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There’s a lot more going on.
While the outrageous antics of image boards 4chan and 8chan have surpassed it in some ways, Reddit conspiracy forum r/Conspiracy continues to be one most popular outlets for discussion and dissemination of conspiracy theories.
The forum has made national headlines both for the conspiracy theories it has spawned and for many of its most prolific posters. Some of whom, perhaps unsurprisingly, believe the forum itself is the victim of a conspiracy to censor it.
What is Reddit conspiracy?
Reddit is a huge site, and very intimidating for novice users. Within that, r/Conspiracy itself can be overwhelming. Sometimes, the top posts have nothing to do with conspiracy theories. Some posts are paper-thin attempts to prop up President Trump, some are efforts to deflate that, and others are veiled anti-Semitic or Islamophobic rants.
So is r/Conspiracy really a “forum for free thinking and discussing issues which have captured the public’s imagination” as the site claims? Or is it what skeptical website RationalWiki calls “the front page of paranoia on the Internet?”
Here are some basic questions and answers about r/Conspiracy–but the only way to know for sure is to go there yourself.
How big is r/Conspiracy?
Not as big as one might think, given its outsized profile. The forum has about 617,000 subscribers. That sound like a lot, but doesn’t rank in the top 125 of most subscribed subreddits, according to redditlist.com. The most subscribed Reddit forum is r/funny, with over 19 million subscribers.
Is it the only forum for Reddit conspiracy theories?
Far from it. There are subreddits for every conspiracy flavor, including 9/11 truthers, UFO discussions, societal collapse, social media shills, and military takeover conspiracies. There’s even a second r/Conspiracy for conspiracy discussions free from politics, called r/ConspiracyII.
But the main forum is the biggest, by far.
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What are the politics of r/Conspiracy?
It changes over time, but right now, r/Conspiracy leans heavily toward supporting Donald Trump. During the run-up to the 2016 election the forum was overflowing with conspiracy theories involving Hillary Clinton, particularly false claims about her health, her finances, and that she was planning to rig the election.
Support for Trump has ebbed somewhat in the past year, and the main page of the forum currently has multiple popular threads criticizing Trump and his administration. But there’s an enormous amount of crossover between r/Conspiracy and r/the_donald, likely the most fervently pro-Trump thread on Reddit. One website analyzed r/the_donald posts by heavy r/Conspiracy users and found that over 50% of r/Conspiracy posters had made extensive use of r/the_donald as well.
Naturally, even the frequent crossover between the two subreddits became fodder for a conspiracy theory that the forum was actually being taken over by bots run by r/the_donald users. Some users are also just generally fed up with r/Conspiracy becoming too political in general, and lacking in conspiracy theory content.
What are some of the most common accusations of r/Conspiracy threads?
Despite its users’ political differences, r/Conspiracy tends to unite on a few things. There is a general distrust of government, central banks, police, major media companies, social media, and pharmaceutical/food companies.
There’s also a general feeling that Reddit is censored or manipulated by either its own moderators or by outside political forces. The most popular post in r/Conspiracy’s history does just does that, reposting the video of conservative-leaning Sinclair Media local news anchors reading a script decrying “fake stories” that was taken down from the front page of Reddit multiple times.
R/Conspiracy users are especially critical of “official stories” regarding major tragedies, such as mass shootings.
The site was a hotbed of conspiracy accusations against the survivors of the Parkland, Florida shooting—though opinions on what actually happened during the shooting were divided. And there are currently a number of popular threads questioning what “really” happened in the recent gas attack in Syria, which has generally been accepted as carried out by Syrian president Bashar al-Assad against his own people.
Finally, there are a number of threads in support of other popular conspiracy theories, particularly the accusations of rampant pedophilia contained in “Pizzagate” and its offshoot “The Storm,” though a subreddit devoted entirely to Pizzagate was deleted by Reddit after the private information of supposed (and not at all confirmed) pedophiles was posted in it.
What can we learn from the most popular Reddit conspiracy theories?
Politically, the site’s top posts of all time are all over the place. There are a number of top posts attacking Hillary Clinton and the DNC, even accusing Democratic leaders of ordering DNC employee Seth Rich shot in the back either to protect or avenge Hillary Clinton’s candidacy.
But several others reached the top attacking Trump or his administration’s members. The second-highest ranked post in the site’s history is a jab at Sean Hannity claiming waterboarding was so safe he’d undergo it, then going back on his promise – which is not actually a conspiracy theory.
There are multiple top threads attacking conspiracy theories related to the war on drugs, the FCC, CNN, Facebook, and Congress. There’s a lot of support for Bernie Sanders, but also for Ron Paul—two diametrically opposed politicians, but both held in high regard by conspiracy theorists.
Many top r/Conspiracy posts are devoted to what users perceive as a war between Reddit’s moderators and its users. The forum’s most popular post criticizes Reddit for taking down a video that was critical of a conservative media conglomerate. There are a number of other posts that attack Reddit mods for editing or deleting comments and allowing powerful interests like Saudi royals, the DNC, or major banks to manipulate Reddit.
Censorship and conspiracies involving Reddit in general, and r/Conspiracy in particular, are so popular that they encompass their own subreddit – r/subredditcancer. For anyone not embroiled in the drama, it’s all hopelessly obtuse and insular.
Is r/Conspiracy anti-Semitic?
It’s not all over the place, but it’s there. Anti-semitism runs deep in the conspiracy theory movement and has for centuries. So it’s no surprise that distrust and loathing of Jews is part of r/Conspiracy. Forum moderators have been accused of being openly anti-Semitic, and there are countless examples of threads attacking “the Jewish media” or praising Adolf Hitler.
Holocaust denial is a frequent topic for Redditors who call it a made up story, a hoax, or an exaggeration. Hatred of Israel is also common on r/conspiracy, with Jews or the Israel lobby put at the center of a wide range of conspiracies and plots against either Christians or the U.S. government.
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So is r/Conspiracy worth going to if you’re a conspiracy buff?
That depends entirely on what you’re hoping to get out of it. Like the rest of Reddit, r/Conspiracy is a firehose of unmoderated posting, with very little done to keep it at bay. If you’re looking to keep ahead of conspiracy theories and see what’s popular, it can be useful. But you can also easily sink into circular arguments.
And like all of Reddit, it can be a lot to take in at once. Ultimately, you’ll only get out of it what you choose to put in.
Mike Rothschild is a writer who specializes in researching and debunking conspiracy theories and fringe beliefs. He also writes about politics, history, and breaking news.