Library

Welcome to VOX-Pol’s online Library, a research and teaching resource, which collects in one place a large volume of publications related to various aspects of violent online political extremism.

Our searchable database contains material in a variety of different formats including downloadable PDFs, videos, and audio files comprising e-books, book chapters, journal articles, research reports, policy documents and reports, and theses.

All open access material collected in the Library is easy to download. Where the publications are only accessible through subscription, the Library will take you to the publisher’s page from where you can access the material.

We will continue to add more material as it becomes available with the aim of making it the most comprehensive online Library in this field.

If you have any material you think belongs in the Library—whether your own or another authors—please contact us at onlinelibrary@voxpol.eu and we will consider adding it to the Library. It is also our aim to make the Library a truly inclusive multilingual facility and we thus welcome contributions in all languages.

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TitleYearAuthorTypeLinks
The Tranquillity Campaign: A Beacon of Light in the Dark World Wide Web
2017 Khaled al–Saud, A. Report
This Research Paper sheds light on the experience of the pioneering Saudi–based independent online counter– radicalization campaign called ‘Sakinah’ (Tranquillity), launched in 2003. Relying on multiple interviews and discussions with the founder and head of the campaign the writer of this Research Note was granted exclusive access to early archived campaign materials and records of dialogues with terrorists and radicals. This Research Note is able to highlight the history and methodology of the campaign’s work, the shifted motivations of radicals over time, and the importance of such initiatives and efforts. It also shows how, as a result of the changing nature and environment in which radicals operate, the campaign innovated its strategies and moved from a defensive counter-narrative engagement towards more offensive, proactive messaging aimed at eliciting specific reactions and taking control of the narrative and debate.
Hate Crime: Abuse, Hate and Extremism Online
2017 House of Commons Home Affairs Committee Report
Empowering ISIS Opponents on Twitter
2017 Helmus, T., Bodine-Baron, E. Article
This Perspective presents options for operationalizing recent RAND Corporation findings about ISIS opponents and supporters on Twitter. This paper formulates a countermessaging approach for two main communication pathways. First, we articulate an approach for working with influential Twitter users in the Arab world to promote bottom-up and authentic counter-ISIS messaging. Second, we highlight ways that U.S. and partner governments and nongovernmental organizations can use our analysis to more effectively implement top-down messaging to directly counter ISIS support on Twitter. Our original study found that there are six times the number of ISIS opponents than there are supporters on Twitter. We argue that it is critical to empower these influencers by drawing on lessons from the commercial marketing industry. We consequently highlight approaches to identify influencers on social media and empower them with both training and influential content.
Under the shade of AK47s: a multimodal approach to violent extremist recruitment strategies for foreign fighters
2017 Wignell, P., Tan, S., and O'Halloran, KL. Article
Two notable features of the current conflict in Syria and Iraq are the number of foreign fighters from western countries fighting for Sunni militant organisations, and the use of the Internet and social media by some extremist groups to disseminate propaganda material. This article explores how the group which refers to itself as Islamic State and an affiliated British group, Rayat al Tawheed, deploy combinations of images and text which serve as bonding icons to rally supporters. The data consists of the English language edition of ISIS’s online magazine Dabiq and online materials produced by Rayat al Tawheed. The results suggest that ISIS and Rayat al Tawheed adopt similar but different iconisation strategies. While ISIS adopts a global strategy to present a unified world view utilising a range of ISIS values in its iconisation, Rayat al Tawheed foregrounds jihad using strategies specifically targeting young, English-speaking men of Islamic/Arab backgrounds.
How Muslim Defenders Became “Blood Spilling” Crusaders: Adam Gadahn's Critique of the “Jihadist” Subversion of Al Qaeda's Media Warfare Strategy
2017 Kamolnick, P. Article
Adam Gadahn’s Abbottabad letter offers a rare opportunity to examine how this Al Qaeda Senior Leadership (AQSL) media operative and spokesman conceptualizes and executes media warfare. In this article, I first introduce, depict, and employ the author’s Terrorist Quadrangle Analysis (TQA) as a useful heuristic for conceptualizing and representing the four interrelated components of the AQSL terrorist enterprise: political objectives, media warfare, terrorist attacks, and strategic objectives. This TQA construct is then employed to conceptualize Gadahn’s media warfare acumen. Gadahn is shown to be an adept communications warfare operative who conscientiously disaggregates and evaluates key target audiences, messengers, messaging, and media. Gadahn’s vehement critique of select ‘‘jihadi’’ groups, in particular Tehrik-i-Taliban (TTP), al-Shabaab, and the Islamic State of Iraq (ISI), is then described. Key here is how and why Gadahn denounces their indiscriminate, murderous terrorist attacks on Muslim non-combatant civilians and other protected persons as effectively subverting his intended AQSL media warfare strategy and undermining AQSL strategic and religio-political objectives. A concluding section briefly summarizes these chief findings, offers select implications for scholarship and counter-AQSL messaging strategy, and identifies study limitations.
Research Perspectives on Online Radicalisation
2017 Meleagrou-Hitchens, A., and Kaderbhai, N. VOX-Pol Publication
This literature review seeks to recalibrate our understanding of online radicalisation, how it is conceptualised within the literature and the extent to which the policy debate has advanced in response to technological and legal developments. Among the findings are the following:

