Date of this Version




Violent political extremists often point to online communities as motivating their behavior. However, researchers studying online exposure to extremism through structural mechanisms such as algorithms have not found strong evidence of their influence. At the same time, models of offline radicalization processes emphasize the importance of personal motivations, such as desire for significance and community, but do not fully account for online contexts. The authors integrate these approaches, which are both interested in worsening political extremism, asking, (1) What are the pathways to extreme content and communities online? and (2) What are the perceptions of extremism in online communities? Through interviews with politically active Redditors, the authors identify three motivations for initial engagement with fringe political communities: political unsorting of the self, political exceptionalism, and virtuous participation. The authors argue these motivations are potentially important seeds of political extremism and discuss the implications for supporting healthy political discourse online.


This is the published version of the Mann, M., Zulli, D., Foote, J., Ku, E., & Primm, E. (2023). Unsorted Significance: Examining Potential Pathways to Extreme Political Beliefs and Communities on Reddit. Socius, 9.