Conspiracy Networks

The ease by which misinformation spreads online makes conspiracy networks a battleground in the fight against online disinformation.

ISD’s research on conspiracy theory networks is a central pillar of our Digital Analysis Unit. Using state-of-the-art data analytics, OSINT techniques and ethnographic research, we investigate the complex relationship and overlap between extremist movements, hate groups and conspiracy theory networks worldwide. This area of research intertwines with our broader analysis of online manipulation as it relates to elections, public health and climate change disinformation.

Conspiracy theories feed off the grievances that people feel relating to socio-economic power structure, and propose a reality where a small number of powerful people have ultimate control over world events. Through speculation, illogical reasoning and the human brain’s natural ability to spot patterns – even where they do not exist – conspiracy theories often erode people’s trust in vital institutions such as healthcare, the media or electoral systems.

Throughout 2020, conspiracy theory networks touting anti-5G, anti-vaccine or anti-elite theories came together and provided fuel to COVID-sceptic movements. These pandemic-related claims were found to act as a gateway for people across the world to fall further into conspiracy theory rabbit holes, fuelled by powerful social media algorithms.

These rabbit holes led many people to QAnon, a wide ranging meta conspiracy theory born in the depths of the message board 4chan in October 2017. QAnon exploded in popularity in 2020 and transformed into a quasi-religious digital cult movement that has torn countless families apart and played a key role in the spread of voter fraud conspiracy theories that led to the storming of the Capitol on January 6, 2021.

Although the weaponisation of conspiracy theories by bad actors is nothing new, the ease by which these theories spread online and the dissociative effect they often have on people’s sense of reality has positioned conspiracy theory networks as one of the main issue areas in the battle against online disinformation.

Latest Conspiracy Network Publications


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ISD’s Conspiracy Analysis team

Chloe Colliver
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Chloe Colliver

Head of Digital Policy and Strategy

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Chloe Colliver
Chloe Colliver

Head of Digital Policy and Strategy

Chloe Colliver is Head of Digital Policy and Strategy at ISD, where she leads a global team of analysts studying disinformation and extremism online, including programmes of work focusing on the German, European Parliamentary, UK, Swedish and US Elections. She has worked on the development of the Global Internet Forum to Counter Terrorism and has provided expert testimony to the UK Home Affairs Select Committee, the Swedish, New Zealand, Canadian, French and German governments on digital policy and tech regulation. She has been featured at CNN, the BBC, Sky News, the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, Wired and Bloomberg. She is the co-author of ISD reports Spin Cycle: Information Laundering on Facebook, Developing a Civil Society Response to Online Manipulation, The 101 of Disinformation Detection, Click Here For Outrage: Disinformation in the European Parliamentary Elections 2019, The First 100 Days: Coronavirus and Crisis Management on Social Media Platforms, and Hoodwinked: Coordinated Inauthentic Behaviour on Facebook. Chloe is a Yale Mellon Fellow and sits on the Advisory Board for Accountable Tech.
Jacob Davey
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Jacob Davey

Head of Research & Policy, Far-right and Hate Movements

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Jacob Davey
Jacob Davey

Head of Research & Policy, Far-right and Hate Movements

Jacob Davey is Head of Research & Policy of Far-right and Hate Movements. His research focuses on the role of digital communications in inter-communal conflict, internet culture, online hate speech and the international far-right. He has led a number of projects piloting novel models for identifying extremist conversation online as well as interventions to counter this phenomenon. He has advised national and local policymakers on right-wing extremism, including the Home Affairs Select Committee, and has lead trainings with frontline practitioners on the mobilisation strategies of extremist groups. He has provided commentary on extremism-related issues in a number of platforms including The Guardian, The Independent, and The BBC, and also sits as a Senior Fellow at the Centre for Analysis of the Radical Right. He is the co-author of ISD reports Hosting the ‘Holohoax’: A Snapshot of Holocaust Denial Across Social Media, The Interplay Between Australia’s Political Fringes on the Right and Left: Online Messaging on Facebook, The Genesis of a Conspiracy Theory, A Safe Space to Hate: White Supremacist Mobilisation on Telegram, An Online Environmental Scan of Right-wing Extremism in Canada, The Fringe Insurgency – Connectivity, Convergence and Mainstreaming of the Extreme Right, Counter-Conversations: A model for direct engagement with individuals showing signs of radicalisation online, “Mainstreaming Mussolini” – How the Extreme Right Attempted to ‘Make Italy Great Again’ in the 2018 Italian Election, ‘The Great Replacement’: The Violent Consequences of Mainstreamed Extremism, and An imprecise science: Assessing interventions for the prevention, disengagement and de-radicalisation of left and right-wing extremists.
Cooper Gatewood
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Cooper Gatewood