• In recent years, the overwhelming focus of this avenue of research has been on the global jihad movement. This is therefore reflected in the review, but an effort has also been made to highlight similar research on other movements;
• As with the wider debate on radicalisation, there is little agreement on what constitutes online radicalisation and how, if at all, it happens. The influence of online interactions and propaganda on processes of radicalisation therefore remains a highly contested subject. It is a topic that has produced a broad swathe of literature, using different methodologies from a variety of disciplines;
• Consensus is that the Internet alone is not a cause of radicalisation, but a facilitator and catalyser of an individual’s trajectory towards violent political acts; • Use of empirical evidence to draw convincing conclusions remains scarce, and this has negatively impacted on the strength of research on this topic. Nonetheless, the exponential rise in violent extremist use of social media platforms has been the catalyst for an increase in research on the topic, and has begun to provide researchers with new forms of primary source data;
• Extremist use of the Internet has rapidly evolved and effectively adapted to a constantly shifting online media environment. Indeed, organisations – both public and private – that seek to respond to this are still playing catch-up, and have yet to mount a convincing response;
• One of the most celebrated aspects of social media – its ability to tailor content that appears on users’ feeds that appeals to their specific values and interests and plugs them into networks of like-minded individuals – is also what makes it a key asset for extremist groups. Both in the physical and virtual realm, such groups rely heavily upon isolating potential recruits from views and opinions that diverge from their prevailing ideologies and narratives. Extremists seek to insert people into echo chambers that amplify their message and suppress any contrary opinions. Thus, by its very nature, social media creates for its users an environment that, in some cases, is conducive to radicalisation. This is neither a criticism of social media companies nor a call for them to fundamentally change the services they provide, but rather a comment on the complexity of the challenge of online radicalisation;
• While some analysts and scholars call for measures such as censorship, others argue that softer approaches, such as creating online so-called ‘counter-narratives’ and educating Internet users, would be more effective. However, it is clear that there remains both a lack of understanding of how this would occur, or how such narratives could be effectively disseminated. While very few studies provide a convincing explanation of either, there are signs that a more sophisticated approach is beginning to take shape.
Propaganda in an Insecure, Unstructured World: How Psychological Uncertainty and Authoritarian Attitudes Shape the Evaluation of Right Wing Extremist Internet Propaganda
2017 Rieger, D., Frischlich, L., Bente, G. Article
The amount of uploaded extremist propaganda on the internet is increasing. In particular, right-wing extremist as well as Islamic extremist groups take advantage of the opportunities presented by the internet to spread their ideas to worldwide masses. Both tackle in-group specific topics and address their audiences in their respective political, national or religious identities. Several factors, such as higher levels of authoritarian value orientations and threatening life situations (such as existential threats or psychological uncertainty) have been found to shape people’s reactions towards radical groups as well as to propaganda. The current study investigated whether the response to extremist propaganda videos (namely, aversion felt for the video and the perceived persuasiveness of the video) is shaped by an individual’s authoritarian attitudes and psychological uncertainty and whether this is a global process or in-group specific. Further, it considered the effects of exposure to extremist propaganda on the identification with one’s in-group. In a laboratory experiment, German students were confronted with a right-wing extremist and an Islamic extremist video after manipulating their level of uncertainty (high vs. low levels of psychological uncertainty).  The results confirmed that the interaction between authoritarianism and psychological uncertainty affected the evaluation of right-wing extremist videos addressing participants’ national in-group. Under conditions of uncertainty, authoritarianism predicted less aversion and a higher persuasiveness of these videos. Further, psychological uncertainty increased the identification with participants’ German nationality, irrespective of authoritarian attitudes. Notably, the effect was in-group bound: The same effect was not found for Islamic extremist propaganda referring to a religious out-group. The results are discussed regarding the potential of propaganda to foster behavioral intentions and engagement in extremist groups in specific threatening situations.
Beating ISIS in the Digitial Space: Focus Testing ISIS Defector Counter-Narrative Videos with American College Students
2017 McDowell-Smith, A., Speckhard, A., and Yayla, A. Article


