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

Jiore Craig
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Jiore Craig

Resident Senior Fellow, Digital Integrity

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Jiore Craig
Jiore Craig

Resident Senior Fellow, Digital Integrity

Jiore Craig is a Resident Senior Fellow at ISD with focus on Digital Integrity. Her work focuses on safeguarding democracy globally and the wider impact of online harms on society. Jiore advises global leaders on mitigating online harms including work to advance tech policy reform and tech accountability at a global scale. She has extensive international experience, previously spending eight years helping elected officials, political leaders, media organizations, academic institutions and civic society organizations across five continents to research, measure, and effectively mitigate the impact of disinformation and influence operations on public opinion and elections. She previously built a digital research and communications practice serving Europe, Asia, Africa, South and Central America, and the US at a global political consulting firm. Jiore’s work informed the design of major coalition efforts to counter disinformation in the 2020 US and 2019 European Parliament elections. In 2022, Jiore testified for the U.S. Congressional House Administration Elections Subcommittee Hearing on “A Growing Threat: Foreign and Domestic Sources of Disinformation”. She is a member of Issue One’s Council for Responsible Social Media. Her work is cited in The Washington Post, New York Magazine, The L.A. Times, The New Yorker, The Atlantic, and she has been a featured guest in election broadcast programs around the world, including the podcast Pod Save America.
Jacob Davey
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Jacob Davey

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

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Jacob Davey
Jacob Davey

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

Jacob Davey is the Director of Research & Policy for Far-right and Hate Movements at ISD. Jacob has managed projects focusing on online hate speech, the international far-right and political violence. He has led a number of projects piloting novel models for identifying extremist conversation and hate speech online, including analysis tracking hate groups in the UK, USA, Canada and Australia, and is currently leading a major programme of work mitigating hate threats in the US. He has advised national and local policymakers on right-wing extremism, including the Home Affairs Select Committee and the Intelligence and Security Committee of Parliament. Jacob has managed and co-authored numerous ISD reports including Between Conspiracy and Extremism: A Long COVID Threat?, ISD’s Gaming and Extremism Series, and A Safe Space to Hate: White Supremacist Mobilisation on Telegram.
Jennie King
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Jennie King

Director of Climate Research and Policy

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Jennie King
Jennie King

Director of Climate Research and Policy

Jennie King is the Director of Climate Research and Policy, leading efforts to translate ISD's digital research into frontline programming and response. Through ISD, she helped found Climate Action Against Disinformation (CAAD), a coalition of over 50 organisations working to identify, analyse and counter climate disinformation worldwide. She has spearheaded investigations on climate denialism and ‘discourses of delay’ in the contexts of Australia, Canada, Central Europe, Germany, South Africa, the US and UK, as well as co-authored a number of ISD’s flagship reports on this issue. Jennie also helped design, and currently manages, the COP Intelligence Units on behalf of CAAD, leading over 15 partners to produce real-time monitoring of mis- and disinformation around climate summits.
Aoife Gallagher
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Aoife Gallagher

Senior Analyst

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Aoife Gallagher
Aoife Gallagher

Senior Analyst

Aoife Gallagher is a Senior 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 the author of the book Web of Lies – The Lure and Danger of Conspiracy Theories and co-author of the ISD reports The Genesis of a Conspiracy Theory and Ill Advice: A Case Study in Facebook’s Failure to Tackle COVID-19 Disinformation.  
Jakob Guhl
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Jakob Guhl

Senior Manager, Policy & Research

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Jakob Guhl
Jakob Guhl

Senior Manager, Policy & Research

Jakob Guhl is a Senior Manager, Policy & Research, 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. Jakob is a frequent commentator on German radio and broadcast and has been invited to present his research on 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, New Statesman and GNET, and contributed to edited volumes about antisemitism on social media, conspiracy theories and the origins of contemporary political anger. He is the co-author of the ISD reports Researching the Evolving Online Ecosystem: Barriers, Methods and Future Challenges, Gen-Z & The Digital Salafi Ecosystem, 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.
Ciarán O’Connor
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Ciarán O’Connor

Senior Analyst

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Ciarán O’Connor
Ciarán O’Connor

Senior Analyst

Ciarán O’Connor is a Senior Analyst at ISD, working in the Research and Policy unit. Ciarán 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. Ciarán is currently working on multiple ISD projects in analysing the intersection of misinformation and extremism with COVID-19 on social media. Ciarán 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.
Julia Smirnova
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Julia Smirnova

Senior Analyst

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Julia Smirnova
Julia Smirnova

Senior Analyst

Julia Smirnova is a Senior Analyst at ISD and ISD Germany, focusing on proliferation of disinformation, conspiracy myths, hate speech and extremist ideologies online. She is co-author of ISD reports Digitale Gewalt und Desinformation gegen Spitzenkandidat:innen vor der Bundestagswahl 2021, Ein Virus des Misstrauens: Der russische Staatssender RT DE und die deutsche Corona-Leugner-Szene and Desinformationskampagnen gegen die Wahl: Befunde aus Sachsen-Anhalt. Before joining ISD, Julia was working as a journalist writing for Der Spiegel and Die Zeit among others. As the Moscow correspondent for Die Welt, she was reporting on Russian politics, the annexation of Crimea and the war in Eastern Ukraine. She holds an MA in Conflict, Security and Development from King’s College London.
Elise Thomas 
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Elise Thomas 

Senior Analyst, OSINT

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Elise Thomas 
Elise Thomas 

Senior Analyst, OSINT

Elise Thomas is a Senior 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.
Dominik Hammer
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Dominik Hammer

Research Manager, ISD Germany

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Dominik Hammer
Dominik Hammer

Research Manager, ISD Germany

Dominik Hammer is a Research Manager at ISD Germany. Dominik focuses on the analysis of far-right online activities with an emphasis on qualitative research. Dominik’s prior research focused on democratic theory, the strengthening of democratic praxis and the analysis of antidemocratic movements. Dominik holds a MA in Political Science from the Dresden University of Technology and a BA in Governance and Public Policy from the University of Passau. He is currently working on his PhD in Political Theory.
Christian Schwieter
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Christian Schwieter

Fellow

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Christian Schwieter
Christian Schwieter

Fellow

Christian Schwieter is a Fellow at ISD and a PhD candidate at the Department of Media Studies at Stockholm University, where he investigates the impact of European platform governance efforts on far-right activity on social media. Between 2020-2023, he led ISD Germany’s research on the migration of right-wing extremist actors to Telegram and other smaller platforms in response to increased content moderation on Facebook, YouTube and Twitter. At ISD, he also 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. In his role, he has advised the German Ministry of Justice, the German Foreign Office and the UN Office of Counter-Terrorism, among others. Before ISD, Christian worked as a researcher for the Computational Propaganda Project at the Oxford Internet Institute and was Specialist Adviser on Disinformation Matters for the DCMS Select Committee at the UK House of Commons. He holds an MSc (Dist) in Social Science of the Internet from the University of Oxford and a BA (Hons) in World Politics from Leiden University.
Cécile Simmons
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Cécile Simmons

Research Manager

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Cécile Simmons
Cécile Simmons

Research Manager

Cécile Simmons is a Research Manager at ISD, specialising in malign influence operations targeting elections, public health and climate disinformation, far-right extremism and conspiracy theories. Her research includes social media network mapping, data analysis and ethnographic monitoring of closed online spaces. Her writing and commentary has been featured by the BBC, The Guardian, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times and Wired, among others. She previously worked in publishing and journalism, and holds an MSc in International History from the London School of Economics.