The Australian National University (ANU) researchers examined eight years of content for their study, which included over two billion Reddit posts. Notably, the team looked at every piece of material posted to the r/conspiracy subreddit, which examines all kinds of conspiracy theories, from 9/11 and UFOs to "Pizzagate."
Dr. Colin Klein, the lead author of the study, suggests that the common perception of conspiracy theorists — "crackpots wearing tinfoil hats" — might not reflect reality.
"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," he said, adding that the online forums examined in the study suggest that the views of such theorists are actually more varied than this perception.
According to Klein, his team found that many people posting on r/conspiracy have "sensible" interests that don't reflect the more extreme theories that often penetrate the mainstream.
"For example conspiracy theories about police abuse of power are common. That's not so crazy," he said.
Although Klein acknowledged that such theorists might indeed believe "false things," they often do so because of similar events in the past, which he believes makes their reasoning sound.
Klein also found that the language used by individuals that frequent the r/conspiracy subreddit doesn't differ significantly enough from users of other subreddits that it can be used to distinguish them.
"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."
Conspiracy theories have become a staple of President Donald Trump's presidency, per The Atlantic, with many of his allies accused of pushing such theories to benefit the president and his political agenda. As The Inquisitr reported, Baltimore Sun media critic David Zurawik recently appeared on CNN and accused Fox News — as well as other right-wing publications — of helping Trump spread conspiracy theories. According to Zurawik, "seeding" these theories into the mainstream media is not only dangerous, but it helps Russia.One such theory at the center of the current impeachment probe into Trump is that Ukraine — not Russia — interfered in the 2016 U.S. Democratic presidential election. Many critics believe this theory that it takes the focus off of Russia, which Robert Mueller's report determined interfered in the 2016 election.