Senior Digital Research Manager

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Cooper Gatewood
Cooper Gatewood

Senior Digital Research Manager

Cooper Gatewood is a Senior Digital Research Manager within ISD’s Digital Research Unit, focusing on quantitative research into the spread of hateful and polarising narratives online, and how they are leveraged by extremist actors. Cooper is currently contributing to ISD’s research on disinformation campaigns, particularly those aimed to influence and disrupt election processes. He also manages on the Online Civil Courage Initiative in France, coordinating activities to support civil society’s response to hate and extremism online. In addition, Cooper conducts ongoing evaluation of a number of ISD’s programmes, including Be Internet Citizens and Young Digital Leaders. Cooper also develops monitoring and evaluation frameworks for a number of ISD’s education projects. Previously, Cooper worked at Portland, where he advised clients from the non-profit and government sectors on their media engagement and social media strategies. He is the co-author of ISD reports The Boom Before the Ban: QAnon and Facebook, La pandémie de COVID-19: terreau fertile de la haine en ligne, Fostering Civic Responses to Online Harms, Promouvoir le civisme en ligne face aux malveillances à l’ère du numérique, Disinformation briefing: Narratives around Black Lives Matter and voter fraud, Mapping hate in France: A panoramic view of online discourse, and Building Digital Citizenship in France: Lessons from the Sens Critique project. Cooper holds a Masters of International Affairs from Columbia University and a Masters of International Security from Sciences Po and is fluent in Spanish and French, as well as speaking proficient Japanese.
Jennie King
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Jennie King

Senior Policy Manager

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Jennie King
Jennie King

Senior Policy Manager

Jennie King is a Senior Policy Manager at ISD. She supports programme design, policy outreach and strategy across the organisation. Jennie previously served as MENA Regional Director Arts, Assistant Country Director Egypt and Co-Director Hungary for the British Council, the UK’s international body for cultural relations. She also served as an Attaché for the Guatemalan Diplomatic Mission. She is the co-author of the ISD report Hoodwinked: Coordinated Inauthentic Behaviour on Facebook. Jennie read Arabic and Spanish at Pembroke College, Cambridge, receiving a Foundation Scholarship and the Marie Shamma’a Frost Prize for Oriental Studies.
Daniel Maki
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Daniel Maki

Senior Manager, OSINT & Digital Risk

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Daniel Maki
Daniel Maki

Senior Manager, OSINT & Digital Risk

Daniel Maki is a Senior Manager in charge of open-source intelligence (OSINT) research for ISD’s Digital Research Unit, as well as serving as ISD’s Digital Risk Officer. Daniel leads a team of practitioners in the collection and analysis of intelligence related to investigations, ethnographic research, crisis response, and security monitoring. He also regularly serves as a subject-matter expert in intelligence collection and analysis within ISD and on behalf of ISD’s key partners. As ISD’s Digital Risk Officer, Daniel is responsible for tackling emerging digital risks and identifying operational security threats encountered in the course of research projects and investigations. Daniel has worked in the intelligence community for ten years as an investigator and intelligence analyst, conducting investigations into a wide variety of matters, including financial crime, insider threats, counterintelligence, espionage, organized crime and corruption, workplace misconduct, cybercrime, terrorism, and geopolitical conflict.
Jakob Guhl
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Jakob Guhl

Research Manager

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Jakob Guhl
Jakob Guhl

Research Manager

Jakob Guhl is a Manager at ISD, where he works within the Digital Research Unit and with ISD Germany. His research focuses on the far-right, Islamist extremism, hate speech, disinformation and conspiracy theories. He is a frequent commentator on German radio and broadcast, including Deutschlandfunk, Tagesthemen, NDR and Radio Eins. Jakob has been invited to present his research about online hate to the German Ministry of the Justice and provided evidence to the German Minister of the Interior and the German Family Minister on how to strengthen prevention against right-wing extremism and antisemitism. His research has been featured in Die Zeit, The Guardian, DW, The Telegraph, CNN, Euronews, Coda Story, Vice, Politico, New Republic and Die Welt, among others. Additionally, he has published articles in the “Journal for Deradicalisation”, “Demokratie gegen Menschenfeindlichkeit”, Taz, Der Standard, GNET and co-authored an essay for an edited volume of the Munich Residence Theatre about the origins of contemporary political anger. He is the co-author of ISD reports Crisis and Loss of Control: German-Language Digital Extremism in the Context of the COVID-19 Pandemic, Hosting the ‘Holohoax’: A Snapshot of Holocaust Denial Across Social Media, A Safe Space to Hate: White Supremacist Mobilisation on Telegram and The Online Ecosystem of the German Far-Right. Jakob holds an MA in Terrorism, Security and Society from King’s College London.
Aoife Gallagher
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Aoife Gallagher

Analyst

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Aoife Gallagher
Aoife Gallagher

