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
Interactive Search and Exploration in Discussion Forums Using Multimodal Embeddings
2020 Gornishka, I., Rudinac, S. and Worring, M. Article
In this paper we present a novel interactive multimodal learning system, which facilitates search and exploration in large networks of social multimedia users. It allows the analyst to identify and select users of interest, and to find similar users in an interactive learning setting. Our approach is based on novel multimodal representations of users, words and concepts, which we simultaneously learn by deploying a general-purpose neural embedding model. The usefulness of the approach is evaluated using artificial actors, which simulate user behavior in a relevance feedback scenario. Multiple experiments were conducted in order to evaluate the quality of our multimodal representations and compare different embedding strategies. We demonstrate the capabilities of the proposed approach on a multimedia collection originating from the violent online extremism forum Stormfront, which is particularly interesting due to the high semantic level of the discussions it features.
Extreme Digital Speech: Contexts, Responses and Solutions
2020 Ed. Ganesh, B. and Bright, J. VOX-Pol Publication
Extreme digital speech (EDS) is an emerging challenge that requires co-ordination between governments, civil society and the private sector. In this report, a range of experts on countering extremism consider the challenges that EDS presents to these stakeholders, the impact that EDS has and the responses taken by these actors to counter it. By focusing on EDS, consideration of the topic is limited to the forms of extreme speech that take place online, often on social media platforms and multimedia messaging applications such as WhatsApp and Telegram. Furthermore, by focusing on EDS rather than explicitly violent forms of extreme speech online, the report departs from a focus on violence and incorporates a broader range of issues such as hateful and dehumanising speech and the complex cultures and politics that have formed around EDS.
From Inspire to Rumiyah: does instructional content in online jihadist magazines lead to attacks?
2020 Zekulin, M. Article
Considerable time has been spent examining how groups like AQAP and ISIS used their online magazines to reach and radicalize individuals in Western democratic states. This paper continues this investigation but shifts its analysis to focus on the ‘how-to’ or instructional content of these publications, an understudied part of the literature. One of the stated goals of these magazines was to provide tactical know-how and assist supporters conducting terror plots in their home states. The question: did the tactics outlined in the magazines materialize in actual plots/attacks and how quickly were they put into practice? The paper examines this question by creating an overview of the tactics which appear in these publications and cross referencing them with a dataset of 166 Islamist-inspired homegrown terror plots/attacks in 14 Western democratic states to determine if, and when, they first appeared in relation to their publication date. It concluded that while some of the suggested strategies did appear following their publication, often it occurred after considerable time had elapsed. This suggests the instructional content did not resonate with readers in real time.
Reviewing the Role of the Internet in Radicalization Processes
2019 Odağa, Ö., Leiserb, A. and Boehnkec, K. Article
This review presents the existing research on the role of the Internet in radicalization processes. Using a systematic literature search strategy, our paper yields 88 studies on the role of the Internet in a) right-wing extremism and b) radical jihadism. Available studies display a predominant interest in the characteristics of radical websites and a remarkable absence of a user-centred perspective. They show that extremist groups make use of the Internet to spread right wing or jihadist ideologies, connect like-minded others in echo chambers and cloaked websites, and address particularly marginalized individuals of a society, with specific strategies for recruitment. Existing studies have thus far not sufficiently examined the users of available sites, nor have they studied the causal mechanisms that unfold at the intersection between the Internet and its users. The present review suggests avenues for future research, drawing on media and violence research and research on social identity and deindividuation effects in computer-mediated communication.
