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
#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.
This is Not Your Mother’s Terrorism: Social Media, Online Radicalization and the Practice of Political Jamming
2015 Heuy, L. Article
It is commonly recognized that social media presents vast new opportunities for terrorist groups seeking to radicalize audiences. However, few scholars have studied the actual mechanisms by which radicalizing messages are delivered to those audiences. Within this paper, the author explores one key aspect of the phenomenon of ‘jihadi cool’ – that is, the rendering of pro-Islamic terrorism into something hip and trendy among online audiences. Discussed is the use of political jamming: a subversive, satirical activity that draws on humor to reinforce ideological messages. The opportunity for countering these messages through the same technique is also considered.
Computational Social Science to Gauge Online Extremism
2017 Ferrara, E. Article
Recent terrorist attacks carried out on behalf of ISIS on American and European soil by lone wolf attackers or sleeper cells remind us of the importance of understanding the dynamics of radicalization mediated by social media communication channels. In this paper, we shed light on the social media activity of a group of twenty-five thousand users whose association with ISIS online radical propaganda has been manually verified. By using a computational tool known as dynamical activity-connectivity maps, based on network and temporal activity patterns, we investigate the dynamics of social influence within ISIS supporters. We finally quantify the effectiveness of ISIS propaganda by determining the adoption of extremist content in the general population and draw a parallel between radical propaganda and epidemics spreading, highlighting that information broadcasters and influential ISIS supporters generate highly-infectious cascades of information contagion. Our findings will help generate effective countermeasures to combat the group and other forms of online extremism.
Social Media Compliance Programs and the War Against Terrorism
2017 Klein, S., Flinn, C. Article
Widespread Internet use by terrorists had made the prevention of terror attacks increasingly difficult. This Article argues that social media companies, like other corporate entities, should be legally required to institute compliance programs that ferret out and report terrorist activity at the earliest possible opportunity. To this end, the Article proposes text for new legislation that would criminalize social media companies’ failure to discover and release terrorismrelated posts to the government. The authors alternatively suggest borrowing from the white-collar crime arena to secure company assistance in government investigations by granting leniency at sentencing to offending companies. The Article concludes by addressing anticipated constitutional arguments and opposition to the proposed legislative framework.
A Common Transnational Agenda? Communication Network and Discourse of Political-Salafists on Twitter
2017 Ranko et al. Article
Employing social network analysis, this article investigates  the  transnational communication network and discourse of political-Salafists on social media. It examines whether political-Salafists across the MENA region have a common sociopolitical and geopolitical agenda, and whether – given the recent shift of some political-Salafists towards violence – their discourse and communication network can still be distinguished from that of the jihadists. The analysis finds that political-Salafists do not share a common agenda but that their discourse and communication network display three transnational gravity centres: a revisionist, a status quo-oriented and an ostracized pro-Sisi gravity centre. Only the revisionist gravity centre advocates violence. Its discourse, however, remains clearly set apart from that of the jihadists.
Countering Violent Extremism Online and Offline
2017 Szmania, S., Fincher P. Article
In the wake of devastating attacks by violent extremists around the world, policy makers have invested considerable effort into understanding terrorists’ use of the Internet as they radicalize and mobilize to violence. To that end, the article “Terrorist Use of the Internet by the Numbers: Quantifying Behaviors, Patterns, and Processes” by Paul Gill, Emily Corner, Maura Conway, Amy Thornton, Mia Bloom, and John Horgan (2017, this issue) contributes important data to a timely policy discussion. The authors’ central finding, “that there is no easy offline versus online violent radicalization dichotomy to be drawn,” highlights a gap in our current conceptualization of the radicalization process and suggests several implications, particularly for countering violent extremism (CVE) policies and programs.
Terrorist Use of the Internet by the Numbers
2017 Gill et. al Article
Public interest and policy debates surrounding the role of the Internet in terrorist activities is increasing. Criminology has said very little on the matter. By using a unique data set of 223 convicted United Kingdom–based terrorists, this article focuses on how they used the Internet in the commission of their crimes. As most samples of terrorist offenders vary in terms of capabilities (lone-actor vs. group offenders) and criminal sophistication (improvised explosive devices vs. stabbings), we tested whether the affordances they sought from the Internet significantly differed. The results suggest that extreme-right-wing individuals, those who planned an attack (as opposed to merely providing material support), conducted a lethal attack, committed an improvised explosive device (IED) attack, committed an armed assault, acted within a cell, attempted to recruit others, and engaged in nonvirtual network activities and nonvirtual place interactions were significantly more likely to learn online compared with those who did not engage in these behaviors. Those undertaking unarmed assaults were significantly less likely to display online learning. The results also suggested that extreme-right-wing individuals who perpetrated an IED attack, associated with a wider network, attempted to recruit others, and engaged in nonvirtual network activities and nonvirtual place interactions were significantly more likely to communicate online with co-ideologues.
