14(11):e0225098. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0225098. eCollection 2019.

Pathways to conspiracy: The social and linguistic precursors of involvement in Reddit's conspiracy theory forum.

Author information

School of Philosophy, Australian National University, Canberra, Australia.
Centre for Health Informatics, Australian Institute of Health Innovation, Macquarie University, Sydney, Australia.


Many individuals who engage with conspiracy theories come to do so through a combination of individual and social factors. The interaction between these factors is challenging to study using traditional experimental designs. is a large connected set of online discussion forums, including one (r/conspiracy) devoted to wide-ranging discussion of conspiracy theories. The availability of large datasets of user comments from Reddit give a unique opportunity to observe human behavior in social spaces and at scale. Using a retrospective case control study design, we analyzed how Reddit users who would go on to engage with a conspiracy-related forum differed from other users in the language they use, differences in the social environments where they posted, and potential interactions between the two factors. Together, the analyses provide evidence for self-selection into communities with a shared set of interests which can feed into a conspiratorial world-view, and that these differences are detectable relative to controls even before users begin to post in r/conspiracy. We also suggest that survey-based and experimental studies may benefit from differentiating between passive private endorsement by individuals and active engagement with conspiracy theories in social spaces.

Free PMC Article

Conflict of interest statement

The authors have declared that no competing interests exist.

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