A Critical Analysis of the Jihadi Discourse through Online Magazines with Special Reference to ‘Wyeth’ Magazine
2019 Neelamalar, M. and Mangala Vadivu, V. Article
‘Jihadism’ (also known as the jihadi movement) is a popular term that signifies the Islamic terror movement which thrives on extremist ideologies and violence. In addition to the conventional practices, the online medium is currently being employed for disseminating these extremist ideologies across the globe. Radicalisation and recruitment of geographically dispersed individuals as ‘jihadists’ for supporting Islamic terror activities tend to be the primary intent for using the digital platforms as the medium of communication in this context. One such initiative by the Lashkar-e-Taiba of Jammu and Kashmir was the release of the ‘Wyeth: The Resistance in Flow’, an e-magazine which was launched on April 2018. The first issue which was posted with an open access option was primarily designed to influence the Indian youth population through the radical interpretations of Islam. Hence, it is crucial to analyse and understand the jihadi discourse of the Wyeth magazine in order to curb and counter-attack such initiatives at its initial phase. For this purpose, the present study aims to examine the content of the Wyeth magazine and analyse the basic traits of the jihadi propaganda and its potential to aid in the self-radicalisation process.
Islamic State’s Online Activity and Responses
2019 Conway, M. and Macdonald, S. Book
'Islamic State’s Online Activity and Responses' provides a unique examination of Islamic State’s online activity at the peak of its "golden age" between 2014 and 2017 and evaluates some of the principal responses to this phenomenon.

Featuring contributions from experts across a range of disciplines, the volume examines a variety of aspects of IS’s online activity, including their strategic objectives, the content and nature of their magazines and videos, and their online targeting of females and depiction of children. It also details and analyses responses to IS’s online activity – from content moderation and account suspensions to informal counter-messaging and disrupting terrorist financing – and explores the possible impact of technological developments, such as decentralised and peer-to-peer networks, going forward. Platforms discussed include dedicated jihadi forums, major social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube, and newer services, including Twister.

'Islamic State’s Online Activity and Responses' is essential reading for researchers, students, policymakers, and all those interested in the contemporary challenges posed by online terrorist propaganda and radicalisation. The chapters were originally published as a special issue of Studies in Conflict & Terrorism.
The Roles of ‘Old’ and ‘New’ Media Tools and Technologies in the Facilitation of Violent Extremism and Terrorism
2019 Scrivens, R. and Conway, M. Chapter
Alfred Nobel’s invention of dynamite in 1867 was the technological breakthrough that ushered in the era of modern terrorism; the economy of means it afforded ensured that terrorist bombings proliferated. High levels of illiteracy in 19th-century Europe imposed serious limitations on conventional text-based propaganda. Conversely, ‘propaganda by deed’ could show, said the French anarchist Paul Brousse at the time, “the weary and inert masses . . . that which they were unable to read, teach them socialism in practice, make it visible, tangible, concrete” (as quoted in Townshend, 2002, p. 55). When the anarchist Albert Parsons was arraigned for his alleged involvement in Chicago’s 1886 Haymarket bombing, he proclaimed in court that dynamite “made all men equal and therefore free” (as quoted in Townshend, 2002, p. 5). However, although terrorist attacks may themselves draw attention and by their target choices and other aspects send some kind of message, successful terrorist campaigns must generally also employ speech, text, and visuals in order to seek to legitimize, rationalize, and, ultimately, advertise terrorists’ actions. In other words, as Rapoport (1984) reminded us over 30 years ago: “To be noticed is one thing, to be understood is another” (p. 665). ‘The media’ qua the traditional mass media has certainly been employed as a tool by terrorists for these purposes (e.g. 1972 Munich Olympics attack; 1975 Vienna Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries [OPEC] siege). That is not what is at issue in this chapter, however; instead, this chapter spotlights the use of media tools directly by terrorists and not ‘the media,’ in the guise of journalists, as intermediaries. The focus is therefore on the establishment of newspapers and radio and television stations