Media Jihad: The Islamic State’s Doctrine for Information Warfare
2017 Winter, C Article
Weeks after its capture of Mosul in 2014, the Islamic State set about transforming its strategic trajectory. Through an avalanche of media products, it worked to aggressively insert itself into the global public discourse and, in turn, popularise its brand, polarise adversary populations and drive rivals into the ideological side-lines. This research paper presents new, empirical insight into this troubling phenomenon, which has set a benchmark for insurgent strategic communications the world over. Comprising the translation and analysis of a 55-page document compiled and published by the Islamic State in 2016, it offers a unique window into the mind-set of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi’s propagandists.
The Rise of Jihadist Propaganda on Social Networks
2016 Badawy, A., Ferrara, E. Article
Using a dataset of over 1.9 million messages posted on Twitter by about 25,000 ISIS members, we explore how ISIS makes use of social media to spread its propaganda and to recruit militants from the Arab world and across the globe. By distinguishing between violence-driven, theological, and sectarian content, we trace the connection between online rhetoric and key events on the ground. To the best of our knowledge, ours is one of the first studies to focus on Arabic content, while most literature focuses on English content. Our findings yield new important insights about how social media is used by radical militant groups to target the Arab-speaking world, and reveal important patterns in their propaganda efforts.
Internet-Based Radicalization as Enculturation to Violent Deviant Subcultures
2016 Thomas J. Holt et al Article
This work examines the intersections of subcultural theories and radicalization theories from terrorism studies to identify how they may be improved through integration. To date there have been almost no efforts to merge these frameworks, though terrorism shares common characteristics of deviant subcultures. Both are driven by ideologies that are in opposition to that of their targets. We focus particularly on the process of online radicalization to assess how subcultural research in online environments may inform the process of enculturation into a terrorist belief system. We conclude by discussing the implications of this expansion for research on terrorism and subcultures.
The State of the Art: A Literature Review of Social Media Intelligence Capabilities for Counter-Terrorism
2017 Bartlett, J., Miller, C. Article
This paper is a review of how information and insight can be drawn from open social media sources. It focuses on the specific research techniques that have emerged, the capabilities they provide, the possible insights they offer, and the ethical and legal questions they raise. The relevance and value of these techniques are considered for the purpose of maintaining public safety by preventing, pursuing, protecting and preparing against terrorism.
Mothers To Bombers: The Evolution of Indonesian Women Extremists
2017 Institute for Policy Analysis of Conflict Article
The arrest of two female would-be suicide bombers in Jakarta in December 2016 shows the desire of Indonesian women for a more active role in violent extremism. It may be a reflection of the pro-ISIS movement’s weakness that male leaders are more willing to oblige them than in the past, but the initiative has come from the women. Indonesian women’s increasing willingness to organise social media groups, set up fund-raising charities and provide various forms of logistical support for the pro-ISIS movement shows that this is not just men exploiting vulnerable women – though that also takes place – but involves women eager to be recognised as fighters in their own right.
The Charlie Hebdo Attacks on Twitter: A Comparative Analysis of a Political Controversy in English and French
2017 Smyrnaios, N., Ratinaud, P. Article
In this article, we propose an original method combining large-scale network and lexicometric analysis to link identifiable communities of Twitter users with the main discursive themes they used in the aftermath of the Charlie Hebdo attacks in Paris, France in 2015. We used this method to compare tweets and user networks in French and in English. We observed that the majority of the users who tweeted about Charlie Hebdo were people without any particular affiliation, who were shocked by the attacks and immediately expressed themselves through emotionally charged messages. But rather quickly their proportion decreased and they participated less in politically polarizing discussions. On the other hand, we found that smaller, highly politicized, and polarized groups had similar attitudes toward the events: they were less engaged immediately after the attacks in emotional expression of sympathy and shock, but they participated vividly in the following days in polemical discussions or engaged themes. Other findings include the central position of mainstream media and the existence of groups of users that aggregated on the basis of nationality. More generally, our results show clearly that even the most dramatic events such as a terrorist attack with innocent victims do not produce homogeneous reactions online. Rather, political engagement and cultural dispositions are keys to understand different attitudes on Twitter.
Countering the Virtual Caliphate Written testimony of: Seamus Hughes Deputy Director, Program on Extremism Center for Cyber and Homeland Security The George Washington University Before the U.S. House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee
2016 Hughes, S. Report
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