There's a subcategory on Reddit called /r/bestof which describes itself as offering "the very best hidden commentary that reddit has to offer!" Right now, the seventh-most-popular item on that list is a post from the Bernie Sanders for President subcategory with a long and cryptic headline: "/u/SockofBadKarma explains why the vote count for Bernie Sanders' AMA was suspicious and why vote fuzzing doesn't account for the irregularities."

The translation: A user called 'SockofBadKarma' details why the number of upvotes (likes) for Sanders's question-and-answer ("ask me anything," or AMA) on the site seems to have gradually dropped off. That explanation is 900 words long and walks through how the upvotes dropped off since Sanders completed his AMA. SockofBadKarma summarizes his suspicions. "So this man," he writes, "running against Hillary Clinton for the Democratic nomination for the PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES, on a website which houses his BIGGEST ONLINE FAN BASE, has an AMA that is NINE TIMES MORE POPULAR in terms of comments than his previous AMA, and his vote count is hardly 50% higher and diminishing with each other hour in large chunks."

"Call me paranoid, but I think it's pretty weird."

You are paranoid, SockofBadKarma.

The idea that the Nefarious Forces of Hillary Clinton care in the least about a Reddit question-and-answer from Bernie Sanders when she is up by 50 points is, by itself, goofy. That they would then somehow clumsily endeavor to reduce the number of votes that AMA received — so clumsily that people quickly noticed — is ... well, paranoid.

But this should not surprise us. The overlap of political thought and paranoia is not in the least bit new. In 1964, Richard Hofstadter wrote of the "paranoid style in American politics," tracing its genesis to the first decades of our nation's existence. (Hey, kids! The Illuminati didn't begin with rap music.) Hofstadter marches through paranoid worries over time, delineating how they shaped political thinking. When he was writing, his focus was the American right, which blended a recent history of horrors, a rich library of existing conspiracy theories and blossoming mass media into a looming threat of communist infiltration.

Please notice that, for modern purposes, the word "communist" in that sentence is interchangeable with many others.

"The higher paranoid scholarship is nothing if not coherent," Hofstadter wrote. "In fact, the paranoid mind is far more coherent than the real world. It is nothing if not scholarly in technique." Which is another reason why we think 900 words spent analyzing arcane voting patterns on Reddit counts.

Earlier this year, Dutch researchers studying the overlap of politics and conspiracies came to an interesting conclusion. They interviewed American and Dutch participants who identified their political leanings before responding to statements like, "Major companies within the pharmaceutical industry deliberately spread diseases, to sell medication" and "Illegal activities of politicians and managers are usually covered up." The conclusion? "[P]olitical extremism and conspiracy beliefs are strongly associated due to a highly structured thinking style that is aimed at making sense of societal events." The graph at right, from the study, shows two things. First, that belief in conspiracies was more prevalent at the poles of political thinking, and, second, that it's more prevalent on the right than the left.*

It's probably not a coincidence, then, that this vote-tampering hand-wringing occurred on /r/SandersForPresident and not /r/HillaryClinton2016 or /r/JebBush. (If those exist.) Sanders is much further toward the political pole than his opponent.

To the extent that he can even be considered a real opponent, that is. Sanders's poor position in the polls may drive some of the willingness to see a conspiracy, too. In the wake of the Boston bombings, science journalist Maggie Koerth-Baker, writing for the Times, explored the psychology of conspiracy theories. She quoted from researcher Viren Swami. "If you know the truth and others don't," Swami said, "that’s one way you can reassert feelings of having agency." Koerth-Baker adds, "It can be comforting to do your own research even if that research is flawed. It feels good to be the wise old goat in a flock of sheep." Or sheeple.

If you're curious, not everyone on Reddit blames Clinton. "Reddit is a wholly owned subsidiary of Conde Nast, which has extreme corporate interest in keeping the corporate tax rate low," writes israfel070. "Yesterday Bernie introduced legislation for the long-advocated 'Robin Hood Tax.' They cut down his AMA to reduce the spread of his ideas and forestall a growth of support for them."

He then added, "Wow I'm such a crazy conspiracy theorist," presumably meaning to be sarcastic.


* An additional finding that is interesting: "Conspiracy beliefs were positively correlated with more extreme attitudes about Apple computers (r 1⁄4 .13, p < .05), Ikea furniture (r 1⁄4 .15, p < .02), smartphones (r 1⁄4 .20, p 1⁄4 .001), and public transport (r 1⁄4 .13, p < .04)."