Analyst

Aoife Gallagher is an Analyst on ISD’s Digital Analysis Unit, focusing on the intersection between far-right extremism, disinformation and conspiracy theories and using a mixture of data analysis, open source intelligence and investigative techniques to understand the online ecosystem where these ideas flourish and spread. Previously, Aoife was a journalist with the online news agency, Storyful. She is co-author of the ISD reports The Genesis of a Conspiracy Theory and Profit and Protest: How Facebook is struggling to enforce limits on ads spreading hate, lies and scams about the Black Lives Matter protests. Aoife has completed an MA in Journalism.
Christian Schwieter
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Christian Schwieter

Policy & Research Analyst, ISD Germany

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Christian Schwieter
Christian Schwieter

Policy & Research Analyst, ISD Germany

Christian Schwieter is a Policy & Research Analyst at ISD Germany, working across projects in the research and policy division. Christian focuses on the quantitative analysis of online political communication, with an emphasis on the effect of online regulation on far-right actors. At ISD, Christian co-led the pilot phase of the Digital Policy Lab, a new intergovernmental working group focused on charting the online policy path forward to prevent and counter disinformation, hate speech and extremism. He also leads the analysis of the online debate surrounding climate change in Germany, in anticipation of the upcoming Federal Elections and COP26 summit. Previously, Christian worked as a researcher for the Programme on Technology & Democracy (previously the Computational Propaganda Project) at the Oxford Internet Institute, where he co-authored reports on state-backed information operations relating to the Covid-19 pandemic. In 2019, Christian was the Specialist Adviser on Disinformation Matters for the UK Digital, Culture, Media and Sports Select Committee at the House of Commons, led by Damian Collins MP. Christian holds an MSc in Social Science of the Internet from the University of Oxford and a BA from Leiden University College The Hague.
Ciaran O’Connor
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Ciaran O’Connor

Analyst

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Ciaran O’Connor
Ciaran O’Connor

Analyst

Ciaran O’Connor is an Analyst at ISD, working in the Research and Policy unit. Ciaran specialises in using open-source research to track and monitor disinformation and extremism online, with a particular focus on far-right activity and communication across open and closed networks and platforms. Ciaran is currently working on multiple ISD projects in analysing the intersection of misinformation and extremism with COVID-19 on social media. Ciaran previously worked as a journalist on the investigations team at Storyful, a social media news agency that specialises in the verification and analysis of amateur footage and misinformation online. He is the co-author of ISD reports The Boom Before the Ban: QAnon and Facebook and Disinformation briefing: Narratives around Black Lives Matter and voter fraud.
Elise Thomas 
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Elise Thomas 

Analyst, OSINT

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Elise Thomas 
Elise Thomas 

Analyst, OSINT

Elise Thomas OSINT Analyst at ISD, with a background in researching state-linked information operations, disinformation, conspiracy theories and the online dynamics of political movements. She also freelances as a journalist, and her work has appeared in Bellingcat, Foreign Policy, The Daily Beast, Wired and others. She is the author of Recommended Reading: Amazon’s algorithms, conspiracy theories and extremist literature and The Long Tail of Influence Operations: A Case Study on News Front and the co-author of COVID-19 Disinformation Briefing No.4.
Hannah Winter
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Hannah Winter

Analyst

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Hannah Winter
Hannah Winter

Analyst

Hannah Winter is an Analyst at ISD specialising in digital research and investigating the emergence and spread of disinformation, conspiracy theories and extremist ideologies in social networks. As a member of the ISD Election Monitoring Unit, she researches political communication online, disinformation campaigns and attempts to influence elections. She is co-author of the ISD reports Überdosis Desinformation: Die Vertrauenskrise - Impfskepsis und Impfgegnerschaft in der COVID-19 Pandemie and The Battle for Bavaria: Online information campaigns in the 2018 Bavarian State Election.
Kata Balint
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Kata Balint

Analyst

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Kata Balint
Kata Balint

Analyst

Kata Balint is an Analyst on ISD’s Digital Analysis Unit, primarily working on the analysis of the climate change debate in Hungary, using digital analysis tools and open source intelligence methods. Kata’s main areas of research are political radicalisation and extremism, with a focus on far-right groups and movements; disinformation and conspiracy theories; and political attitudes and behaviour. Kata previously worked as an Analyst in the Radicalisation and Extremism Programme of Political Capital, an independent research institute based in Hungary, where she co-authored a number of research papers and was involved in radicalisation prevention activities. She gained her first professional experiences working in the Office of the Hungarian Parliament and in the European Parliament. Kata completed her postgraduate studies in Political Psychology at Queen’s University Belfast in the UK, and she holds an undergraduate degree in Social Sciences with majors in International Studies and Communication from Roskilde University, Denmark.