ISIS recruits on a 24/7 basis in over 21 languages over the Internet using videos, memes, tweets and other social media postings and swarming in on anyone that retweets, likes or endorses their materials to try to seduce them into the group.  Their unprecedented social media drive has resulted in over 30,000 foreign fighters from more than 100 countries migrating to Syria and Iraq.  ISIS recruitment in the U.S. is for the most part Internet based and has resulted in the actual and attempted recruitment of over 100 individuals residing in the U.S. with over 200 Americans traveling to Syria to join terrorist groups.  To date very little counter-narrative material exists and most of it is cognitive versus emotionally impactful.  The International Center for the Study of Violent Extremism (ICSVE) Breaking the ISIS Brand – the ISIS Defectors Interviews Project has managed to collect 43 ISIS defector interviews and thus far produce two video clips of ISIS defectors denouncing the group which were focus tested in this research in a small normative college student sample of 75 undergraduate students.  The results demonstrate that American college students find the videos authentic, disturbing and turn them away from ISIS, fulfilling the goals that the project is aiming for in producing counter-narrative materials.

Hate Beneath the Counter Speech? A Qualitative Content Analysis of User Comments on YouTube Related to Counter Speech Videos
2017 Ernst, J., et al. Article
The odds in stumbling over extremist material in the internet are high. Counter speech videos, such as those of the German campaign Begriffswelten Islam (Concepts of Islam; Bundeszentrale für politische Bildung, 2015a) published on YouTube, offer alternative perspectives and democratic ideas to counteract extremist content. YouTube users may discuss these videos in the comment sections below the video. Yet, it remains open which topics these users bring up in their comments. Moreover, it is unknown how far user comments in this context may promote hate speech—the very opposite of what counter speeches intent to evoke. By applying a qualitative content analysis on a randomly selected sample of user comments, which appeared beneath the counter speech videos of Concepts of Islam, we found that comments dominated, which dealt with devaluating prejudices and stereotypes towards Muslims and/or Islam. However, we also discovered that users in a large scale discussed the content of the videos. Moreover, we identified user comments, which hint at hateful speech either in comments themselves or the discourse the comments are embedded in. Based on these results, we discuss implications for researchers, practitioners and security agencies.
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Starting Points For Combating Hate Speech Online
2015 Titley, G., Keen, E., and Földi, L. Report
Young People Combating Hate Speech Online is a project of the Council of Europe’s youth sector running between 2012 and 2015. The project aims to combat racism and discrimination in their online expression of hate speech by equipping young people and youth organisations with the competences necessary to recognize and act against such human rights violations. Central to the project is a European youth media campaign which will be designed and  implemented with the agency of young people and youth organisations. As a preparation for the project, the Council of Europe’s Youth Department commissioned three “mapping” studies about the realities of hate speech and young people and projects and campaigns about it. These studies are published here as a resource for the activists, youth leaders, researchers, partners and decision makers associated to the project and the online campaign. They are truly a starting points: more research is needed, both on the legal and policy implications of hate speech online as on its impact and relation with young people.
Cyber-Extremism: Isis and the Power of Social Media
2017 Awan, I. Article
The current crises in Syria has led to a number of Britons travelling abroad to fight with groups such as Isis. Capitalising on this growth, Isis are now increasingly fighting an online cyber war, with the use of slick videos, online messages of hate and even an app that all aim to radicalise and create a new generation of cyber jihadists. These modern day tools are helping Isis spread their propaganda and ideology to thousands of online sympathisers across the world. Indeed, the group has actively been using social media sites such as Twitter, Facebook and YouTube to recruit new would be members. This is being done through images and the streaming of violent online viral videos filmed and professionally edited that are targeting young and impressionable people. Portraying a glamorised and ‘cool’ image, Isis fighters are beginning to act as the new rock stars of global cyber jihad. The Internet therefore is becoming the virtual playground for extremist views to be reinforced and act as an echo chamber. This study analysed 100 different Facebook pages and 50 Twitter user accounts which generated over 2050 results and helped the author create a typology of seven key behaviour characteristics and motivations. The findings in this study confirmed the author’s original hypothesis, i.e. online hate is being used by groups such as Isis for a variety of reasons such as recruitment and propaganda. Moreover, this material is coordinated and controlled by Isis as a means for publishing and sending out key messages.
