“Knowing with the Enemy: Discernment Practices in Conspiracy Theory Research”
Winston Berg | PhD Candidate, Department of Political Science
Discussant: Anna Berg | PhD Candidate, Department of Sociology
Wednesday, May 18, 4:30pm – 6:00pm CST
Location: Haskell 101 and Zoom
(Meeting ID: 995 2954 1260, Passcode: 959281)
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In this chapter I discuss the formalized practices employed by anonymous researchers on 8chan’s /qresearch/ subforum as they monitor and interpret current events, share theories and produce conspiracy theory material for dissemination on other platforms. Based on computer-mediated ethnographic encounters with a range of “anons”, I suggest that participants’ motives and relationships to the claims of conspiracy theory vary with their institutional context. In support of this claim I examine the interplay of computerized, coded institutions with the formal “code” of conduct employed by research forum participants and the informal norms of anon forum culture, elaborating how these institutions enable decentralized conspiracy theorists to coordinate and collaborate while deferring questions of theory and belief. Specifically, I focus on two interrelated practices of discernment on the boards. First, anonymous participants socialize new users and enforce the limits of legitimate participation by teaching the skills necessary to discern authentic participants from “motivated agents” and other interlopers. Second, participants systematically identify information items as candidates for belief and doubt through practices of identification and provocation.
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