by violent extremist and terrorist organizations rather than press, radio, and television coverage of terrorist attacks. The definition of ‘media tools’ utilized in the chapter is wider than these, however, encompassing not just ‘old’ but also ‘new’ media tools, particularly the Internet, but also incorporating less obvious media tools, such as wall murals and photocopying machines. Underlined in the chapter is that in order to understand new media trends, we must first examine violent extremist and terrorists’ ‘old’ or traditional media forbearers that supply crucial context for contemporary violent extremists and terrorists’ online activity, including particularly, the latter’s take-up of any and all ready means of
communication in whatever era. In terms of what constitutes ‘violent extremism,’ we are guided by Berger’s (2018) characterization of it as “the belief that an in-group’s success or survival can never be separated from the need for violent action against an out-group,” which violence may be characterized by the aggressors as “defensive, offensive, or preemptive” (p. 46). Terrorism, on the other hand, may be conceived as “violence – or, equally important, the threat of violence – used and directed in pursuit of, or in service of, a political aim” (Hoffmann, 2006, pp. 2–3). Together, violent extremism and terrorism account for a range of political violence activity by a diversity of actors subscribing to an array of radical beliefs. The media and communication strategies of two particular ideologies are focused on herein: right-wing extremists and violent jihadis – albeit an array of others is referred to also (e.g. nationalist-separatists such as the Irish Republican Army
[IRA] and violent Islamists such as Hezbollah). Violent jihadists are inspired by Sunni Islamist-Salafism and seek to establish an Islamist society governed by their version of Islamic or Sharia law imposed by violence (Moghadam, 2008). Right-wing extremists may also subscribe to some radical interpretation of religion, but unlike those inspired by radical Islam, many extreme right adherents are not inspired by religious beliefs per se. Instead, what binds these actors is a racially, ethnically, and sexually defined nationalism, which is typically framed in terms of white power and grounded in xenophobic and exclusionary understandings of the perceived threats posed by such groups as non-whites, Jews,
Muslims, immigrants, homosexuals, and feminists. Here the state is perceived as an illegitimate power serving the interests of all but the white man and, as such, right-wing extremists are willing to assume both an offensive and defensive stance in the interests of “preserving” their heritage and their “homeland” (Perry & Scrivens, 2016). With regard to the chapter’s structuring, the following sections are ordered chronologically, treating, in turn, early low-tech communication methods or what we term ‘pre-media,’ followed by other relatively low-tech tools, such as print and photocopying. The high-tech tools reviewed
are film, radio, and television, followed by the Internet, especially social media.
“Yes, I can”: what is the role of perceived self-efficacy in violent online-radicalisation processes of “homegrown” terrorists?
2019 Schlegel, L. Article
Radicalisation is influenced by a multitude of factors such as situational, social and psychological factors, including social-cognitive processes. This article explores how homegrown extremists are influenced by their perceived agency and how the beliefs of their own abilities to change their situation are directly shaped by the online-propaganda they consume using ISIS propaganda as a case study. The article serves
as an exploratory analysis of the potential explanatory qualities of Bandura’s theory of self-efficacy. This preliminary theoretical work explores how online-propaganda seeks to increase perceived personal self-efficacy to inspire action. The findings indicate that an increased focus on agency beliefs may facilitate a more holistic understanding of the psycho-social processes influencing radicalization and factors driving certain individuals to perpetrate violence while others do not. More research needs to be conducted, but this work is a first exploratory step in advancing our understanding of self-efficacy beliefs in the radicalization of homegrown extremists.
