Research Perspectives on Online Radicalisation
• 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.
Future Trends: Live-streaming Terrorist Attacks
Online Behaviours of Convicted Terrorists
Violent Extremism and Terrorism Online in 2016: The Year in Review
Check the Web - Assessing the Ethics and Politics of Policing the Internet for Extremist Material
the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights – whilst not conducting a legal analysis. It draws where appropriate upon interpretations by the UN Human Rights Committee, UN experts (such as the High Commissioner for Human Rights and special mandate holders), and regional human rights bodies and courts (such as the Council of Europe and the European Court of Human Rights). The report looks at definitions of ‘extremist material’; the types of monitoring and blocking being undertaken by government agencies and the private sector; and considers the roles of these key stakeholders, along with private individuals and civil society groups. It is based on a two-day workshop in January 2015 with thirty expert stakeholders from law enforcement and intelligence agencies, governments and parliaments, civil society, and universities. Short versions of ten papers were presented to stimulate discussion, following an open call for extended abstracts. These are available on the VOX-Pol website: http://www.voxpol.eu/.
The authors conducted seven follow-up semi-structured interviews with stakeholders from law enforcement, industry, government and civil society; and background policy analysis. The first author also co-organised a workshop on privacy and online policing with the UK’s National Crime Agency in March 2015, and participated in three further workshops where the topics of this report were addressed: two on law enforcement use of communications data, and a third at the United Nations on the relationship between encryption and freedom of expression. Both authors are grateful for the assistance of interviewees, co-organisers, and workshop participants.
The report is produced by the EU-funded VOX-Pol Network of Excellence, and takes particular account of the network’s development of semi-automated search for violent online extremist content and deployment of available tools for search and analytics, including text, video, sentiment, etc., currently employed in other domains for analysis of violent online extremist content. The network’s focus 6 CHECK THE WEB is on making these tools freely available for research purposes to academics, but may also extend to others professionally tasked in this area (such as activists and law enforcement agencies). It is also centrally concerned with the ethical aspects of deployment of such tools and technologies.