The Treat to the United States from the Islamic State’s Virtual Entrepreneurs
2017 Hughes, S., and Meleagrou-Hitchens, A. Article
Among the most recent evolutions of jihadi terrorist tactics in the West has been the rise of the virtual entrepreneur. The increased use of social media, often paired with applications that ofer the option of encrypted messaging, has enabled members of groups like the Islamic State to make direct and lasting contact with radicalized Americans. In some cases, these individuals direct terror plots, and in others, they provide encouragement and motivation for attacks. In the United States, there are 14 known cases of terrorist-related activity involving 19 U.S.-based individuals where the involvement of an Islamic State virtual entrepreneur has been documented. This outsourcing of terrorism has been a game changer in Islamic State eforts to attack the West.
#FailedRevolutions: Using Twitter to Study the Antecedents of ISIS Support
2015 Magdy, W., Darwish, K., and Weber, I. Article
Within a fairly short amount of time, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) has managed to put large swaths of land in Syria and Iraq under their control. To many observers, the sheer speed at which this "state" was established was dumbfounding. To better understand the roots of this organization and its supporters we present a study using data from Twitter. We start by collecting large amounts of Arabic tweets referring to ISIS and classify them into pro-ISIS and anti-ISIS. This classification turns out to be easily done simply using the name variants used to refer to the organization: the full name and the description as "state" is associated with support, whereas abbreviations usually indicate opposition. We then "go back in time" by analyzing the historic timelines of both users supporting and opposing and look at their pre-ISIS period to gain insights into the antecedents of support. To achieve this, we build a classifier using pre-ISIS data to "predict", in retrospect, who will support or oppose the group. The key story that emerges is one of frustration with failed Arab Spring revolutions. ISIS supporters largely differ from ISIS opposition in that they refer a lot more to Arab Spring uprisings that failed. We also find temporal patterns in the support and opposition which seems to be linked to major news, such as reported territorial gains, reports on gruesome acts of violence, and reports on airstrikes and foreign intervention.
On the Role of Semantics for Detecting pro-ISIS Stances on Social Media
2016 Saif, H., Fernandez, M., Rowe, M, and Alani, H. Article
From its start, the so-called Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL/ISIS) has been successfully exploiting social media networks, most notoriously Twitter, to promote its propaganda and recruit new members, resulting in thousands of social media users adopting pro-ISIS stance every year. Automatic identification of pro-ISIS users on social media has, thus, become the centre of interest for various governmental and research organisations. In this paper we propose a semantic-based approach for radicalisation detection on Twitter. Unlike most previous works, which mainly rely on the lexical and contextual representation of the content published by Twitter users, our approach extracts and makes use of the underlying semantics of words exhibited by these users to identify their pro/anti-ISIS stances. Our results show that classifiers trained from words’ semantics outperform those trained from lexical and network features by 2% on average F1-measure.
The Islamic State’s Use of Online Social Media
2015 Blaker, L. Article
The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) has made great use of the Internet and online social media sites to spread its message and encourage others, particularly young people, to support the organization, to travel to the Middle East to engage in combat—fighting side-by-side with other jihadists, or to join the group by playing a supporting role—which is often the role carved out for young women who are persuaded to join ISIS. The terrorist group has even directed sympathizers to commit acts of violence wherever they are when traveling to the Middle East isn’t possible. ISIS propaganda is now more frequently aimed at Westerners and more specifically aimed at the “Millennial generation.”