Intersections of ISIS media leader loss and media campaign strategy A visual framing analysis
2019 Winkler, C., El-Damanhoury, K., Saleh, Z., Hendry, J. and El-Karhili, N. Article
The decision to target leaders of groups like ISIS to hamper their effectiveness has served as a longstanding principle of counterterrorism efforts. Yet, previous research suggests that any results may simply be temporary. Using insights from confiscated ISIS documents from Afghanistan to define the media leader roles that qualified for each level of the cascade, CTC (Combating Terrorism Center) records to identify media leaders who died, and a content analysis of all ISIS images displayed in the group’s Arabic weekly newsletter to identify the group’s visual framing strategies, this study assesses whether and how leader loss helps explain changes in the level and nature of the group’s visual output over time. ISIS’s quantity of output and visual framing strategies displayed significant changes before, during, and after media leader losses. The level of the killed leader within the group’s organizational hierarchy also corresponded to different changes in ISIS’s media framing
The battle for truth: How online newspaper commenters defend their censored expressions
2019 Fangen, K. and Holter, C. R. Article
The presence of hate speech in the commentary field of online newspapers is a pressing challenge for free speech policy. We have conducted interviews with 15 people whose comments were censored for posting comments of a racist, discriminatory or hateful nature. What characterizes their self-understanding and enemy images? We found that central to their motivation for writing such comments was an understanding of themselves as particularly knowledgeable people. They see themselves as people who fight for the revelation of the truth, in contrast to the lies spread by politicians and the media. Furthermore, they regard politicians and the media as corrupt elites that are leading our society into destruction by their naïve support of liberal migration policies. By linking up to alternative news media, these individuals support various forms of racialized conspiracy theories, but also a form of radical right-wing populism in their concern that politics should be acted out by people themselves. As such, our study adds to the literature on conspiracy theories in general and racialized conspiracy theories in particular, but also to the literature on online far-right activists. Our contribution lies both in the newness of focusing on the self-perceptions, but also in opening up for a modification of existing literature on the far right.
Hatred Behind the Screens - A Report on the Rise of Online Hate Speech
2019 Williams, M. and de Reya, M. Report
— The reporting, recording and incidence of online hate speech has increased over the past two years.
— While the number of people personally targeted remains relatively low, large numbers of people are being exposed to online hate speech, potentially causing decreased life satisfaction. In particular, an increasingly large number of UK children (aged 12-15) report that they are exposed to hateful content online.
— Online hate speech tends to spike for 24-48 hours after key national or international events such as a terror attack, and then rapidly fall, although the baseline of online hate can remain elevated for several months. Where it reaches a certain level, online hate speech can translate into offline hate crime on the streets.
— Hate crime, including hate speech, is both hard to define and hard to prosecute. A patchwork of hate crime laws has developed over the last two decades, but there is concern the laws are not as effective as they could be, and may need to be streamlined and/or extended - for example to cover gender and age-related hate crime. The Law Commission is currently reviewing hate crime legislation, and has separately completed a preliminary review of the criminal law in relation to offensive
and abusive online communications, concluding there was "considerable scope for reform".
— According to a recent survey by Demos, the public appreciates the difficult trade-off between tackling hate crime and protecting freedom of speech, with 32% in favour of a safety first approach, 23% in favour of protecting civil liberties, and 42% not favouring either option
Virtual Plotters. Drones. Weaponized AI?: Violent Non-State Actors as Deadly Early Adopters
2019 Gartenstein-Ross, D., Shear, M. and Jones, D. Article
Over the past decade, violent non-state actors’ (VNSAs) adoption of new technologies that can help their operations have tended to follow a recognizable general pattern, which this study dubs the VNSA technology adoption curve: As a consumer technology becomes widely available, VNSAs find ways to adapt it to their deadly purposes. This curve tends to progress in four stages:

1. Early Adoption – The VNSA tries to adopt a new technology, and disproportionately
underperforms or fails in definable ways.
2. Iteration – The consumer technology that the VNSA is attempting to repurpose undergoes improvements driven by the companies that brought the technology to market. These improvements are designed to enhance consumers’ experience and the utility that consumers derive from the technology. The improvements help the intended end user, but also aid the VNSA, which iterates alongside the company.
3. Breakthrough – During this stage, the VNSA’s success rate with the new technology significantly improves.
4. Competition – Following the VNSA’s seemingly sudden success, technology companies, state actors, and other stakeholders develop countermeasures designed to mitigate the VNSA’s exploitation of the technology. The outcome of this phase is uncertain, as both the VNSA and its competitors enter relatively uncharted territory in the current technological environment. The authorities and VNSA will try to stay one step ahead of one another.

This report begins by explaining the adoption curve, and more broadly the manner in which VNSAs engage in organizational learning. The report then details two critical case studies of past VNSA technological adoption to illustrate how the adoption curve works in practice, and to inform our analysis of VNSA technological adoptions that are likely in the future.
