Pathways to conspiracy: the social and linguistic precursors of involvement in Reddit’s conspiracy theory forum

Colin Klein*, Peter Clutton, Adam G. Dunn

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

58 Citations (Scopus)
37 Downloads (Pure)


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.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere0225098
Pages (from-to)1-23
Number of pages23
JournalPLoS ONE
Issue number11
Publication statusPublished - 18 Nov 2019

Bibliographical note

Copyright the Author(s) 2019. Version archived for private and non-commercial use with the permission of the author/s and according to publisher conditions. For further rights please contact the publisher.


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