Clearly, social media has proven to be an extremely valuable tool for the terrorist organization and is perfectly suited for the very audience it’s intending to target. According to Pew Research Center’s Social Networking Fact Sheet, 89% of adults aged 18 - 29 use social media” 1 Platforms such as Facebook and Twitter, and even YouTube, allow ISIS propaganda to reach across the globe in real time. Increasingly, ISIS’ posts to Internet sites include sophisticated, production-quality video and images that incorporate visual effects. What messages from jihadists induce young Westerners to become involved with the terrorist group? What convinces young people from Europe, Australia, Canada, and the United States—many who are technically runaways, still in their teens—to leave their homelands to join ISIS on the battlefield? What risks does a home country face when its nationals communicate and establish relationships with members of ISIS? Can the jihadist social network propaganda machine be shut down, and weighing all factors, is stopping ISIS rhetoric on the Internet the best course of action? This paper explores these and other questions related to terrorist groups’ utilization of social media.
A Genosonic Analysis of ISIL and US Counter-Extremism Video Messages
2017 Bean, H., and Nell Edgar, A. Article
Analyses of extremist video messages typically focus on their discursive content. Using the case of ISIL (Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant), this study instead draws upon the emerging subfield of genosonic analysis to understand the allure of extremist videos, as well as the ineffectiveness of US video messages designed to ‘counter violent extremism’ (CVE). Through a genosonic analysis of three high-profile ISIL videos and five popular US State Department CVE videos, the study advances two concepts – sonorous communality and sonic unmaking – to help explain ISIL’s appeal. The lack of equivalent dimensions in US CVE videos renders them sonically sterile in comparison to those of ISIL. The implications of this analysis for scholarship and practice conducted at the intersection of media, war and conflict are discussed.
Searching for Signs of Extremism on the Web: An Introduction to Sentiment-Based Identification of Radical Authors
2017 Scrivens et al. Article
As violent extremists continue to surface in online discussion forums, law enforcement agencies search for new ways of uncovering their digital indicators. Researchers have both described and hypothesized a number of ways to detect online traces of potential extremists, yet this area of inquiry remains in its infancy. This study proposes a new search method that, through the analysis of sentiment, identifies the most radical users within online forums. Although this method is applicable to web-forums of any type, the method was evaluated on four Islamic forums containing approximately 1 million posts of its 26,000 unique users. Several characteristics of each user’s postings were examined, including their posting behavior and the content of their posts. The content was analyzed using Parts-Of-Speech tagging, sentiment analysis, and a novel algorithm called ‘Sentiment-based Identification of Radical Authors’, which accounts for a user’s percentile score for average sentiment score, volume of negative posts, severity of negative posts, and duration of negative posts. The results suggest that there is no simple typology that best describes radical users online; however, the method is flexible enough to evaluate several properties of a user’s online activity that can identify radical users on the forums.
RiskTrack: A New Approach for Risk Assessment of Radicalisation Based on Social Media Data
2015 Camacho et al. Article
The RiskTrack project aims to help in the prevention of terrorism through the identification of online radicalisation. In line with the European Union priorities in this matter, this project has been designed to identify and tackle the indicators that raise a red flag about which individuals or communities are being radicalised and recruited to commit violent acts of terrorism. Therefore, the main goals of this project will be twofold: On the one hand, it is needed to identify the main features and characteristics that can be used to evaluate a risk situation, to do that a risk assessment methodology studying how to detect signs of radicalisation (e.g., use of language, behavioural patterns in social networks...) will be designed. On the other hand, these features will be tested and analysed using advanced data mining methods, knowledge representation (semantic and ontology engineering) and multilingual technologies. The innovative aspect of this project is to not offer just a methodology on risk assessment, but also a tool that is build based on this methodology, so that the prosecutors, judges, law enforcement and other actors can obtain a short term tangible results.
Differentiating Act from Ideology: Evidence from Messages For and Against Violent Extremism
2012 Prentice et al. Article
Although researchers know a great deal about persuasive messages that encourage terrorism, they know far less about persuasive messages that denounce terrorism and little about how these two sides come together. We propose a conceptualization that distinguishes a message’s support for an act from its support for the ideology underlying an act. Our prediction is tested using corpus-linguistic analysis of 250 counter-extremist messages written by Muslims and U.K. officials and a comparison set of 250 Muslim extremist messages. Consistent with our prediction, Muslim extremist and Muslim counter-messages show disagreement on terrorist actions but agreement in ideological aspects, while U.K. officials’ counter-messages show disagreement with both Muslim extremists’ acts and ideology. Our findings suggest that counter-messages should not be viewed as a homogenous group and that being against violent extremism does not necessarily equate to having positive perceptions of Western values.
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