Countering Violent Extremism Online: The Experiences of Informal Counter Messaging Actors
2019 Lee, B. Article
The online space is a haven for extremists of all kinds. Although efforts to remove violent and extremist content are increasing, there is a widely accepted need to also contest extremist messages with counter messages designed to undermine and disrupt extremist narratives. While the majority of academic focus has been on large and well‐funded efforts linked to governments, this article considers the experiences of informal actors who are active in contesting extremist messaging but who lack the support of large institutions. Informal actors come without some of the baggage that accompanies formal counter-message campaigns, which have been attacked as lacking in credibility and constituting “just more government propaganda.” This has been noted by some of the wider countering violent extremism industry and the appetite for incorporating “real‐world” content in their campaigns seems to be rising. This article fills a gap in our knowledge of the experiences of informal counter-messaging actors. Through a series of in‐depth qualitative interviews it demonstrates that, despite the potentially serious risks of incorporating greater levels of informal content, there is an appetite among informal actors to engage with formal campaigns where they can be selective over who they work with and maintain a degree of control.
A comparison of ISIS foreign fighters and supporters social media posts: an exploratory mixed-method content analysis
2019 Dillon, L., Neo, L. S. and Freilich, J. D. Article
This paper compares the social media posts of ISIS foreign fighters to those of ISIS supporters. We examine a random sample of social media posts made by violent foreign fighters (n = 14; 2000 posts) and non-violent supporters (n = 18; 2000 posts) of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) (overall n = 4,000 posts), from 2009 to 2015. We used a mixed-method study design. Our qualitative content analyses of the 4,000 posts identified five themes: Threats to in-group, societal grievances, pursuit for significance, religion, and commitment issues. Our quantitative comparisons found that the dominant themes in the foreign fighters’ online content were threats to in-group, societal grievances, and pursuit for significance, while religion and commitment issues were dominant themes in the supporters’ online content. We also identified thematic variations reflecting individual attitudes that emerged during the 2011–2015 period, when major geopolitical developments occurred in Syria and Iraq. Finally, our quantitative sentiment-based analysis found that the supporters (10 out of 18; 56%) posted more radical content than the foreign fighters (5 out of 14; 36%) on social media.
How Extreme Is The European Far Right? Investigating Overlaps in the German Far-Right Scene on Twitter
2019 Ahmed, R. and Pisoiu, D. VOX-Pol Publication
The aim of the report is to determine the overlaps apparent in the far-right scene on Twitter, and specifically, to ascertain the extent to which different groups on the scene are indeed talking about the same issues in the same way, in spite of apparent differences in tone and underlying ideologies. The authors utilise a mixed-methods approach: first, gaining a cursory insight into the extreme right-wing scene on Twitter across Europe; and then applying a detailed frame analysis to three selected groups in Germany to determine the implicit and explicit overlaps between them, thus complementing the quantitative findings to offer an in-depth analysis of meaning.
ISIS Propaganda: A Full-Spectrum Extremist Message
2019 Baele, S. J., Boyd, K. A. and Coan, T. G. Book
This book offers a comprehensive overview and analysis of the Islamic State's use of propaganda. Combining a range of different theoretical perspectives from across the social sciences, and using rigorous methods, the authors trace the origins of the Islamic State's message, laying bare the strategic logic guiding its evolution, examining each of its multi-media components, and showing how these elements work together to radicalize audiences' worldviews. This volume highlights the challenges that this sort of "full-spectrum propaganda" raises for counter terrorism forces. It is not only a one-stop resource for any analyst of IS and Salafi-jihadism, but also a rich contribution to the study of text and visual propaganda, radicalization and political violence, and international security.
