BRIEF: Understanding the Online Pathway to Indoctrination and Opportunities for Intervention

This article draws on three waves of research exploring the experiences of individuals currently or formerly involved in fringe communities, including the different stages of investment they progressed through, and ultimately, what made people leave.

conspiracy beliefs
public health

Information Epidemiology Lab

Johns Hopkins School of Public Health (2022)


February 25, 2024

The authors of this study published an article on it, which you can read here: How People Get Sucked into Misinformation Rabbit Holes – and How to Get Them Out, originally published in The Conversation.


This report investigates the pathways to radicalization through a comprehensive study spanning from online observation of fringe groups to in-depth interviews with former believers of misinformation and conspiracy theories. The research, conducted between 2022 and 2023, identifies the stages of radicalization from initial uncertainties and questions to the commitment of harm, based on the analysis of social media posts, news reports, and discussions in online deradicalization spaces.

Key Findings

  • Radicalization pathways are initiated by a combination of personal vulnerabilities and exposure to extreme content, with identified stages from initial curiosity to committing harm.

  • The process of radicalization is accelerated by stigmatizing reactions from peers or authority figures when individuals express emerging fringe views, pushing them towards online spaces that affirm their views and further entrench their radical beliefs.

  • Empathetic, non-judgmental responses from trusted individuals or authority figures can serve as effective off-ramps from the radicalization pathway, especially in the early stages of radicalization.


  • Prevention and Intervention Strategies: The study underscores the importance of developing targeted prevention and intervention strategies that address the underlying personal vulnerabilities and social conditions contributing to radicalization. This includes promoting social inclusion, mental health support, and critical media literacy to reduce susceptibility to radicalization.

  • Role of Trusted Authorities: Healthcare professionals, educators, and community leaders play a crucial role in identifying and addressing early signs of radicalization. Training these individuals to respond empathetically to expressions of fringe beliefs can prevent further radicalization.

  • Policy and Community Responses: Policies and community programs that foster inclusive environments and address systemic issues contributing to personal vulnerabilities can mitigate the root causes of radicalization. This includes addressing social isolation, economic insecurity, and discrimination.

  • Online Platform Regulation: The findings highlight the need for social media platforms to implement more effective measures to detect and counteract the spread of misinformation and extremist content. This includes improving recommendation algorithms to prevent the amplification of fringe content and supporting users in critical engagement with information.

  • Support for Deradicalization: Enhancing support for online and offline deradicalization efforts is critical. This involves funding and promoting programs that offer pathways out of radical communities, providing resources for individuals seeking to leave, and facilitating the sharing of narratives from former believers to counteract extremist narratives.


Booth, E., Lee, J., Rizoiu, M.-A., & Farid, H. (2024). Conspiracy, misinformation, radicalization: understanding the online pathway to indoctrination and opportunities for intervention. Journal of Sociology, 0(0).


BibTeX citation:
  author = {Li, E. Rosalie},
  publisher = {Information Epidemiology Lab},
  title = {BRIEF: {Understanding} the {Online} {Pathway} to
    {Indoctrination} and {Opportunities} for {Intervention}},
  journal = {InfoEpi Lab},
  date = {2024-02-25},
  url = {},
  langid = {en}
For attribution, please cite this work as:
Li, E. Rosalie. 2024. “BRIEF: Understanding the Online Pathway to Indoctrination and Opportunities for Intervention.” InfoEpi Lab, February.