The r/conspiracy subreddit is the birthing ground of such feats of imagination as “Hillary Clinton has financial ties to ISIS” and “the Ft. Lauderdale shooting was a failed MKUltra experiment,” as well as the adopted home of Pizzagate theorists after Reddit shut down r/pizzagate. There are friendly weirdos who just want to talk about Stanley Kubrick, but there are also more sinister paranoids who feel the need to investigate the “influence” Jewish people have on various world powers.
But today, the subreddit is hooked on a new masterpiece of a conspiracy theory: a conspiracy against conspiracy theorists. The users are worried there’s a conspiracy to shut down r/conspiracy.
The presumed actor in this conspiracy is of course the broad “them,” and the alleged motives are no more specific:
“Theory: those in power have noticed they can’t destroy ‘conspiracy theories’ and that many people trust more ‘conspiracy theories’ than their scripted narratives. Thus, they are now trying to take control of the most active conspiracy forums like this one. What you can’t destroy, control.”
Why today of all days, for “them” to put an end to the conspiracy community?
Alongside the notoriously fetid troll swamp r/The_Donald, r/conspiracy is where you can find claims that BuzzFeed’s choice to publish a scandalous but unverifiable dossier of information about President-elect Trump’s alleged ties to the Russian government last night was actually orchestrated by someone on 4chan in a bizarre attempt to bolster Trump, torpedo BuzzFeed (presumably with far-fetched lawsuits), and destroy the country’s faith in the media. This theory is based on a screenshot of a 4chan user mentioning a “sex tape orgy” after another user claimed to have fed false information about Trump to vehemently anti-Trump GOP political consultant Rick Wilson. Theorists on 4chan and Reddit are praising this user for duping Wilson into passing the information off to either to the CIA, or to independent presidential candidate Evan McMullin, who then gave it to Senator John McCain. Wilson has spent the better part of the day fending off trolls convinced of his involvement, writing on Medium that the claims are “false and risible.”
The more interesting theory brewing on r/conspiracy is that someone is conspiring to shut down the subreddit, or otherwise control and repurpose it.
This fear seems to stem from what users are calling an unprecedented amount of activity in the subreddit over the last 20 hours or so — or ever since BuzzFeed dumped the Trump documents and encouraged the public, basically, to play the part of journalists: “BuzzFeed News is publishing the full document so that Americans can make up their own minds about allegations about the president-elect that have circulated at the highest levels of the US government.”
Posters who profess to be regulars on the subreddit aren’t worried about theorizing on the documents, so much as they’re worried about why so many people are coming to their page, and what it could possibly mean. Top-voted posts right now have titles like “5 thousand people online in Conspiracy right now! We are being attacked! My regulars of Conspiracy now is the time to fight back! Don't let them destroy our sub with paid shills!” and “/r/conspiracy is being targeted with a massive number of coordinated voters (bots?) to take control of the narrative on this sub!” When anyone counters that the reason for the increased traffic is that an r/conspiracy post made it to the front page of Reddit, users rebut them by questioning whether that post was written by some nefarious actor: “it’s BuzzFeed ffs, this is not a source ANYONE here would ever trust let alone mass upvote and give gold to.” They often refer to what they’re worried about as “astro-turfing,” a term for grassroots movements that are deemed suspicious — likely paid for by some secret entity.
On another thread, a user says, “Something very dark is going on here suddenly. They have finally come for us. We know the truth, this is our sub, we will fight back. Do not fall for the shilling.”
It stands to reason that the flood of newcomers to r/conspiracy is just a horde of curious people, come to see if their fellow citizens have begun work on the task that BuzzFeed so strangely threw down for them. After all, Reddit’s gotten a lot more mainstream news coverage following the election, thanks to its harboring of white nationalist alt-right communities that many believe will have a major voice in Trump’s administration.
But how can you ask a community of conspiracy theorists to believe that?
Even the ones who don’t think a mysterious entity is paying Redditors to upvote the BuzzFeed link or spamming their subreddit with bots think something fishy is going on. For months, many in the sub have worried that r/The_Donald users have become too powerful within r/conspiracy — last night, some were surprised that the Trump link wasn’t higher on the page and getting more traffic, suggesting that Trump supporters were conspiring to suppress it.
Some posters have also started questioning their own moderators’ allegiances, pointing out, “what's funny is that no other story on /r/conspiracy has ever been tagged with ‘Unverified Allegations.’” A comment in that thread, later deleted by moderators, asked, “Can you explain why the mods of this sub are so pro-Trump? They tagged only that post with unverifiable claims and then deleted it and put a tag that says it's a 4chan prank, which in itself is an unverified claim.”
It’s a scary thought for some posters, who recognize the irony of the proposition but don’t think that disqualifies its legitimacy. It’s also, unsurprisingly, far from the first time the conspiracy-against-conspiracies idea has come up: users have argued that Reddit hates them, YouTube hates them, the government hates them, and their own moderators hate them. Maybe someone will write a unified theory of conspiracies against r/conspiracy next time? 10/10, would read.
No matter who or what is trying to destroy r/conspiracy from the inside out, it looks like it’s working… or at least causing a wild afternoon of in-fighting. Congratulations, “them,” you win again!