‘The Baghdadi Net’: How A Network of ISIL-Supporting Accounts Spread Across Twitter
2019 Ayad, M. Article
Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIL) supporters fanned out large amounts of Arabic content across Twitter all through the week in the wake of the news surrounding the death of Abu Bakr al Baghdadi. Many accounts were exhibiting strong and multiple signals of automated behavior1, spawning every hour, on the hour, and Institute for Strategic Dialogue (ISD) researchers monitored and tracked these accounts, and their tactics for the past week following the news. Twitter, and accounts specifically designed to report ISIL activity, were limiting some of the effects of what researchers were calling the ‘Baghdadi Net.’ However, it was clear the accounts were able to generate again, sometimes seconds within a takedown period, and spread video, and audio, as well as new ISIL-news content. Many accounts used western avatars, linked to real people, as well as hashtags that were trending across the Middle East and North Africa, including those being used in the Iraq and Lebanon protests. Latching on to trending topics is a well-documented tactic by ISIL and other groups to increase impressions and overall reach of content. As of Friday, the accounts were tweeting out audio content produced by al Furqan media heralding the ascension of the new ISIL leader Abu Ibrahim al Hashimi al Qurashi.
Prevalent Sentiments of the Concept of Jihad in the Public Commentsphere
2019 Silverman, G. and Sommer, U. Article
Certain studies of social conflicts and geopolitical processes through online social networks entail qualitative analysis. One such issue is the tension between Western and Muslim societies. We introduce computer-assisted qualitative sentiment analysis for the inquiry and extraction of varied sentiments. The analysis explores the prevalent meanings of the term jihad through discussions of Muslims and non-Muslims in the online public sphere. After examining 4,630 Facebook comments and replies, our examination leads to a holistic mapping that details “peaceful,” “moderate,” and “radical” opinions regarding jihad, which is an integral institution of the Muslim world. Through this method, we suggest a “Muslim–non-Muslim tension indicator,” which can be used in a range of political analyses.
“You Know What to Do”: Proactive Detection of YouTube Videos Targeted by Coordinated Hate Aacks
2019 Mariconti, E., Suarez-Tangil, G., Blackburn, J., de Cristofaro, E., Kourtellis, N., Leontiadis, I., Serrano, J.L. and Stringhini, G. Article
Video sharing platforms like YouTube are increasingly targeted by aggression and hate attacks. Prior work has shown how these attacks often take place as a result of "raids," i.e., organized efforts by ad-hoc mobs coordinating from third-party communities. Despite the increasing relevance of this phenomenon, however, online services often lack effective countermeasures to mitigate it. Unlike well-studied problems like spam and phishing, coordinated aggressive behavior both targets and is perpetrated by humans, making defense mechanisms that look for automated activity unsuitable. Therefore, the de-facto solution is to reactively rely on user reports and human moderation. In this paper, we propose an automated solution to identify YouTube videos that are likely to be targeted by coordinated harassers from fringe communities like 4chan. First, we characterize and model YouTube videos along several axes (metadata, audio transcripts, thumbnails) based on a ground truth dataset of videos that were targeted by raids. Then, we use an ensemble of classifiers to determine the likelihood that a video will be raided with very good results (AUC up to 94%). Overall, our work provides an important first step towards deploying proactive systems to detect and mitigate coordinated hate attacks on platforms like YouTube.
Right-Wing Extremists’ Persistent Online Presence: History and Contemporary Trends
2019 Conway, M., Scrivens, R. and Macnair, L. VOX-Pol Publication
This policy brief traces how Western right-wing extremists have exploited the power of the internet from early dial-up bulletin board systems to contemporary social media and messaging apps. It demonstrates how the extreme right has been quick to adopt a variety of emerging online tools, not only to connect with the like-minded, but to radicalise some audiences while intimidating others, and ultimately to recruit new members, some of whom have engaged in hate crimes and/or terrorism. Highlighted throughout is the fast pace of change of both the internet and its associated platforms and technologies, on the one hand, and the extreme right, on the other, as well as how these have interacted and evolved over time. Underlined too is the persistence, despite these changes, of rightwing extremists’ online presence, which poses challenges for effectively responding to this activity moving forward.
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